Category: Travel

Highlights from Scotland and Ireland

This summer, I had to miss the US Go Congress in favor of a family reunion in Ireland, but was able to attend the European Go Congress in Brussels instead. Starting with a week in Scotland and ending with a week in Switzerland, this was my longest vacation in a while.

If you follow @smartgo on Twitter, you’ve already seen some of the highlights. I want to provide more context and better pictures of my favorite spots on this trip, for armchair travelers as well as those who are lucky enough to one day visit these places.

Scotland

Stirling Castle

Did you know the unicorn is the national animal of Scotland? Stirling Castle has all the features you’d expect of a castle, but unicorns on the roof? Unexpected.

The Kelpies

From unicorns to The Kelpies (shape-shifting water spirits): these 30 meter high sculptures celebrate the horse-powered heritage of Scotland.

Falkirk Wheel

To connect two canals at different elevations, you can build a series of locks. Or a rotating lift for boats. The Falkirk Wheel is ingenious, moving boats with very little energy.

Glencoe

The landscape around Glencoe is beautiful, and we’ll certainly come back there for more hiking.

Glenfinnan Viaduct

During the summer, you can take the Jacobite Steam Train from Fort William to Mallaig and back twice a day – a brilliant scheme for dumping a trainload of tourists in the picturesque port town of Mallaig at lunch and dinner. The viaduct made famous by the Harry Potter movies is now a major tourist attraction, and parking is limited, so get there very early if you want to time it such that you see the steam train pass over the viaduct. (Needless to say, we miscalculated.) Also, if you want to take the steam train, book far in advance. (A few weeks out, they had only a single one-way ticket left: our daughter got to take the train, and we were out of luck.)

Brochs

Brochs are 2000 year old double-walled buildings, found only in Scotland; not much is known about their origins and purpose. We were lucky to see two that are among the best preserved: Dun Telve and Dun Troddan near Glenelg. Really fascinating. The multi-level design with a stair between the inner and outer wall is impressive.

Glenelg-Skye Ferry

The little car ferry between Glenelg and Isle of Skye is quite an experience: it only takes six cars, and the car deck is angled to make it easy to drive on and off. For the crossing, the deck is rotated by hand to align with the boat. I have not seen the movie yet, but apparently, this ferry was featured in Made of Honor.

Edinburgh

We only had a day in Edinburgh, so while we got to explore the castle, see Greyfriars Bobby, and take a tour of the South Bridge Vaults, there’s so much more we have to come back to.

The highlight was a fun dinner with Matt Gemmell, author of the action-thrillers CHANGER and TOLL. (No, he didn’t reveal any secrets about his upcoming third novel.)

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Ireland

We stayed in Glengarriff in County Cork, a lovely area.

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Skibbereen Heritage Center

Skibbereen was badly affected by the Great Famine; it was sobering to learn more about the devastating potato famine of the 1840s (and the ever-present risk of monoculture), as well as the mismanaged response from England. Hard to believe that Ireland’s population was higher in 1841 than it is today.

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Kerry Cliffs

The Kerry Cliffs are less famous than the Cliffs of Moher, but no less impressive. In the distance you can see Skellig Michael, famous for its monastery, birds, and Star Wars. Again, book far far ahead if you’re interested in visiting the island. While you’re there, I’d recommend visiting the nearby Skelligs chocolate factory for free samples. Their Lime & Black Pepper Chocolate Bar is delicious.

Gap of Dunloe

The Gap of Dunloe is stunningly scenic. We drove the narrow road through the pass by car; I’d prefer to hike it next time.

We’ll certainly visit both Scotland and Ireland again – many places I’d love to return to, and so much more to see.

EGC 2019 in Brussels

A family reunion put me in Ireland right during the US Go Congress; luckily, the European Go Congress lined up perfectly. I arrived in Brussels without jet lag, and definitely did better than two years ago in Oberhof.

I entered as 2 dan instead of 3 dan, knowing that European ranks are tougher than US ranks. However, 1 dan might have been the right rank, as that’s where I ended up (see my EGF ranking). I won half my games in the main tournament, but I was 1-4 in the first week and 4-1 in the second week, a clear sign of being overrated.

The weekend tournament didn’t go as well: I lost all five games. Each game was winnable, but somehow I managed to mess up. I regrouped and analyzed the games, and paid more attention to taking care of my weak groups instead of going for big points, and won the next four games.

A few other observations:

  • I got to practice my Norwegian hanging out with a dozen players from Norway. And it was great to get to know players I’ve long known through Twitter, such as Marcel Gruenauer.
  • I really enjoyed the longer time limits: with two hours per player, games are often four hours long; definitely valuable to spend that much time thinking intensely about the game.
  • Many players stayed only for the first week and the weekend tournament, so that’s certainly an option if you can’t stay for two weeks. Looking at the registered participants, there were 571 players for the first week, 702 for the weekend tournament, and 397 for the second week.
  • Brussels was a great place to have the tournament, with lots of places to eat and explore (more on that below). They had go boards in nearby pubs; maybe playing rengo until 1 am was not conducive to optimal play the next day?
  • The playing space was okay, except for lack of air conditioning – temperatures in Brussels reached 40° C (100° F) during the first week.

Next year, I plan to be at the US Go Congress in Estes Park, Colorado – hope some of the European players will be able to make it.

Side trips

At the US Go Congress, there’s usually a group of us touring the nearest Frank Lloyd Wright buildings. Brussels has a lot of beautiful old buildings, but I found some nearby places that were more to my liking.

The Atomium

I had seen the Atomium before, so I just went to take pictures of this fun structure this time.

Reading Between the Lines

Reading Between the Lines (Doorkijkkerk) is an artwork out in the green, well worth the train, bus, and hike from Brussels.

Liège-Guillemins

I love the Stadelhofen station in Zürich designed by Santiago Calatrava, so when I found out his train station in Liège is only an hour from Brussels, I knew I had to check it out. I was blown away by the size and openness of that space, and the light coming in.

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Port House

The Port House in Antwerp was designed by Zaha Hadid: Not to everyone’s liking, I’m sure, but it just put a smile on my face as I walked around it.

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Maybe one of these will inspire you to visit beautiful Belgium. If not, there’s always chocolate.