May 31, 2011


Continuing my series of posts on different kinds of street food, in Nice I tried Socca. Socca is pancake-like and made out of chickpea flour and olive oil. It is baked in a large flat pan and then served while still hot.

Socca is surprisingly filling. A serving like the one in my picture is almost enough for a whole meal and only costs a euro or two. Overall Socca is one of those foods you should try once but you probably won't have a strong desire to keep going back, unlike Belgian waffles.


French Riviera

Sorry for the gap in posting. I have been pretty busy lately. This past weekend this blog turned two years old, and I would like to increase the frequency of posts over the next year.

Earlier in May, I went to the French Riviera for a 4-day weekend. I stayed in Nice and took trips to Antibes, Cannes, and Monaco. It was nice to get away from cool and overcast Scotland for a couple days. The weather was prefect on Thursday and Friday.

The Cannes Film Festival was going on that weekend. All of the huge yachts were out, and I got to see some of the largest in the world. I walked out to the end of the dock to get a better view and hung out with the paparazzi as they wanted for someone to leave the Lady Moura. The events surrounding the film festival were a little bizarre. You had all kinds of people walking around trying to spot someone famous or to get into one of the various parties. Some of these people were rather dressed up, which made them seem all the more desperate. It resembled groups of college freshmen on a Friday night trying to find a frat party that would let them in.

Monaco was also an absurd place, but in a different way. It is very much a place of contradictions. The city/country consists mainly of high-rise towers. However, there are lots of nice little parks and green areas all over. Of course, there were plenty of middle age men driving expensive supercars and a flat the size of mine would cost over €1 million, but at the same time, I got the impression that Monaco must have been a kind of a backwater 100 years ago.

Since I was there two weeks before the Grand Prix, the course was almost finished being set up and I was able to walk most of the track. One of the things I did was I went to the Monte Carlo Casino. The Casino is very grand and not like any casino you would find in America. It cost €10 to get in. Since the minimum for blackjack was €50, I just played the slot machines for a while and watched people play roulette. I saw one guy win over €8,000 on one game. It also had a self-cleaning toilet I took a video of.

My pictures are now uploaded and a few are below the jump.

May 6, 2011

Historic Day in Scotland

Today will go down as an important day in the history of Scotland. Last night the people of Scotland voted and gave the Scottish National Party a surprise majority in the Parliament and a strong mandate to govern the country for the next five years. Not to overstate things, but this is huge news and changes everything.

The outcome of the election is very significant. The Scottish Parliament was designed by the Labour Party in 1998 to use proportional representation so that it would be impossible for the nationalists to win a majority of the seats. They feared the SNP would use the Parliament as a step towards independence. The SNP were able to overcome this last night.

For the past four years, they have governed as a minority government, relying on the other parties to pass anything. This obviously restricted what they could do and forced them to make compromises. Now they are free to pursue their own agenda.

Scotland's relationship with Westminster and the rest of the UK has dramatically changed for at least the next five years. The SNP Government is in the position where it can claim to be the only government in the UK with the legitimacy to rule as is the only party to have a majority of seats in its legislative body. It will use its mandate to pressure Cameron. And if he doesn't get his way, Salmond will use every grievance as a means of showing how Scotland would be better off without the English. The next couple of years will be a long, subtle campaign for independence.

You could see the effects of the election even today, before all of the results were announced. At work we have already begun to discuss how we will have to approach our English equivalents differently.

May 1, 2011

How I crashed the Royal Wedding

Since I was already in London this week for an alumni reception my university was hosting, I decided to stick around until Friday when the royal wedding was. I wasn't particularly interested in standing along the route all day, but I did want to see the crowds and how people were celebrating. It was a big British national event and worth having some sort of experience.

I got to the Green Park tube station around 10:30. I thought that I would try walking towards the middle of the Mall thinking the crowds would be thinner there. However, the police were blocking all access to the Mall and the area around it. So I kept walking towards Trafalgar Square. However, it was blocked off too so I headed back to Green Park. It turned out that at some point before anything started, the police had blocked all access to the route and also to the sites where they had set up giant screens. If were weren't on the Mall or at one of the site with the screens really early, they weren't letting you in. I spent some time walking around trying to figure out how to get through. I did get to see some of the Household Cavalry walking towards Buckingham Palace, which was pretty much the extent of the procession I saw.

Eventually I found a spot where people where sitting on the top of a 10 ft high plywood wall on the edge of Green Park. I stood on top of a 3 ft high barrier and pulled myself over the top and on to a small 2X4 ledge on the other side. The other side wasn't the actual park but a rectangular maintenance area. The police then started to yell at everyone standing on the difference sections of the walls to go back to the road or they would arrest use. Some of the other people started to jump into the park so I made my way around the wall (walking on a 2 inch wide ledge) to the park side of the box. By then the police were busy chasing the earlier jumpers. I waited until after this 70 year old Indian guy jumped because I was sure I could out run him. After almost landing on a glass bottle, I ran into the crowd of people watching the screen to hide.

By this point, they were just arriving back at Buckingham Palace. I did get to see them come out on the balcony on the giant screen set up in the park. I had a great view of the flyover and got to buy a copy of the official programme.