Welcome to our travel blog. We are Tabitha and Nic. In 2011 we 'retired' in our early 40s and set off to travel the world. We spent our first year in South America and have been lucky enough to make two trips to Antarctica.

Our blog is a record of our travels, thoughts and experiences. It is not a guide book, but we do include some tips and information, so we hope that you may find it useful if you are planning to visit somewhere we have been. Or you may just find it interesting as a bit of armchair travel.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

In search of Nessie

From Edinburgh we took the mega bus to Inverness.  For those of you that have never used a mega bus, they can offer some great deals if you buy early enough.  We just missed out on the best offer for this trip as we had to pay £5 each, but still much better than normal bus prices or the train.

Although it is the main town of the Scottish Highlands, Inverness is still only small itself.  It has its own castle, and sits prettily on the river Ness, but there is not much else in the town.  We did find a couple of decent places to eat out, and on our first night we had a free hearing of the Status Quo gig nearby, but on one day it rained so much that we decided to stick with the log burning stove in the hostel rather than go out and get wet.

I suspect that most visitors here use Inverness as a base for trips out into the Highlands.  You can get tours to various peaks, castles, islands, and distilleries, many of which we intend to get around to at some stage.  But for now, our primary objective in Inverness was to go and look for Nessie!
Loch Ness
Nessie, or more formally The Loch Ness Monster, is the reason that Loch Ness is famous.  The first alleged sightings of Nessie go way back to the 6th century, when St Colomba apparently saw something lurking in the Loch.  The first twentieth century claims of monster sightings began in 1933 with a Mr and Mrs MacKay.  Some photos have been taken, usually at dusk or dawn and always grainy and indistinct, so there is little chance of proving or disproving her existence from those.

The first photograph was taken by Hugh Grey in 1933 and was published in the Daily Mail, which then hired a big game hunter called Marmaduke Wetherell to find Nessie.  Unable to do so, he apparently faked some footprints in the sand, which were believed to have been made using a dried hippo foot, more than likely one of those old game hunter's souvenir umbrella stands!

Then in 1934 a surgeon called Colonel Robert Wilson produced probably the most famous Nessie photo, known as the Surgeons photo.  It appeared to show a definite head, a bit like that of a diplodocus dinosaur, rising out of the water.  

This got everyone quite excited and did a lot to further the legend of Nessie until in 1984, analysis of the photo appeared to show that sadly the 'monster' could only have been very small, so was unlikely to be Nessie.

Even worse for believers, in 1994 a man called Christian Spurling made a dying confession that in fact he had built the creature in the photo from some sculpted wood and a toy submarine.  The hoax was apparently the idea of his stepfather - none other than Marmaduke Wetherell.
Urquhart Castle
So is the legend true?  Well like countless others who have visited the Loch, we didn't see her.  We took a boat trip from Inverness, down the Caledonian Canal, and onto Loch Ness.  We saw Urquhart Castle and the old Bona lighthouse, and we heard about the old Wellington bomber that was pulled out of the Loch in remarkably good condition some 45 years after ditching there in 1940, but we didn't see Nessie.
Bona Lighthouse
But then Loch Ness is Britain's second largest surface area of freshwater, over 21 square miles, and so deep that it is actually by far the largest volume.  It is deep enough that you could completely submerge London's BT Tower in it, so the odd monster or two would certainly fit.  And because the water is very peaty, the visibility is incredibly poor, so it would be an easy task for Nessie to hide away.

They have made a number of attempts to either prove or disprove the legend, by trawling the lake with sonar but even then the results have been inconclusive.  Some suggest there is nothing, but others have hit some disturbances to the readings that could something entirely innocuous, or they could be a large creature.

So could there be a monster in the Loch?  Perhaps a last remaining prehistoric creature?  Who knows.  No one has found any real proof to say it is true, but until someone can categorically rule it out, the legend will remain.

Edinburgh Fringe Reviews 2012 - work in progress!

This is our brief review of the 41 shows that we saw during the fringe. It is still a work in progress as I got bored of doing them. I'll finish them eventually, I'm sure! 
As a general point, we were interested to notice a few patterns emerging in the content of the acts, with a number of the comedians using some of the same topics for their jokes.  One of the main themes was a dislike of social media, in particular facebook, but there was also a lot of time given to the question of Scottish independence, Fifty Shades of Grey, and the Olympics.  The Olympics was an interesting one as I got the impression that a lot of them had expected a backlash against the Games and prepared a few jokes being negative about them, but then having seen how popular and successful they were, had to change tack and be positive themselves.
Show 1: Chatroom
Six teenagers are talking in chatrooms. We gradually start to hear some of their stories and watch as it turns nasty and a couple of them begin manipulating the others. It is a simple storyline, and whilst it has its moments, it is a little predictable. It could have benefitted from delving just a bit further into the individual characters' storylines and the consequences of the actions. 
Show 2: Alan Davies - Life Is Pain
Alan Davies has been off the standup circuit for a while and he did seem like he might be a bit rusty. It's not that he wasn't funny, we did actually quite enjoy a lot of the material, but it just wasn't quite the polished show hat you would expect from someone as well known and established as he is. Of course it probably doesn't help our view of him when, like most of the well known acts, tickets to his show cost more than twice what we are paying for anything for anything else.
Show 3: Visual Aids (free)
The two comedians in this act, Ali Brice and David Bussell were working together, but also, for the purpose of the show, against each other. We prefered David's slightly Alan Partridge style of verbal humour to Ali's prop using slapstick. It was OK for a free show, but we might have regretted our choice had we paid to see it.
Show 4: Blitz Sisters, Sweethearts of the 40s (free)
This isn't a comedy, but two women singing popular songs from the second world war era. One of them seemed more confident than the other, and had a voice better suited to the style of music, but they sounded good together. Covering classics by Dame Vera Lynn, Marlene Deitrich, The Andrews Sisters and even George Formby, they entertained us well and threw in a few interesting facts along the way.
Show 5: Three Days Off Jesus
Show 6: Catie Wilkins, Joy is my Middle Name
Show 7: The Property known as Garland
Aside from a few amusing scenes with the dressing room assistant, this was a monologue showing Judy Garland getting ready for a performance. It dealt compassionately with the fairly serious issues that she had faced in life, as well as her now declining career, but was also very funny. She held the audience's attention and provoked varied emotions as she reminisced about her experiences and the people she knew, both good and bad. It did help if you knew who the other names of the day were, but not knowing them wouldn't stop you enjoying it. We thoroughly enjoyed it.
Show 8: The Age of the Geek
We were a bit disappointed with this; it is such a rich vein, but this show didn't fully tap it in our view. We quite like The Big Bang Theory, and we went along to this expecting something that covered similar themes. So perhaps the problem was that our expectations were too high. The one man show was generally amusing, and there were some laugh out loud moments, such as the Star Wars v Star Trek bit, but much of it didn't really work for us. Some of the songs went on a bit too long for their content, and there was a tedious section with a childish box of props. Perhaps you need to be a geek yourself to enjoy it.
Show 9: Sex Ed the Musical
Four teachers are giving sex education classes with the help of a permanently pregnant pianist. As well as the lessons themselves, we get to see the effect on a couple of students and have an insight into the sex lives of the teachers themselves. It is intentionally over the top and works fabulously. The songs are hilarious. If you ever saw Avenue Q and liked the songs in that then you would like this.  We loved it.
Show 10: Max and Ivan Are... Con Artists
A team of seven criminals are getting back together to do one last job. Max and Ivan play ten characters between them and do an amazing job of always doing the right person at the right time. The characters are all well portrayed, so there is never any doubt who you are watching, even when it is just a snippet. The storyline is simple but effective and the show is very funny.
Show 11: Suzi Ruffell - Let's Get Ready to Ruffell
Suzi Ruffell has a slightly manic but nonetheless likeable feel to her performance. When she started talking about being bullied at school and her difficulty coming out as a lesbian, it felt slightly like being in a self help group, although weirdly it was still funny. At times she seemed to be trying a little too hard, which may have been because it is hard to play to such a small audience. Overall enjoyable, but not one of the best we saw.
Show 12: James Acaster - Prompt
If you didn't know the Kettering FC chant before you saw this show, you certainly did by the end (With a K and an E and a T and a T, E and R and an I, N, G, Kett'ring Town FC!). James has an easy, couldn't-care-less style, but at the same time demonstrates a slightly obsessive approach to some of his topics - the football chant and the bread surveys in particular. His wooden duck takes over the show at one point for a slightly angst ridden confessional over James' shoulder. Nominated for best newcomer in the Fosters Edinburgh Comedy Award. 
Show 13: Juliet Meyers - Raised by Fridge Magnets
I know that sometimes the show titles are only vaguely relevant to the show itself, but in this case, Juliet did talk quite a lot about fridge magnets and the messages they give. Much of her material was quite good, but it would have worked better if she had kept the thread a bit more tightly woven through the whole performance . As it was, it felt a bit haphazard at times, which detracted from the humorous effect. Perhaps it was nerves, perhaps not, but I would be interested to see her again in a few years to see if a tighter, more polished show lives up to the potential that this showed.
Show 14: Eleanor Tiernan - Rogue
A small crowd must be difficult for any comedian, and Eleanor was probably glad to have a couple of her friends amongst the eight of us. She started off, as a few people have, but talking briefly to each member of the audience to find out who they were. This can work very well if you are good at improvising your comedy, with a quick bit of humourous (but friendly) banter with each person; unfortunately, Eleanor does not have that kind of quick witty response, so when one audience member particularly liked the sound of his own voice, and was boring with it, she couldn't get out of it. And when another person mentioned a show called 'what', and we all thought there was a 'Who's on base' style gag going on, it turned out that there was no joke, she was just confused. It's hard to recover from that start, and Eleanor's random collection of quips, didn't really manage it, even though some of them were quite good. You know something didn't work when you come away thinking 'Ah, what a shame, she seemed nice.'
Show 15: Simon Munnery - Fylm-Makker
It's not often in a live show that most of the audience can't actually see the comedian. Simon has chosen to take a new approach to his show by filming himself and having us watch the projected image. He is still in the room, but we are not looking directly at him. The style allows him to use a his of cardboard figures and pictures as props, providing additional visual humour, as well as his own anecdotes. Unusual yes, but an interesting change and it worked well.
Show 16: Lucy Porter - People Person
Looking back at the blurb for this show afterwards, I wouldn't recognise it as it was billed at all, but hey, who cares as long as it's funny; and this was. I have no interest in children, or stories about children, so it it a testament to Lucy that I found her funny even though her whole show was based around finding a new friend (or not) whilst adapting to being a mum. She chatters away, going off on tangents, but always following a strong structure, connecting the gags and building the humour. And after hearing her quotes from Argos customers' product reviews, I will definitely be checking out their website when I need a laugh. Lucy probably won't score highly for those looking for cutting edge comedy topics , but she is definitely funny.
Show 17: Markus Birdman - Love, Life and Death
We quickly learn that, aged 40, Marcus had a stroke. No sympathy required here though, he makes his experience amusing and uses it as a springboard to talk about his formula for love, life and death. His is what might be termed a caustic wit, and he has an aggressive, yet still strangely charming approach to his audience. Some of his life maxims may be a little cliched, but his delivery of them is funny, and the hand drawn picture behind him is fantastic.
Show 18: Retail Therapy
Sadly, this show just didn't work for me. Maybe it is just that I remember laughing to 'Are You Being Served?', which made this look like a pale imitation, but this musical story of a rather trite tale of love and deceit in a department store just didn't cut it. In most cases, the singing and acting weren't strong enough to carry the show; had the writing been sufficiently strong and funny, you could perhaps forgive the lacklustre performance, but sadly it wasn't. It had a few good moments, but unfortunately not enough.
Show 19: Exit Stage Left
Not everything at the fringe has to be overtly funny, and this play would have done well to remember that. The storyline was fine, even if the entire audience had worked out the twist in the tale well before the end. Some of the acting was good, others improved during the show, some just didn't really cut it.  But it was reasonably enjoyable by the second half, so I could forgive its shortcomings, except for one thing that we felt really let it down. They made the deputy director role a comedy part, with an unbelievably stupid script and hugely over the top performance. It felt totally out of place in this play and found myself wishing that he would just fall down a trapdoor.
Show 20: Coalition
Set over the final period of the Conservative / Liberal Democrat coalition, this play focuses on the Deputy Prime Minister and the challenges he faces. With Thom Tuck, Jo Caulfield and Phil Jupitus amongst the cast, this is a polished show that successfully makes a potentially heavy topic very funny and we really enjoyed it. Mind you, Nick Clegg probably wouldn't enjoy it too much, and it could turn him into a paranoid wreck!
Show 21: Bad Musical
Three men play all of the parts in this musical. And in a very good way, it really is bad. They flow from one disaster to another, from having to cut huge chunks to fit a three hour show into one hour, a missing actress, prop failures, an overexcitable prompter, and a totally incompetent sound and effects man. The storyline is, of course, terrible. It is hilarious and great fun.
Show 22: Alistair Barrie - Urban Fogey
Show 23: Vikki Stone - Hot Mess
Show 24: The Improverts
Show 25: 21A
Show 26: McNeil and Pamphilon
Show 27: Andrew Laurence is Coming to get you
Show 28: Sitcom Double Act
Show 29: Late 'n' Live
Show 30: Piff the Magic Dragon in ... Jurassic Bark
Show 31: And they Played Shang-a-Lang
Show 32: Liam Mullone - A Land Fit For F*ckwits
Show 33: Steve Gribben - Viva Gribbostania!
Show 34: John Scott - Totally Fed Up
Show 35: Ro Campbell- Midnight Meltdown
Show 36: Holmes and Watson - The Farewell Tour
Show 37: Wild Allegations
Show 38: Assassins
Show 39: Built for Two
Show 40: In a Handbag, Darkly
Show 41: Question No-one

Monday, September 24, 2012


Our second day in Edinburgh was also the last day of the Olympics, so we again had kept the day mostly free to watch that, with just the one show booked.  We figured that as it was early evening, we had a reasonable chance of making it back in time for the closing ceremony, and with the help of a cab back, we only missed a little bit, so we were able to watch the Olympics draw to a close and the extinguishing of the flame.

With the Olympics no longer here to distract us - it was slightly strange to get up and not turn on the TV for the sport - we threw ourselves into the fringe properly.

When we had decided what to go to, we hadn't researched any reviews of the acts at all, we had just tried to pick out a mix of different types of comedy where we liked the sound of the show. With only a few lines of description to go on, we were well aware that we could have picked a few real duds, but we were hoping that at least some would be good.

Overall, we were mostly happy with our choices. There were a couple of ones that we wished we hadn't bothered with, but most were enjoyable and a few were very good. Not sure that we have really seen much in the way of emerging new comedy superstars, but there at least some that we now wouldn't overlook if they were on the bill nearby.

We figured that the free ones were probably even more of a risk, as they are obviously the newcomers, who have not yet earned themselves a paying show. But in fact, some of the free shows were also very good.

We have been to Edinburgh a couple of times before, so we've done the castle and some of the other sights previously, and with all of the shows we were seeing, we didn't have time for a great deal else. But we did manage to catch up with a few friends while we were there which was nice.

With one of the couples that we met up with, we had arranged to meet at a small bistro for brunch. They had got there first and ordered some coffees that still hadn't arrived when we tried to order, even though the place was empty apart from us. With it being only 11am, we had to choose from the breakfast menu, but that was OK, until we asked for the full cooked, only to be told that they didn't have any eggs, sausages, bacon or most other things. They could apparently do us a smoked salmon bagel or some croissants, but that was it.

And apparently it was far too early for the chef to be ready for the lunch menu instead as he was busy cooking pasta! Needless to say we went elsewhere and took bets on how quickly that particular place would be out of business if it couldn't be bothered to take advantage of about the busiest periods that Edinburgh ever has!
Aside from meeting people, probably the most interesting thing that we did was to try out the much talked about local delicacy of the deep fried Mars bar. Nic had been looking forward to this for a while, although neither of us had been especially optimistic about what it would be like.

In fact, it was pretty good. The batter was a light coating and not overly greasy, and the inside had softened into a warm and tasty gooey chocolate caramel that was actually surprisingly nice!

Since then we have been advised that we should also have tried the deep fried pizza, but that seems like a step too far.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Bored of that..

So the plan was that I would do a post for every day of our trip to the Edinburgh Fringe, with a short comment on each of the shows that we saw.  But I quickly got bored of doing that and so have got very behind once again.

So, we have a change of plan.  I will now do a quick blog about our time in Edinburgh generally - there's not that much to say as most of it was going to shows - and then put up a single posting where I will gradually add the reviews as I can be bothered to do them.  That way I can still get on with doing the rest of our posts at the same time.