The Meaning of Places
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Picture by Antoine LE

This article is part of a multimedia project called #HashtagScotland . Over the next few months, Scottish blogger Laretour and I will be documenting the impact of social media trends on natural landscapes, confronting online expectations with reality.

“You can’t be in two places at once”, as the saying goes. Well, can we? Where does a place end? Where does it begin? Can they overlap? Perhaps if we start thinking about the idea of a place do we see that it can be many things. Instagram, and social media in general, tend to make us think of a place as mere locations, as a collection of geographical coordinates: places as dots on a map. Hence, we as travellers feel the need to collect these places, to connect the dots and create our own map of a destination.

Places can therefore be a collection of places. Climbing to the top of Ben A’An, a popular hiking spot overlooking Loch Katrine, is a way to add on a dot to our own map of Scotland. We’ve seen a place, Ben A’An, and have made another, Scotland, a bit less unknown to us. And the more places we see, the better the picture, places make up a place. 

As I regularly travel on the Scottish Highland roads, I have noticed that the trend is very strong. We come to Scotland with a bucket list, places (or let’s say locations) that we want to tick off, in order to create our own picture of Scotland. What’s on the bucket list is really up to us, but it seems that we generally go for the best, the top 10, the unmissable, the top-rated. And that’s probably fine, until all travellers do have the same list. Then we merely repeat everyone else’s picture of Scotland.

Scottish blogger Laretour and myself have recently taken on a project, aptly named #HashtagScotland, in order to document the impact of this particular approach to travel in Scotland. She and I, over numerous conversations, have come to realise that social media algorithms had a tendency to guide, if not dictate, what places meant: dots on a map, to be collected, rushing by natural landscapes that are equally worthy of exploration.

A popular photo spot in the Scottish Highlands

A popular photo spot in the Scottish Highlands

Places can also be a mental state, a particular feeling. Can we take a step back and reflect, relax, unwind, if we are constantly rushing to popular hotspots? Is “making the most of it” the best way to discover a destination? How about doing less, turning left when everyone else turns right, getting a bit lost and find a secluded beach, a ruined castle, a scenic loch, that hasn’t been tagged by algorithms. And how about staying somewhere more than one night, to get to know the locals, to get a sense of what it means to be in a particular place?

Blogger @laretour exploring a West Highland beach

Over 9 years ago now, I moved to Scotland from my native France. If I have always found inspiration in its magnificent landscapes, it is the way life here follows the rhythms of Nature that is for me truly special. When touring the country, I encourage everyone to think of Scotland as more than just a collection of beautiful photos. It is its people, its landscapes, its remote beaches and its rich heritage that make it a unique place, inviting us to switch off our social feeds, to take the time and explore its remote roads, in order to come home to our place feeling a little bit more inspired than when we left. 

Nicolas Loisel
Exploring Scotland's architecture
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Picture by Bill Mackie

 

Cobble Tales and E-City Chauffeur have teamed up in 2019 to create a truly unique and original experience: a very personal and unique guided tour along the architectural marvels of the region of Fife and the City of Dundee in Scotland.

Explore and discover Scotland with a specialist guide and a personal chauffeur, in the comfort of a zero-emission Tesla Model S.

Olga, from Cobble Tales, had kindly agreed to tell you more about this journey on to the architectural landscapes of Scotland.

Get in touch for more details at info@e-citychauffeur.com or hello@cobbletales.com.

 

Fife and Dundee: from Scots cottages to “starchitecture”

Guest blog by Olga Gogoleva from Cobble Tales.

For those architecture lovers who venture outside of Edinburgh, Fife coastal route offers an exciting day out, checking off a potent blend of historical and cutting edge contemporary “starchitecture”.

The Forth Bridge

A highlight on any journey to heading to Fife, is the 1890s mammoth railway bridge over the Forth. A UNESCO world heritage site, it marked the milestone in major bridge engineering innovations in the wake of long distance train travel. The famous red industrial aesthetics of its structural members of varying scale lends this building elegance and grace as it leaps across the estuary on the granite shoes.

Baronial architecture

Further north, coastal villages such as St Monans and Crail offer a charming wonder through picturesque streets and captivating harbours.

The majority of Crail’s buildings are listed, so it is no surprise that one really feels taken back to the 17th century. 21st century has hardly marked its narrow streets punctuated with traditional Scottish Baronial white harled cottages with steep crow stepped gables.

As evident in Crail, this rough texture of traditional Scottish plaster was removed from the majority of buildings, leaving the sandstone rubble exposed. Where preserved, or reapplied, the white harling brings out the three-dimensionality of Scottish forms as the sun strikes the forms that cast shadows.

A fine example of this is found at grade A listed 4 High street Golf Hotel, where the function of a stair tower is expressed through a corbelled volume above the street. More expensive ashlar dressings were traditionally used to frame the openings and at quoins. In some buildings, especially in St Monans, eager-for-colour owners painted these details in bright colours, perhaps adding to the picturesque character if not to historical accuracy.

At Monans and Crail, look out for other traditional elements like corner turrets with cone shaped roofs, date stones, and ornate skewputs.

Maggie’s Centres

Driving past Kirkcaldy, it is easy to check off  Zaha Hadid’s Maggie’s Centre that hunches under the trees beside the giant hospital. The unassuming dark surface of the building’s exterior continues from the asphalt of the car park as if it were to wrap around the sensitive and light core of the pavilion. The walls fold to become roofs, all in that motion of the asphalt envelope.

The experience of the hospital environment is emphasised by sharp planes of the exterior, to create a powerful feeling of contrast as one enters a completely different world of sensuous white interior of tall spaces that inspire a feeling of hope and warmth. Friendly staff are happy to show the occasional visitor around the interiors.

As distinctive of most Maggie’s Centres, the views are directed to a green garden, which improves the mental well-being of the patients and their family. “Spatial experiences can elevate spirits”, as said Zaha.

As opposed to Maggie’s in Kirkcaldy, the Dundee pavilion sits alone in the landscape. By a personal request from landscape architect and architectural critic Charles Jencks, a husband of late Maggie Jencks, the architect Frank Gehry designed his first building in the UK. This was the first new build Maggie’s Centre, and a structure that attracted worldwide attention to Maggie’s and started a sequence of “starchitect” projects.

The tower, almost reminiscent of the doocot, marks the landscape. A tempered example of Gehry’s baroque modernism, the pavilion is calmer than buildings Gehry is famous for, all intentionally organised to create a friendly environment.  

Inside the white cottage-like pavilion, the scale is kept very domestic under the engaging timber beams constantly changing their angle under the wavy roof. As in all Maggie’s Centres, the space is centered around the kitchen table, where comforting social interactions take place with a cup of tea. The views are directed to a labyrinth garden designed by Arabella Lennox Boyd, with a labyrinth inspired by Chartres Cathedral and Anthony Gormley’s sculpture Another Time X.

From the garden, Gehry’s intent to design the building after the Scots traditional but’n’ben dwelling is obvious.

V&A Dundee

The new V&A Dundee, designed by Japanese architect Kengo Kuma, is an ultimate Scottish destination for any architecture enthusiast.

Part of Dundee’s waterfront regeneration scheme, Scotland’s first design museum reconnects the city with River Tay by stretching out its twisting and folding forms over the water. The void between the two building volumes allows the Tay riverside promenade through underneath the building, becoming one of the favourite moments of exploring museum exterior.

Inclined walls shaped by the concrete cast in situ invite and embrace the public.

Inspired by the cliffs of Orkney Islands, the facades are made of precast concrete slabs stacked in layers at varying angles. Indeed, one gets the feeling of approaching the cliff face while heading towards the entrance. In the foyer, the timber panels create relaxed space expanding upwards enfolding what Kuma calls “the living room for the city”. The museum holds both permanent and touring design exhibitions.

With such an array of destinations, this day out to Fife and Dundee is best experienced on a fantastic electric car. And with splendid views, better yet with a driver, as did we with E-City Chauffeur.

Get in touch and join us to learn more about Fife’s architecture on board of a Tesla Model S. Our architecture tour is a unique experience in Scotland.

For more fife destinations visit http://www.welcometofife.com/lovefifearchitecture.






Nicolas Loisel
Leave no trace
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Picture by Kevin Borrill

In August 2018, a group of local residents on the Isle of Skye took to the popular tourist spot of the Fairy Glen and, with the help of the community, removed the numerous stacks of stones that had been put there by visitors over the years.

This radical, and somewhat unpopular action is a very telling event: on the one hand, visitors are keen to discover beautiful and “magical” landmarks, with an ever-popular need to show the world they “were here”. On the other hand, residents and nature lovers would like to see sites of natural beauty like the Fairy Glen left as they are, arguing that moving stones and stacking them is also a health and safety risk.

However, Scotland is a popular destination, year after year it ranks among the best world destinations to explore (earning a mention in Lonely Planet’s 2019 Best in Travel). It is a small country too, its natural beauty is at stake if we all decide to leave a trace of our visit.

Elsewhere, the City of Paris has now removed all “love locks” on the Pont des Arts. In Thailand, Maya Bay on Ko Phi Phi Leh island (featured in Danny Boyle’s “The Beach”) has been closed indefinitely to visitors in order to help its wildlife and fauna regenerate. This week in London, the Responsible Tourism Programme will be running a series of conference during WTM 2018, highlighting the increasing need for responsible development and management of visitor attractions and natural sites.

I recently heard about the Leave No Trace programme in the United States of America, which aims to promote ways of reducing recreation-related impact to natural sites. Interestingly, among their outdoor ethics principles, they also advocate leaving no digital trace of our travels: avoiding geo-tagging your photos on Instagram for instance. On this issue, I do recommend watching the short documentary from the excellent channel VOX, aptly named “What happens when nature goes viral?”.

So, if you’re planning to visit Scotland (and we will always encourage you to do so) it is more essential than ever to adhere to a few “Leave No Trace” principles, in order to reduce your footprint and leave as little a trace as possible:

  • Do not move rocks when you visit a natural site.

  • Do not walk outside of walkways and paths as not to disturb Scotland’s wildlife and its flora.

  • Take your litter with you and recycle any material that can be.

  • Look at Green Tourism certified attractions, hotels and tour companies like E-City Chauffeur, to make your journey in Scotland as eco-friendly as possible.

  • Avoid geo-tagging locations on Instagram. Scotland’s popularity is also built on its mysteries and folk tales: in a world of instant knowledge at our fingertips, it’s a nice feeling to keep some of Scotland’s beauty as our little secrets.

Feel free to get in touch with us, let us know what you think about this issue and how it relates to the need to provide a more responsible approach to tourism in Scotland. As part of our commitment to eco-friendly travel, and upholding our Green Tourism Gold certification, we strive to advocate a “Leave No Trace” policy on all of our tours.

Nicolas Loisel
The perks of going all electric
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Electric vehicles, or EVs, are a bit of a novelty in business. They are surrounded by myths, and by a mix of fear and clichés*. And that is completely understandable: EVs are new, and running a business with them takes a bit of getting used to, like with a new routine. However, once you get the ball rolling, there is no going back! EVs offer many perks as business vehicles:

Incentives

In the United Kingdom, as in numerous other European nations, the government is incentivising the purchase of electric vehicles, starting with a £4,500 grant at the time of purchase. How about not paying any road tax (no emissions), no London Congestion Charge for our friends down south? Until 2021, you get a 100% first year allowance. Fuel costs are lower, and much less prone to dramatic variations as we have seen with traditional gas in the past.

 

Example of yearly fuel cost savings © Tesla.com

Example of yearly fuel cost savings © Tesla.com

Sustainability

EVs are sustainable, not only because they use a cleaner energy source (fossil fuels are being dropped as the cost of renewables energy become competitive), but because they require much less maintenance than a typical ICE (Internal Combustion Engine). With less moving parts, less fluids of all sorts, and the smooth deceleration of regenerative braking (the car charges the battery when slowing down, you hardly use your brakes), servicing is quick, cheap and painless.

Charging means networking

One of the recurring questions I hear is: “how far can you go on a charge?” It’s a bit like asking someone if they’ll use their full tank every time they go for a drive. My EV goes as far as I want it to go, and when I stop for lunch, for coffee, or elsewhere, the EV’s idle time is actually useful: it charges. The Charge Place Scotland network is fast and widespread around the country, and when you’re seen plugging in your EV, it’s inevitably a conversation starter. You never know who you’ll meet on the road.

Positivity

Providing a sustainable, cleaner and emission-free private transport solution, in Scotland, has an incredible effect in terms of image. Not only is it now possible to cross the country using solely electric power, the customer curiosity for EVs added with the growing demand for environmentally-sound travel create an enthusiast response and a positive outlook on the future of personal transportation.

So, when is your next zero-emission free journey with E-City Chauffeur in Scotland?

*On clichés, I recommend that you watch Fully Charged's short series on what it's like to live with an electric car.

Nicolas Loisel
The search for the Authentic
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Picture by Steve Bittinger

When destinations seem increasingly to be sold as places to cross off our bucket list, as one of the hundreds we NEED to have seen to make the most of our time on Earth, we rush from one place to another on board of low-cost flights trying to tick all the boxes. While it may certainly be an appealing and exhilarating way to travel, it is, I think, no different than trying to complete the most rides on a day at Disneyland.

The “Authentic” does not exist in Disneyland! Authenticity, with a capital “A”, is by definition the hardest thing to fake. It cannot be planned, therefore cannot be included in a package, nor printed as a promise on a travel agent’s brochure. But aren’t we all looking for authentic experiences, meaningful moments that help us find our place in the world or open ourselves to each other’s culture and ideas?

In Scotland, there’s plenty of faux-authentic on sale: a stroll on Edinburgh’s Royal Mile on a July afternoon should suffice to convince anybody saying otherwise. And that’s absolutely fine! If in a rush, the faux-authentic will do, it will offer a sense of what Scotland is, in a simplified, easily-digestible way. Fair enough.

Now, in my 7 years living in Edinburgh, I can’t recall a single significant memory that happened to me on the Royal Mile. My best memories are elsewhere: strolling through an empty St Abbs on a January evening, feeling like I'm on the edge of the world at Eshaness in Shetland, celebrating Halloween with locals like they were my best friends in a pub on Ardnamurchan Peninsula, encountering a herd of deer on my way up Ben A’an... None of these moments were planned. All are lasting memories.

Perhaps this is where the “Authentic” might lie: in the unexpected.

Nicolas Loisel
Disconnect to reconnect
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Picture by Joshua Earle

Over the past decade, the world has become increasingly connected, to the point that most of our social interactions today are happening via digital go-betweens. Surely, it has made the world a smaller place, and it offers incredible opportunities for entrepreneurs like myself to develop their business in a way that could not have been imagined just a few years ago.

But every coin has a flip side. With increased demands and full-time social media management comes digital fatigue. At the end of the day, the body and the mind need to switch off and rest from all solicitations. Until you're woken up at 3am by a newsletter email. If we're to accept the digital age's paradigm, perhaps should we also book a holiday from it once in a while, we should disconnect and look at the world beyond our smartphones.

In Scotland, we are blessed with magnificent landscapes, truly remote and unspoilt scenery, right on our doorstep. The heights of Glencoe are a mere 2-hour drive from Edinburgh's city centre (on a quiet day), and they are there to make us feel small. The romantic and sublime beauty of the Scottish Highland is a humble reminder that this place was here long before us, and will remain long after our data runs out.

So, once in a while, let's disconnect our brains from the machines, emails, devices and digital friends. Let's look at the world, not through a filter but with our naked eyes, and connect with our surroundings. If we disconnect to reconnect, we open ourselves to the authentic, the unexpected. These are the best memories, the ones you record with your heart, not your phone.

Nicolas Loisel