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Scotland is a fascinating and mysterious place with a dramatic history that goes back to pre-history (duh, we've all seen Braveheart!). This was my third time in the country, and I have to say that I like the people, places, scenery, culture and food (ok, maybe not the food) more and more every time I'm there. On our first trip, which only included stops in Edinburgh and Glasgow, I'll admit I was not so impressed. I found the people mildly abrasive, the food terrible, and of course the weather was awful. But last year we spent more time in the cultural epicenter of Edinburgh as well as in smaller towns on the Northeast coast, and I fell in love. Might have helped that we had better weather that year :)  Then this year we finally made it to the Highlands and the Northwest coast- where everyone always says the most spectacular scenery in Scotland is. I agree. Josh played in Glasgow and then 3 shows in the Highlands, as far north as Ullapool, after which we drove South along the coast back to Glasgow.

Considering this is the furthest north that I've ever been (Ullapool is on the same latitude as southern Alaska), I was expecting extreme cold and short days. However, we were pleasantly surprised that our first 2 days in the Highlands were enjoyed in the sun, wearing just light jackets. Apparently, the gulf stream keeps this small corner of Scotland relatively mild year round. . . In fact, Ullapool is known for having a few palm trees! Of course, this is still Britain, and our good luck ran out by the 3rd day when big gray rainclouds and dense fog rolled in. It was still lovely, though.
near Gairloch

One thing you notice about this part of Scotland is that there is water everywhere. Of course there's miles and miles of rocky coastline, dotted with several hundred little islands (unfortunately this time we didn't get to visit any islands) as well as small waterfalls just about everywhere you look. And then there are the lochs (lakes to us non-Scots). . . on our drive back to Glasgow we followed Loch Lomond and the famous Loch Ness (no Nessie spottings), and dozens of other smaller bodies of water. Multi-colored mountains and crags of varying sizes rise straight out of the lochs, usually with low-hanging clouds clinging to them and highland sheep grazing near the base.
Loch Ness
day 1 in the Highlands (Gairloch)
Modern day Scotland is as interesting as it's ever been. Next year they will vote on a referendum to separate from the United Kingdom, which they've been a part of for over 300 years. Despite the fact that the Scots and the English share the same small landmass and technically are ruled by the same government, they are vastly different in many ways. And it seems that after a centuries-old tumultuous relationship with England, the current economic and political situation has caused Scotland to finally break away once and for all. But who knows if the referendum will actually pass? As an outsider who knows very little about the situation, I was skeptical that Scotland could afford to detach, but after talking to a local Glaswegian promoter I am convinced otherwise. Apparently he and most of his friends adamantly support independence because they see England's economy slipping and don't want to be pulled down with it. Also, Scotland has already been pretty independent for years. According to wikipedia: Scotland's legal system has remained separate from those of England and Wales and Northern Ireland, and Scotland constitutes a distinct jurisdiction in public and private law. Interesting...
So in the last week we've driven the entire length of the UK. . . from Ullapool down to Arundel, West Sussex where we are now. And, believe it or not, we'll be heading back up to Scotland next week! With just a handful of UK shows left, we'll be on the East coast of Scotland (Dundee and Carnoustie, just north of Edinburgh) by Nov. 9th, just before flying to the Netherlands.


Check out more UK photos on Flickr!


Looking back

Currently I'm sitting in a friend's flat in London, catching up on some work and sipping my 4th or 5th cup of tea today (so far). It's another October in the UK and the usual cold, damp, gray weather has moved in, chilling me to the core. To be fair, though, the first few days of the month were surprisingly pleasant. And when we were in Austria a couple weeks ago, it was gloriously sunny!
wish I was here now
Josh & Chuck
I can't say enough about our week in Austria. It was productive and relaxing. . . if only all of our touring could go so smoothly! We stayed with Chuck LeMonds and his lovely family near Graz, in the south. Chuck is an ex-pat from Madison who has lived in Austria for 20+ years, making a living as a musician and teacher. Lucky for us, Chuck hooked up some fantastic duo shows for he and Josh in the Graz area. Here's are some photos from one of the places they played (a winery/ restaurant/ hotel/ venue) ...
the view from the winery

It's amazing how quickly the landscape, and everything else, changes when you cross the border from Austria to the Czech Republic. The rolling green hills turn to more craggly hills with patches of exposed rock. The pristine chateaus and churches become empty stone storefronts and boring white square housing complexes. Not to say that the CZ isn't beautiful- it's incredible- but there are differences. Driving through the Austrian countryside, near the border, I thought about what this area would have been like 25 years ago, during the Communist era. What did the quiet, prosperous Austrian farmers think of their neighbors (just a stone's throw away) whom they would never meet or even see? As we breezed past the CZ/ AU border, empty of guards on a Sunday afternoon I imagined how much this has changed- from a heavily military- guarded border to a stopping point between countries to an insignificant line between two members of the EU.
We spent several days in the Czech Republic's second-city, Brno. It's a fascinating old city full of winding cobblestone streets, medieval churches, a castle, and a very large population of University students. Josh played two shows here, and they were fantastic. The people we met were incredibly genuine and generous. We stayed with Michael, his girlfriend Kate and their 5 roommates (yeah, it was a full house). Michael told me that he and Kate are trying to find work in Canada. They are anxious to leave the CZ out of fear that the Communist party is making a come-back. That threw me a little. Clearly, the country has come a long way since that "dark" era- it seems to be prospering. But apparently the Communist party is still the 3rd most popular in the government, and growing. I can't imagine anyone voting in a Communist government, especially after having lived through it. . . But maybe some people were actually better off back then.
After Brno we had a couple days off so we went to the Medieval walled city of Cesky Krumlov. It was gorgeous but a bit Disney-esque because of all the tourism (thanks, Rick Steves!). 
at the Saturday market in Cesky Krumlov

more photos on the flickr page!