Visiting Stirling and Edinburgh Castle

Visiting Stirling and Edinburgh Castle

Image credits: Pixabay, Walkerssk

When people think of Scotland, castles are usually one of the first things that spring to mind. It’s no surprise when over 3000 castles have been built in this country over the centuries. Two of the most impressive and renowned are Stirling Castle and Edinburgh Castle which are both based in central Scotland and easy to reach by car, bus or train. If you’re thinking of visiting, here are a couple of wee guides on what to expect…

Stirling Castle

Stirling Castle

Stirling castle is one of the largest and most famous castles in Scotland. It is located in the town of Stirling which is about a 1-hour drive from Edinburgh. The castle itself is located on the top of an extinct volcano, and is surrounded on three sides by cliffs, giving it a strong defensive position. Because of this and its strategic position it became a key military location during the 13th and 14th Wars of Independence. However, Stirling Castle is not only known for its military importance – several Scottish Kings and Queens were crowned here, including Mary, Queen of Scots in 1542.

In the long life of the castle, many changes have been made and other buildings have been built in and around it. The biggest reform was probably in the 16th century, when the Royal Palace was built inside the castle itself. It was designed during the reign of James V, to show the world his wealth, education and sophistication, as well as his right to rule. It is considered one of the finest and best preserved pieces of Renaissance buildings in Scotland.

Today the castle and the palace have been transformed into museums. Here, you can take a look at how the Scottish kings and queens lived and admire the building and its Renaissance furniture. The defences of the castle are also worth seeing. And if you’re travelling with kids, you don’t  have to worry about them being bored : there are many activities for children so that they will certainly have fun while learning.

For people who don’t have much interest in visiting a castle and just prefer to have great views of the landscape, Stirling Castle also has plenty to offer. There is a walk around the old town walls which takes about 1 to 1.5 hours, from which you can see the whole town of Stirling, Ben Lomond (one of Scotland’s most emblematic mountains) and many others.

In any case, because of its history, the building, the art inside the building and the activities for the children, etc. I fully recommend a visit to Stirling Castle!

Edinburgh Castle

Edinburgh Castle

Edinburgh has been at the heart of Scotland for over 1000 years. During the Medieval era it was an important royal residence, and the city has grown around it ever since.

The history of the castle’s building is complicated, since it has undergone some major alternations – new buildings have been built throughout the centuries and also the many sieges it has been under have caused deterioration. The first building was built in the 12th century and, from the original buildings inside the castle, the only one left is St Margaret’s Chapel. During the First and Second Wars of Scottish Independence (between 1296 and 1341), the castle changed from Scottish to English hands and back from English to Scottish several times. This was because of its strategic position – to rule over Scotland you needed to rule over Edinburgh, and thus, you needed to control the castle. After this period the castle was in need of repairs, and most of them were made during the reign of David II, so David’s Tower was erected in the castle. Sadly this tower was destroyed in 1573 during what is today known as the “long” siege, which lasted for over two years. This time it was attacked by English forces who wanted to capture Mary Queen of Scots.
The castle under siege several more times, but the last time was in 1745, during the Jacobite Risings, when the Scots attempted to take the castle. However, although the city was captured, they couldn’t take the castle, so they were forced to retreat. In the 18th century it was used to keep military prisoners from the many British wars, but after a massive break out in 1914, it was transformed into a museum.

Today it is still used as a museum and it’s a world famous icon for Scotland, having been recently voted the top UK Heritage Attraction in the British Travel Awards. The castle is also home to the crown jewels of Scotland, the One O’ Clock Gun (which was originally used to tell the time when not many people had clocks. It’s is still used today although we’re fairly certain most people have their own timepieces these days!). Inside the castle there is also the National War Museum of Scotland, where you can learn about the military history of Scotland. The Scottish National War Memorial, which was built after the First World War, is also there –  books inside the building list the names of all the Scottish soldiers who died in service.

If you are planning a trip to Edinburgh, a visit to this castle is a must!

11 Artists to Help You Learn Spanish Through Music

11 Artists to Help You Learn Spanish Through Music

It is often said that, to learn the language of a country, you must immerse yourself in the culture of the country. One of the better and most useful ways to do this without living in the country itself is by listening to its music. So if you’re looking to improve your Spanish but are not able to plan a trip to Spain or Latin America, here are 11 groups and musicians who can help!

1. Alejandro Sanz

Born in Madrid in 1968, Alejandro Sanz knew he wanted to dedicate his life to music when he was only a teenager. This was definitely not an arbitrary choice, as he could already play the guitar at only seven years old and started composing songs soon after. At the age of 16, he released his first record but it passed unnoticed, so he started composing songs for others. At the age of 23 he released his first well-known album, “Viviendo deprisa” (1991), which sold over 1 million copies, suggesting that a larger audience was waiting for him. Today he has sold more than 23 million copies, 16 albums, and has the most Grammys of any Spanish artist. Despite becoming famous, he is still the composer and writer of all his songs, so he deserves a place on this list.



2. Joaquin Sabina

Joaquin Sabina stands out not for being a great singer, but instead for his lyrics, with his songs considered poetry rather than music. In fact, he started writing poetry when he was only 14 years old. Since music was also a big passion of his at that age, he formed a music group with some friends. In 1975 he had his first performance in London and performed as a support act for Paco Ibañez, Lluis Llach and more. He was also in charge of the soundtrack of the BBC TV show, “The Last Crusade”. Since 1980, the year his first song was released, he has not stopped playing and doing shows with other artists – in 2007 he went on tour with Joan Manuel Serrat. The last award he received is from the magazine, Rolling Stone which awarded him the Best Singer of the Year in 2010.



3. Sergio Dalma

Born in 1964 in Barcelona, Sergio Dalma started his career very young and, at the age of 20, he had already performed as a singer as part of orchestras and choirs. After taking part in the TV contest, “Gent d’aquí”, he received an offer to record an album, which was released in 1989 with the name “Esa chica es mía” and was very successful. Due to this, he was chosen to represent Spain in the Eurovision Song Contest in 1991, and although he didn’t win, it made him very famous. The albums he released later appeared in the charts, competing with the likes of Alejandro Sanz and Enrique Iglesias.



4. Calle 13

Calle 13 was created in 2004 in Puerto Rico after René Pérez Joglar and his half-brother Eduardo Cabra Martínez had the idea of forming a music group. René is the singer and composer and Eduardo is the musician, music director and also composer. Their half-sister, Ileana Cabra Joglar, is the female voice of the group. The rap, reggaeton and hip-hop band is also known for their satirical lyrics which contain a social and political critique. So, if you like this music, this is the best group for you to improve your Spanish.



5. Enrique Iglesias

Probably the most well-known of these artists in English-speaking countries, Enrique Iglesias moved to Florida when he was only 7 years old and grew up there, making English his second language. Today, he records English versions of nearly every song he writes in Spanish. It was a big surprise to his family when, at the age of 20, he told them that he wanted to become a singer since he had never told them anything about it.  In this same year, his first album was released. It was a big success and sold over 6 million copies in the worldwide. In 1997, he did his first tour with over 80 concerts in 13 countries. Today, Enrique Iglesias is a very successful artist with more than 200 gold records and 100 platinum records and, as we can see, he has not yet given any sign of stopping this long trajectory.



6. Pereza

Rubén Pozo Prats and José Miguel Conejo Torres “Leiva” created “Pereza” in the late 90’s, but it was not until 2001 when a record company saw their talent and offered them a contract to record their first album. Although this did not make them as famous as the previous artists we have mentioned, it was thanks to this very first album that they were given opportunity to do over 100 concerts all over Spain and to be the warm-up act for other famous artists. In 2002, their next album, “Algo para cantar”, gave them the push they needed, allowing them to do an extensive tour of over 200 concerts and making them the opening act for Bon Jovi on one occasion. From that point on, their career kept rising, but in 2011, they decided to put an end to the group. Both members both released their own album, although “Leiva’s” has been far more successful than Rubén’s.



7. M-Clan

This band was formed in 1993 when Carlos Tarque (voice) and Ricardo Ruipérez met and decided to get together to form a band, convincing the other current members to join them. In the beginning, the 5 musicians from Murcia (Spain) played a mix of blues, soul and hard rock, and were even told to sound like Led Zeppelin, Aerosmith and others. In 1995 and 1997 they released two albums, but none of them reached the sales they expected. Even so, it gave them the opportunity to play with big international artists like Bon Jovi and Gun. It wasn’t until 1999 when they finally made a big step in their career with the album “Usar y tirar”, which brought them the MTV award for best Latin group in the year 2000. In the same year, they released their most well-known song today, “Carolina”.



8. Juanes

Juan Esteban Aristizábal Vásquez was born in the 70’s in Colombia. His family loved music and taught him how to play the guitar at an early age. That’s why, at the age of 15, he decided to create a band, which gained a lot of success, releasing five albums in eight years. The success of the group encouraged him to make the big step into starting a solo career when the band split up, recording his first album “Fíjate bien” in Los Angeles. It was a great success and got him 3 nominations at the Latin Grammys. Singing, writing, producing and playing the guitar all of his songs, Juanes’ career has only gone upwards, winning him a lot of awards like the MTV awards, Grammys, the Spanish “Premio Ondas” and more.



9. Estopa

This duo was formed by two Spanish brothers from Cornellá (Barcelona). Born in the late 70’s, they didn’t complete their studies and started working in one of the factories of what today is SEAT. It was there, during the monotonous work in the factory, where the idea for their first song came. After playing in a few bars around their hometown, and seeing that the audience liked their music, they decided to record a song. The record company they sent it to liked their music style – a mix of rumba, flamenco and rock – and so the group were able to release their first album, “Estopa”, in 1999. After this, the number of sold records grew quickly, especially in the year 2000, when they received a lot of awards. Today, the group has still as much energy as when they began, especially since their last album, “Rumba a lo desconocido”, is from the year 2015 and they are still giving concerts.



10. Maná

This is a Mexican band, created in Guadalajara and initially called “The Spies of the Green Hat” in 1976 and later “Sombrero verde” (Green hat). Under the latter name, they released their first two records, but in 1987 they changed record company and also the name of the group to the current one, Maná, and which has since sold 50,000 records. The following year was not as good as the first, so they decided to change to Warner Music, and released “Falta amor” which sold over 750,000 copies. However, it was in 1991 when they really achieved fame all around the world with their album “¿Dónde jugarán los niños?” which sold over 1 million copies. Today Maná is one of the best known groups of Latin music in the world.



11. Efecto Pasillo

This group is a special choice of mine, since they come from the Canary Islands, where I also come from. The group had their first appearance in 2007 in a local music contest which they won by a landslide. Their first song was played on the radio stations of the Canary Islands and, during a concert, a producer from Barcelona liked their music and decided to represent the group. In 2010, they became famous throughout the country with their album, “Efecto Pasillo” and performed as support acts for other famous groups like “Hombre G”. In 2012, they published their most well-known song: “Pan y mantequilla”, which won the “40 principales” award for best song in 2012.



Of course, there are many more Spanish groups and musicians and this list represents only a small number. If you are looking for more music, here are some lists that you can check out. Enjoy learning Spanish!


Image credits:
Joaquin Sabina (top-left): Oneras (Flickr)
Enrique Iglesias (top-middle): jorgemejia (Flickr)
Calle 13 (Up-right): Alejandra Quintero Sinisterra
Pereza (bottom-left):
Efecto Pasillo (down-right): Prisa Radio (Flickr)



Scottish People Who Changed the World

Scottish People Who Changed the World

Image credit: Wikimedia Commons

Scotland is a pretty small country, just about the size of Ireland, with a small population (5.5 million people).Even so its contribution to human development is impressive, especially since the 18th century. To write about all Scottish philosophers, writers, engineers, inventors, etc. in this list would be nearly impossible, or at least too long to read. So here are four of them who changed the world with their ideas:

1. John Logie Baird

John Logie Baird in 1917

Probably the least well known of this list, but he was the one who invented the first working television system. He was born in 1888 in the town of Helensburgh, which is about 22 miles north-west from Glasgow, as the 4th son of a minister from the Church of Scotland. He attended the University of Strathclyde, but he interrupted his degree, which he never finished, because of the First World War. After being rejected by the Army for being unfit, he started working as an engineer and business man. He moved then to the south of England and set himself the goal of creating a television, an a feat in which many scientists before him had failed. Finally, in 1924 he managed to transmit moving images, and in 1926 he made the first presentation before 50 scientists. The television was invented!

2. Adam Smith

Adam Smith The Muir portrait

If you are into economics, you must have heard the name of Adam Smith, considered by many to be the father of modern economics. He was born in 1723 in Kirkcaldy, a town north of Edinburgh, and at the age of 14, he attended the University of Glasgow. Contrary to what many people think, he never studied economics, but moral philosophy, thus he was one of the key figures in Scottish Enlightenment. Nowadays he is not known for writing about philosophy but for his book “The Wealth of Nations”, where he developed the idea of the modern free market, the division of labour and the “invisible hand”.

3. Alexander Graham Bell

Alexander Graham Bell

The man who patented the telephone was also Scottish-born, though he spent most of his life in the USA. He was born in Edinburgh in 1847 but moved to Canada in 1870, and, a few years later, to the USA. He dedicated his life to teaching at university and working with deaf people to improve their lives doing research. His research came to life due to his fascination with the idea of transmitting speech, and by 1875 he found a way to turn electricity into sound. One year later he was granted with the patent for the first telephone.

4. Alexander Fleming

Synthetic Production of Penicillin TR1468

The last one of this list, but this doesn’t mean he’s the less important. The man who discovered penicillin, ranked by 3 Swedish magazines as the most important discovery of the last millennium, and which has helped to save millions of lives. Fleming was born in the county of Ayrshire, in the south-west of Scotland, in 1881, but moved to London at the age of 13. There he obtained a degree in Bacteriology, and began researching in St Mary’s Hospital Medical School. The discovery of penicillin was in 1928 and it happened by chance: while studying Influenza he noticed that mould had developed accidentally on a set of culture dishes being used to grow the staphylococci germ. The mould had created a bacteria-free circle around itself. In 1945 he shared the Nobel Price of medicine with Howard Florey and Ernst Boris Chain for the discovery and transformation into medicine of penicilin.

“Of all the small nations of this earth, perhaps only the ancient Greeks surpass the Scots in their contribution to mankind” – Sir Winston Churchill