The great journey
Discovering the Highlands
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The highland escapades in the lastest James Bond movie Skyfall may have boosted Scotland’s popularity, but the country has long been a dream destination thanks to its natural landscapes, time-honored golf courses and smoky scotch. We start our trip in Aberdeen and travel around the northwest, encountering loads of fish, sled dog mushers, ancient settlements built on the water and rangers who make money off of 007.
Lufthansa offers three daily services to Aberdeen (ABZ) and two daily services to Edinburgh (EDI) from Frankfurt, as well as one flight daily to Glasgow (GLA) from Dusseldorf. Starting in April 2014, Germanwings will serve Edinburgh six times weekly from Cologne.
Margot Brodie sits in a small garret room at the Alex Scott & Co. kilt factory amid photos of her collie dog, lengths of cloth, an array of bobbins and her thimble. Over in the corner, there’s a sewing machine. Outside the window, helicopters hover like seagulls above the granite-gray port as they carry their regular deliveries of workers to the oil rigs out in the North Sea.
The sprightly senior is just back from lunch, which she takes punctually at eleven o’clock every morning. At 75, she is not only Aberdeen’s oldest kiltmaker, but also one of the best in the country. It takes her roughly 13 hours to complete a traditional Scottish kilt; a complete set can cost anything up to 1400 pounds. She began her five-year apprenticeship in 1954, learning her craft from an army kiltmaker. Today she is still passing on what she learned.
“Ay, ay, it’s an industry with a secure future,” she says with a mischievous grin, “I’m not planning on retiring.” Her reputation extends far beyond the city’s limits. “People from all over the kingdom order my kilts,” she tells us with visible satisfaction, “I never get bored, I really enjoy the work.”
As if to prove her point, she takes out her measuring tape, which is 60 inches long, roughly a meter and a half. “Once someone came to me for a kilt. He was such a fatty, I had to use two tapes to measure all the way round his middle!” she laughs. She just has one regret, namely not having emigrated to Australia 40 years ago! She does fly out there regularly on winter vacation, though.
“130 yards ist not bad for your first day,” says Neil Marr, 47, my golf instructor. In front of him, a laptop displays my tee-off performance data, and later Marr analyzes on video every error in my posture – and there are quite a few. Scotland is considered
to be the cradle of the time-honored game, and Meldrum House Club, one of Scotland’s most exclusive golfing establishments, honors its traditions to the letter. The course is over 7000 yards long (roughly 6400 m), and club membership is limited to 400 to minimize waiting times. A stone’s throw from the first tee, there’s a stately old manor house that’s been converted into a luxury hotel.
Head coach Marr also trains the Scottish national youth team, but today he has me to contend with. A qualified sports psychologist, he keeps his true thoughts about my golfing potential to himself. “The main thing a good golfer needs in additionto mental strength, technique, physical fitness and a good diet,” says Marr, “is patience.” Wanting to do too much too soon often ends in failure. “I play less but I still improve my game,” he says,a look of surprise momentarily crossing his face. Marr seems a paragon of composure, and looks ten years younger than he is. We trundle across the extensive course in the cart, enjoying the view of endless green hills. The sun is out, the birds are singing. We would be happy to stay for another couple of days but it’s time to move on.
We plan to end the day at tiny Knockdhu Distillery, which was founded in 1894 and is hidden away in Knock, on the fringes of the Whisky Trail, a concentration of famous distilleries inthe northeast of the country. The air here is fragrant with the smell of malt.
Master distiller Gordon Bruce, 49, takes us straight to the large wooden washbacks and copper stills. “We are very traditional in the way we produce our whisky, and we haven’t really changed our method in the past hundred years,” he says. “The fact that it’s not mass produced is what makes our scotch so special.” To prove his point, he holds up a calculator with huge buttons and mischievously says: “May I show you our latest computer?”
The ground outside is peaty, ideal for growing barley, and fresh, clear water bubbles from several springs. These are ideal prerequisites for an excellent scotch. Next door, the different “vintages” are maturing under the roof of a large barn in some 1200 oak barrels brought over especially from Spain or the United States. “They were originally used to store sherry or bourbon,” Bruce explains, tenderly running his fingers over one of them, “the flavor rubs off.” The warehouse is his great treasure, and as he man strides between the long rows of barrels in the gloom, his face suddenly takes on a blissful expression. “I love my work because it’s not something you can plan. Conditions change constantly and that constantly creates new challenges,” he explains. In his free time, Bruce likes to travel occasionally, “but only to cold places.” Otherwise he spends his time experimenting with whisky, blending different single malts – as you can see, for him the job really is a “vocation.” Also, he lives right across from the distillery, his workplace always within sight and reach. His eldest daughter is a master distiller at Chivas and one of very few women in the profession His other two children aren’t quite there yet. “But I’m working on it,” says Bruce with a wicked grin. Sláinte!
“One dog is enough to take you for a walk,” says Nici Nardini, 36. Sled dog Pandora strains so hard on her leash you know immediately what she means. And listening to the barks and feral howls of the remaining 39 huskies outside their wooden kennels, you quickly realize why the Stewarts have no neighbors. Their cottage is in a clearing in the middle of nowhere, and their only regular visitor is a stork. Alan and Fiona Stewart are in the dog sled business, and Nardini helps them out of love for the animals. Asa dog handler, she travels all over the world. The Stewarts’ son, John, earns his living as a diver on an oil platform, but he’s alsoa professional “musher” (a person who drives a dog sled team) and competes in races. That’s why he spent the last three winters in Canada. He even survived Alaska’s Iditarod, the world’s most grueling dog sled race. “You must have the animals under control at minus 50 degrees because a tumble can be fatal,” says mother Fiona, 51, who herself raced for seven years.
In a race, a team of 16 dogs is harnessed to a sled and has to cover up to 100 miles a day. Training begins in September, and for this the Stewarts have specially designed carts with rubber wheels that the dogs pull through the woods. Few mushers can survive from their prize money alone; the races are mostly about prestige and the thrill of competition and taking part. “If I had known what I was letting myself in for when my husband brought a husky home…,” says Fiona, laughing. But on a serious note, she adds, “Living with the dogs is very different, very special. You have to devote your whole life to them.” Standing besideNici, she surveys the barking pack. Both women beam.
Since Skyfall, ranger Scott McCombie has often stood right on what is now a famous spot in Glen Etive. In the movie, Bond and his boss, M, break their journey here, and later the Highlands provide the backdrop for a showdown. The last time McCombie was here, he traded his ranger’s gear for a pinstriped suit and struck a cool 007 pose. Photos of the occasion now form part of the Skyfall exhibition the national park which opened soon after the blockbuster’s release in order to attract new visitors. McCombie is quite happy to cash in on Skyfall’s success, as the proceeds will help preserve the beautiful natural scenery here. Lone campers put up their tents beside the streams and hikers lose themselves in the vast glens. “It’s just a pity we don’t have any bears,” says McCombie. At least they have an undaunted agent.
In the afternoon, we meet Barrie Andrian, 57, an underwater archeologist from the United States, who runs the national Crannog Center. In case you didn’t know: For reasons not yet entirely clear, back in around 500 BCE the ancestors of today’s Scots lived in wooden settlements called crannogs, which they erected as artificial islands in a lake. They likely chose this form of dwelling for protection, but possibly as a status symbol. Andrian and her team have spent many years reconstructing such a crannog – using only original parts and the then customary tools. The result is an impressive exhibit people can step inside and touch. “It’s only wood, but it is so much more, too,” says Andrian. “We are the first people to have touched this wooden floor in 2500 years. To me, it feels like we are touching our ancestors – it’s like a connection with our past.”
This is what tranquility feels like. It’s early morning and we are in waders, standing in the fast-flowing waters of the Dee River as the first rays of the sun reach the riverbank. “It always takes about 20 minutes for people to say, “Wow, this is so peaceful,” says Ian Murray, 50, following up with: “Don’t lose my late grandmother’s handmade fly!” With three elegant swishes of his 15-foot rod, he casts his line. Soon we can see the bright bait being carried along on the surface by the current. Ian has about 100 different flies in his SUV, dozens of them homemade. He is one of the most experienced rangers in the region and takes people from all over the world to the right spots to fish. Right now, all we lack is a proper catch. What was his biggest so far? “My girlfriend!,” says Murray with a laugh. It doesn’t seem to be his lucky day today, though, not a single a salmon bites. Even if one did, this is the closed season, so we would have to throw it back. And anyway, it can also be wonderfully relaxing to catch nothing at all.
Our last stop is Stonehaven, a pretty fishing village near Aberdeen. When we arrive, skipper Brian Wilkinson, 63, is already waiting to cast off, the engine of the Lady Gail II turning over impatiently. From the sea, we get the best view of the coast and the Dunnottar Castle ruins, and hope to glimpse a passing dolphin or whale. “Photographers usually go overboard first!” is our skipper’s greeting. We see numerous penguins waddling along the shore in front of the camera, but no mammals this time, not even out at sea. The sense of peace that follows a day spent outdoors stays with us even as we travel home. But we will certainly miss the Scottish sense of humor.
Vienna is a flourishing fashion capital whose young designers have made waves internationally – its fashions are refreshingly fun and offbeat. The great opportunities and high
quality of life the Austrian capital offers attracts a lot of young and upcoming fashion designers from all over the country.
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Ask Eva Buchleitner what she makes and she’ll say “tokens of chivalry.” That sounds like something from a bygone era, but the fashion accessories the 42-year-old designer sells under her own Eva Blut label are anything but old-fashioned. Her current collection of purses and bags displayed in the window of her store on a street corner in Vienna’s First District play with transparency and are made of materials as different as leather and nylon. The designs are straightforward with a twist. And that’s not just a figure of speech. The Twister bag made of slategray Napa leather and printed canvas turns on its own axis at the center so that it hugs your body no matter how you carry it. “I wanted to make bags that were practical and wearable,” Buchleitner explains, “that were both versatile and beautiful.”
The Austrian-born designer is a pioneer of her country’s fledgling fashion scene. Ten years ago, the only Austrian couturier with an international reputation was Helmut Lang. Times have changed. “When I showed my collection in Paris in 2001, my label was one of only four or five from Austria,” Buchleitner explains. “That number has now grown to about 20.”
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Viennese fashions are refreshingly fun and offbeat. Young designers are moving to the capital from Linz, Graz and Salzburg because of the great opportunities and quality of life Vienna offers. “We work with rather than against each other here,” says Buchleitner, “we have a good network, fashion fairs and also government funding.” Lena Hoschek, Thomas Kirchgrabner and the Sandra Thaler and Annette Prechtl duo have all gained a reputation beyond Austria’s borders. While big international designers, like Miu Miu, Giorgio Armani and Louis Vuitton, have recently opened flagship stores downtown, Vienna’s local labels tend to be located in the Josefstadt, Mariahilf and Margareten districts, where apartments and studio spaces are less expensive. But examples of the local designers’ work can also be admired at the Modepalast trade fair and is a great place to meet the people behind the labels and shop to your heart’s content.
Mark & Julia
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Julia Rupertsberger and Mark Baigent have shown their designs at the trade fair, too. Both 22, they met at fashion school in Linz. In January 2010, they established the Mark & Julia label and soon began winning awards for their unisex designs. Although Julia and Mark both earn their living mainly as stylists, they have a clear goal: “If our designs aren’t earning us proper money by the time we’re 30, we’ve chosen the wrong career,” says Mark. Neither of them had wanted to remain in their hometown, Linz. “Vienna is the only Austrian city that has the stores, the media and the fashion scene,” Julia explains. “There’s a great awakening taking place in Vienna’s fashion scene right now,” she continues. And Vienna’s full of people willing to spend money. Mark & Julia’s last winter collection of roughly 300 pieces was sold out within two months.
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Ute Ploier, 36, has more ambitious plans. She is a graduate of the renowned Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design in London and the University of Applied Arts in Vienna. Her graduate collection won the City of Vienna Fashion Award, which came with prize money for starting her own collection. Ploier set up shop in 2003, specializing in men’s fashions because she liked the idea of turning the “men design for women” principle on its head. Her elegant androgynous blazers, pants and shirts have been shown in Paris, and her designs are extremely popular in Japan, although she has a loyal following in Vienna, too. “This city has made huge strides in fashion over the last ten years,” she says, “but there’s still room for creativity.”
09:00 a.m. – Original English Breakfast
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We spend the night at the Connaught. It shed its dusty image and got a complete makeover a couple of years back and is now one of the most appealing five-star hostelries in town. After indulging in a hearty, original English breakfast – what else? – we walk the few steps across to Burlington House, the home of the Royal Academy of Arts near Piccadilly Circus.
10:00 a.m. – Arts most royal
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The Royal Academy of Arts (RA) contains some of the best galleries in London. The most important works in its permanent collection of British art can be found in the refurbished John Madejski Fine Rooms – open for viewing all year round and free of charge. This is also where you will find the only Michelangelo sculpture to be seen anywhere in Great Britain: Tadao Tondo. the forecourt in front of the academy is well worth a visit in its own right, to say nothing of the changing exhibitions, even though admission is charged to those.
01:00 p.m. – Lunch at The Wolseley
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Art certainly whets the appetite. Luckily, the Wolseley is just around the corner and serves a wide range of dishes from breakfast to dinner. Lunch and dinner there are in the tradition of European coffee houses; in fact, this upmarket brasserie serves probably the best wiener schnitzel in the city.
03:00 p.m. – Browsing and Bemused
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London has an almost bewildering array of unusual shops. There’s always something new opening somewhere, then disappearing again – or popping up in another place with a different concept. The Kokon To Zai – a fearfully good clothes, furniture and gift store – displays avant-garde fashions alongside pieces straight out of a Victorian chamber of horrors.
04:00 p.m. – A Stroll Through Portobello Market
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As we’re already in a browsing mood, we take in neighboring Portobello Market, too. Visitors to London’s most atmospheric market can look forward to happening upon anything from books to antiques, food, streetwear fashions and typically British bric-à-brac.
07:00 p.m. – Savoring Gordon Ramsey’s hospitality …
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For dinner, we drive to the York & Albany, chef Gordon Ramsey’s elegant gastro pub between Regent’s Park and Camden Town, to claim our reserved table. The open show kitchen dishes up such delicacies as roast English veal with mangold, artichokes, lemon and capers, as well as fried cod, crustacean cassoulet and cherry tomato sauce.
07:00 p.m – … or to a night café
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Time is no object for those without a table reservation at the York & Albany, so this is a good opportunity to pay a visit to the Late Night Chameleon Café in Dalston. The name is deceptive: book ahead and you are welcome to browse for hours at the mini department store, which sells clothes, music, books and design.
10:00 p.m. – Another bite to eat
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After that, it’s time for a small bite to eat at the Brick Lane Beigel Bake. The main attractions at this 24/7 bakery with its trademark rough Cockney charm are the salt beef and the entertaining mix of patrons.
11:00 p.m. – Nightcap at Scott’s
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Time for a nightcap at Scott’s before heading back to the hotel? This high society restaurant and oyster bar is done out in grandiose Art Deco and serves reasonably priced cocktails and fantastic fish and chips.