New Year, New Start: an End, a Beginning

It’s hard to know how to start this, but let’s go for it anyway. If you’re a regular reader/viewer of Contemplating the Clouds, have you noticed that the frequency of posts has dropped substantially over the last month or two? Well, there are at least three of you that probably have, but then agian that’s because you already know.

Know what? I hear you ask. Well, to put none-too-subtle a point to it, Contemplating the Clouds is coming to an end. In fact, this is the final post.

Bratislava at sunset

The final sunset of my three-city holiday in 2012: Bratislava Castle

After two and a bit years of blogging away, it is time to move on and move up. From my perspective, Contemplating has reached a natural point at which to stop and I’d like to take the opportunity to thank each and every one of you for reading. Whether you read virtually every post or just one or two, I do appreciate the fact that it is being read.

In the last 26 and a half months the blog has come quite a long way – and I hope very much for the better. From simple photos with barely even a title that no one really saw to certain posts which get traffic almost every single day, and from silence to long wordy rambles; it has, above all, been one gigantic learning curve. One that has made me realise some things I absolutely love doing, helped me to get and understand my job, and one that has allowed me to share my passion for various things in a way that people seem to quite enjoy.

The Giraffe, National Museum of Scotland, Edinburgh

The Giraffe in the NMS

Some of the most popular things that I’ve done are probably not too surprising: posts on the Edinburgh Military Tattoo, the National Museum of Scotland and The Water of Leith all rank in the top 10 posts, in terms of visitors (with reviews on the NMS’s exhibitions on Mummies and Catherine the Great also featuring in the top 20). The Queen’s Diamond Jubilee gin-fest, the Olympics and my trip to Moscow are also up there, along with a couple of posts about St Andrews and Graduation (the latter two get visited almost every time either of them is in the news). All in all, I think I can say with some confidence that the blog that started out as a good way to procrastinate that looked more studious that staring out the window, contemplating the clouds, has morphed into something a whole lot more.

Tower bridge and the Olympic Rings

Tower Bridge, during the Olympic Games

There are definitely some things I’ve really enjoyed: going on a behind-the-scenes tour of the Virgin Money Festival Fireworks in 2011 was a treat, so was writing about the Olympics and my little holiday to Moscow, Vienna and Bratislava last year. The two blog-birthday ‘Year in Photos‘ series also rank in my highlights, as do the G&T cheesecake and the Chilli and Lime gin.  The entire premise behind Instagrammers Anonymous has been great fun, and that’s without even mentioning St Andrews and some of the heartfelt posts about it.

A year in photos, st andrews, sunlight

St Andrews: Where it all began

But in this world all good things must come to an end. It is not without sadness that I’m hanging up my boots for Contemplating – and don’t worry, it will still be here if you want to read it, there just won’t be any updates – in fact, it was not an easy decision at all, but it’s time to move on to something more.

Chocolate and Ginger cake with Orange butter icing

The Chocolate and Ginger cake – the most viewed post

In the round up of popular posts above I ommited an entire category of posts: food. Food and drink is, as is probably fairly obvious to regular readers/people that know me, a big part of my life. I absolutely love it. I love making it, I love sharing it, I love tasting it, I love talking about it and I love writing about it. Of the top twenty posts on this blog, 10 of the top 20 are based around food or drink. And if you look at the search terms the blog gets found for then 14 of the top 30 relate either to food or drink. Can you spot where this is going?

If you’re curious, then the top two search terms, and the most read post relate to this: the chocolate and ginger cake with orange icing that I made for my Mum’s birthday back in 2011. The searches in positions four and five relate to the second most popular page – the Gin and Tonic Cheesecake. Thinking about it, there’s a fairly obvious direction that we’re heading in.

Sure, I could have just continued on Contemplating and just altered the blog’s theme to be more foodie-orientated, but I took the difficult decision to start over a little while back. Since late November I’ve been writing a few posts and getting a few things sorted out elsewhere on the big bad world-wide web and now seems like the right time to take it to the rest of the world. Please let me introduce you to The Usual Saucepans. Here you will find my latest kitchen adventures, my successes, my ‘must do better next time’ dishes, my love for all things local, and many other things besides. Over the next twleve months I hope to add more and more to this little recipe list and maybe throw in a few exciting twists here and there. So why don’t you pull up a stool, grab a plate and a glass and join me?

I’ve had a lot of fun writing Contemplating the Clouds, and have learnt many valuable leasons from it. But with a new year comes new priorities, new opportunities and so much more. I hope you will come over to The Usual Saucepans and join me there, but first and foremost let me say thank you for reading Contemplating the Clouds and making it such a pleasure to write.

Until the next time,

Craig

The first photo to ever appear on the blog

The first (and last) photo to ever appear on the blog

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A Weekend of Frozen Adventures

I think we can all agree that winter is now well and truly with us. But, on the plus side, it’s now CHRISTMAS TIME!!!!!!!!!

I’ve ditched my “It’s not even sodding December yet!” hat and replaced it with one of festive excitement and (bad) singing.

This weekend I definitely got well and truly into the festive spirit, and then promptly got back out of it by attempting to do some Christmas shopping. However, with a mince pie in hand and the Michael Bublé Christmas album on in the background I’m getting back into the mood.

Frosty leaves on atree trunkI went on a bit of an adventure on Saturday up to Perthshire, to go visit my great uncle. I don’t get up nearly as often as I’d like, but when I get the chance, I don’t hesitate on breaking free of the city and head of to more rural lands; so with the dog in the backseat we headed up the A9 for a day out. This is where most of my festive spirit came through – it was beautifully crisp and clear day, and the hills were all dusted with frost and snow. With the Christmas music drowning out my tuneless singing it was hard not to wish it was the 25th already.dog looking at river

To give her Majesty a bit of a walk I stopped off at The Hermitage, near Dunkeld. This turned out to be both a lot of fun and a bit precarious as it was, for the most part, a large ice rink. Keira had a whale of a time, of course, and I only had one unscheduled sit down, so I would definitely call the walk a success. It also gave me plenty of opportunity to take photos of frosty things. I don’t know why I’m so fascinated by them, but each time I’m out and about I end up taking more photos of them.

Once I’d ditched the boots we headed off to the village of Blair Atholl for a few hours of coffee, cake and chat (he still thinks I’m slightly nuts for going to Moscow, but we put pretty much everything else in the world to rights and I learnt a lot about Burma during the second world war). By the time we got round to leaving it was pitch black, but we were just in time to make a quick visit to one of my favourite shops – The House of Bruar. Whilst I would love many of the jackets and boots they sell there my salary doesn’t quite cover it, so I made do with a visit to the foodhall. On the somewhat transparent excuse of ‘looking for Christmas presents’ I managed to come out with some roast duck pâté, claret-infused cheddar and some honey and whisky smoked salmon. Definitely the best shopping I’ve managed so far, and definintely not one I’m keen on sharing. Our drive home was pretty uneventful, but I can confirm that my singing abilities did not improve.

Front of Edinburgh CastleSunday was another bright and early start, but this time to make use of my free Historic Scotland weekend pass and go have an up-close look at Edinburgh Castle. I only discovered last year that Historic Scotland do this pass each year on a weekend around St Andrews day, but some friends and I decided to monopolise on their good will and take a look at the most famous landmark in Edinburgh. Very little has changed since I went last year, which I guess isn’t hugely surprising but it was a lovely morning to stare at every horizon. One thing I did observe though, is that people are rather dim and were definitely waiting for the One O’Clock Gun to be fired, despite the large sign that says that it isn’t fired on a Sunday.

After our trip to the Castle I went on an unsuccessful attempt to buy others presents and have established that I am not a fan of festive shoppers. I am also very disappointed in the selection of Christmas jumpers on offer! Even the Jeremy Kyle recruitment centre (aka Primark), which has many in its window, couldn’t provide me with something for the office party. And even more upsetting, Whittards had sold out of Mulled Wine tea! I did get an orange and cinnamon rooibos, but it was the icing on the cake of a spectacularly bad (even by my standards) shipping trip. Time for mulled wine and Amazon shopping, I think.

Click on one of the photos below to see the slide show.

Cr

A Second Year In Photos: 50 Shades of Grey(scale)

Of all the wonders of photography and all the joy and vibrancy that colour brings to an image, I still love a good bit of black and white. Perhaps it’s the drama that they create, but there’s something about black and white images that I really like. Not all the time, that would leave you feeling a bit… uhm… grey, but if done occasionally it really makes it stand out.

Over the past year there have been quite a few black and white (or greyscale, if you prefer) photos on the blog, but unlike many of the other categories for A Second Year In Photos, I had no problems selecting which two images to use. In fact it was quite the opposite; I thought of these two before anything else, then found a category that would fit them both.

The first is the wonderful Edinburgh Castle and Princes Street Gardens, as see one sunny lunchtime in early March.
Edinburgh Castle, Princes Street Gardens, Sunlight, Walk, Spring, EdinburghThe second was taken during the Olympics when I was walking up the bank of the Thames. It’s of St Paul’s Cathedral, the millennium suspension bridge, and (possibly most importantly) the clouds and sky above it.
Black and white St Paul's Cathedral over the Millennium bridge.I hope you enjoy these photos as much as I do.

Tomorrow, for the final instalment of this year’s favourite photos, I’ll be returning to my old, but never tiresome (to me, at least), favourite: sunsets.

Cr

A Second Year In Photos: Cake and Kremlin Adventures

Some people like to go to the Costa Brava or Corfu for their holidays. They lie on the beach – book in one hand, pint in the other – and slowly turn themselves the colour of a lobster. I did this once (except the lobster part, I have an aversion to skin cancer) and found myself so incredibly bored that even my favourite books couldn’t keep me still for more than 20 minutes at a time. I like to go on an adventure when I go on holiday. I like to appease my (not-so) inner ten-year-old and go to interesting places and see interesting things – lying roasting away like a blow torch over a crème brûlée is not part of the deal.

In the past I’ve been lucky enough to see penguins in South Africa, go on a 4×4 safari in Antigua, stuff my face in New York’s Chinatown, get lost in the alleyways of Stone Town, Zanzibar, in the mid-day sun during Ramadan, climb the tallest free-standing mountain in the world, be within a metre of a wild lion, and amongst the other things on that list I can now add seeing a near-priceless selection of Fabergé eggs and watching the Viennese State Opera. Yes, in case you weren’t bored of hearing about it yet, I went on holiday this year to Moscow, Vienna and Bratislava. Day 5 of A Second Year In Photos breaks the ‘two photo’ rule I set for this series, but it was too difficult to decide which city to cut.

Not in the order I visited, we start with Vienna – one of my favourite cities in the world. Part I and Part II detail my trip to Vienna, but here we get to revel at the beauty of the Schönbrunn Palace (and the fact that I was feeling a little worse for wear on the day I took this).front of the Schönbrunn Palace, ViennaBratislava was the surprise for my trip. I only really went there because it was easier to fly home from there than it was from Vienna (they’re an hour apart by train), but I found a really intriguing little city and it’s definitely somewhere I’d go again; you know, just the very next time I’m ‘passing through’ Slovakia.Bratislava at sunset
I would have no qualms about saying that Moscow is the most bizarre city I’ve ever been too, but it’s also one of the most fascinating. Again the details are spread over a Part I and a Part II, but one day when I have plenty of money to splash about I’d like to go back and see how the other half live. Although the next time I go to Russia, I think it’ll be to St Petersburg; when that’s going to be, however, still remains more of a mystery than the Russian language.The Kremlin from a bridge over the Moscow RiverTravelling is one of life’s greatest pleasures and something I will choose any day over doing nothing on a beach. Whilst next year’s adventure(s) is/are still very much at the idea stage, here’s hoping they’re every bit as exciting and enjoyable – if maybe a little less bizarre – than this year’s adventures.

Tomorrow for the penultimate day of photos we return to my favourite kind of photography – the simplicity of black and white.

Cr

A Second Year In Photos: A Golden-Diamond-Jub-Olympic Summer

Let’s be honest, we’re never going to have another summer like 2012. Not only have parts of the country gone from being drought-stricken to being underwater, but we had the second ever British Diamond Jubilee (Victoria’s was the other one, if you’re wondering) and London made history as the first city to hold the Olympic Games for the third time. In tribute to this once-in-a-lifetime summer I’ve decided that day 4 of A Second Year In Photos is to be dedicated to celebrating our Jub-Olympic summer (as horrific a name as that is) and inspiring a generation.

Despite the official anniversary being in February, it was decided (presumably because of the trustworthiness of the British weather) that all of the official celebrations would take place over a long weekend in June. Obviously this meant that it rained for a large part of that weekend, but with a bit of stiff upper lip and our handy collections of waterproofs we made it through.

I was in the little Yorkshire village of Bramham for the weekend visiting a friend (tall tales over here) where we were lucky enough to catch a bit of sun for a very British tea party in the street. It was certainly an entertaining weekend, even if some of my memories are a little hazy (I blame whoever thought drinking G&Ts from a pint glass was a good idea).Bunting down the High Street, Bramham.After the right royal piss-up that was the Jubilee, we geared ourselves up once again to invite the whole world to come and have a snoop round the country. Despite ‘scandals’ about security, budgets and all the political back-fighting, the Olympics were an outstanding success for the UK – both on and off the medal table. I was lucky enough to follow in my great uncle’s footsteps (him and my great aunt having been at the last London Olympics back in 1948) and got to go down and soak up some of the atmosphere. My friend and I ‘only’ had tickets for a day of the tennis (although Olympic Wimbledon Centre Court tickets aren’t exactly something to be sniffed at), but we spent the week revelling in the Olympic spirit (gin, obviously) – even managing to watch the men’s 20km road walk race outside Buckingham Palace. I had an incredible time in London that week, and became an expert in so many sports and members of Team GB.

The Olympic Rings became a familiar site to most Britons over the course of the summer – the closest set to me being the ones in Edinburgh, and of course the Paralympic Agitos afterwards – but the rings on the Thames were also pretty special.

Olympic rings and St Paul'sAlthough not quite as impressive as my favourite set – those on Tower Bridge.

Tower bridge and the Olympic RingsI don’t think I really need to say that I had a fantastic time during all our celebrations this year, so it seems only fair to give them their own special day here.

Leading on from the Jub-Olympics, tomorrow’s A Year In Photos will be more of my favourite holiday snaps from this year.

Cr