How to Vote in Scotland as a European Citizen

Public Entrance at the Scottish Complex, Edinburgh. Andrew Cowan/Scottish Parliament. Image © Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body

The next Scottish parliament election is on 6 May 2021 – and the good news is: If you are a European citizen living in Scotland, you can vote as well! Unlike UK parliament elections, you can participate in regional ones. Continue reading to find out how to vote in Scotland as a EU citizen.


Can I vote after Brexit as a European Citizen?

On 20 February 2020, the Scottish government extended the right to vote in Scottish Parliament and local government elections. This means, that all those who live in Scotland with leave to remain, can still participate in Scottish elections after Brexit. You are allowed to vote if you have settled, pre-settled or refugee status. Other than that, you have to be 16 or over to vote in the Scottish parliament election.


How to Register to Vote

The first thing you need to do is register to vote. Once you have moved to Scotland and have a permanent address, you will receive a letter from the Joint Valuation Board. The letter will tell you to register online or to send the letter back with your details.

You might not receive the letter straight away. For example, if you are a student and don’t pay council tax, then the valuation board might not be aware of your address. You can simply use the same link to register online or to contact your council’s board.

It’s important that you register to vote by 19 April 2021 to be able to attend the next Scottish parliament election on 6 May 2021.


How to Vote on Election Day

Before the Election Day, you will receive a poll card telling you to which polling station you have to go. If you don’t receive that, you can easily find yours by doing a quick Google search for your council area and where your polling place is.

On the actual election day, you don’t need to bring your poll card, ID, or proof of address. The staff at the polling station will simply ask you for your name and address, and then they’ll give you a ballot paper.

On the ballot, you’ll have to elect your constituency MSP (Member of the Scottish Parliament) on the lilac paper, and your regional MSP on the peach paper. You can find more information on who you are can vote for on this Scottish parliament website


How to Vote by Post

Given the current Coronavirus situation, you might not want to vote in person on election day but by post. If you have already registered to vote a while ago, then you should have received a letter confirming your address and eventually sending you an application form for the postal vote. If you haven’t received such letter yet, you can download the form on this UK government website.

The deadline for applying for the postal vote for the Scottish parliament election 2021 is 5pm on 6 April. If you miss that deadline, you can still vote in person as long as you register to vote by 19 April.


Who should I vote for?

Well, this is all up to yourself. Currently, there are seven different parties in the Scottish parliament, that are represented by a total of 129 MSPs. One of them doesn’t have a party affiliation. So it’s really seven parties and one independent MSP in the parliament as of now.

If you want to get a feel for which party you should vote for, it’s probably a good time to follow some of the general online newspapers such as The Guardian or The Independent but also your local news. On this page you find more information on all the MSP’s that are currently in the parliament. Since you have to vote for a local MSP as well, you can filter the results by your postcode and gather more information about the MSP’s for your area. Once you start following news about them, you get a better idea of whom you should vote for.



We’ll work on an article summarising all the different Scottish parties, to give you a better overview on what they stand for and what their party programme is. Until then, you can start following local news and register to vote.

European Citizens – Differences between Settled and Pre-Settled Status

Are you a European citizen and living in Scotland or other parts of the UK? If you moved here before 31 December 2020, and want to live here permanently, then you should apply for settlement status. You can do so until 30 June 2021, but it’s a good idea to do this as soon as possible because it can take quite a while.

If you’ve already been through the whole process, you might ask yourself how each settlement status might affect you. At first, they both seem to be quite similar, but there are a few differences

and you should be aware of them. In this article, you’ll find an overview on both statuses and how they affect your rights as a European citizen living in the UK.


What is Settled Status?

If you have been a continuous European resident in the UK for five years or longer, you have the right to apply for settled status. With that, you have “Indefinite Leave to Remain” and don’t have to re-apply for your status anymore. You have the same rights to live, work, healthcare and welfare benefits as a UK citizen.

There are some differences to the actual British citizenship though. You can only leave the UK for a maximum of five years (four, if you are Swiss). You also can’t get British citizenship for your children if they’re born outside the UK. And you don’t get the blue British passport. But to be fair, we probably all don’t want to get stuck in the international queue when we visit our relatives in Continental Europe.

One of the more inconvenient disadvantages of settled status compared to citizenship is that you can’t participate in general elections. However, you can still vote in the regional ones.


What is Pre-Settled Status?

If you’ve lived in the UK for less than five years, you get pre-settled status. That is the theory. In reality, there are quite a few examples of Europeans who lived in the UK for more than five years and are still struggling to get settled status.

One of the most prominent examples is Damian Wawrzyniak. He is a Polish chef who lived in the UK for 15 years and is probably the best European Citizen flagship the home office had to deal with. He had no gaps in his employment, and even cooked for the royal family. However,  his application for settled status was rejected.  

The good news is: Damian appealed and received settled status in the end. If you lived in the UK for more than five years and only received pre-settled status as well, you should double check if this correct. Find more information on how to appeal your pre-settled status.  


How does Pre-Settled Status Affect My Rights?

At first, pre-settled status doesn’t seem to be too different from settled status. You have the same rights to live and healthcare as someone with settled status. Unfortunately, the situation changes when it comes to welfare benefits.

For example, if you lose your job, then you have to show your “right to reside” under the EEA regulations. The irony is, that you can only show your “right to reside” when you have a job. Citizens Advice offers help on how to prove you have a right to reside if you don’t have the right evidence.

Another important aspect of pre-settled status is that you can’t leave the UK for longer than six months within a year. If you do that, your period of “continues residency” resets to zero. If you leave the UK for two years, you will lose your status completely. So if you ever consider a long trip abroad, make sure that you return to the UK in time. Especially during the Covid-19 crisis you should be careful that you don’t lock yourself out of the country in case the borders shut again. Otherwise, you have to start from the bottom again before you can apply for settled status.

See the diagram below from the the3million who summarised the main differences between the statuses.


How do I Move to Settled Status?

You can only apply for settled status after you have been a continuous resident in the UK for five years. Once you reached the time threshold, you have to renew your status and proof your residency period. You can already do that before your status expires. The expiration date on your home office letter is usually the date five years after you have applied. For example, if you moved to the UK in 2018, and applied for pre-settlement status in 2019, then your status will be valid until 2024. That means, you can already apply for settled status in 2023.


Useful links with more information on European Citizens’ Rights:

Long Live The Kale

Long Live The Kale: After the first frost, Northern Germans celebrate the kale with a long walk and a festive meal

When the cool winter wind is blowing around your nose, and the temperatures drop towards freezing point, it’s time for most cultures to spend time in their cozy living rooms.

Well, not exactly so in the Northern part of Germany. The inhabitants of the flat regions above the Harzer highlands get very excited once the kale season starts. In theory, you can grow kale throughout the whole year. However, it can taste very bitter during the summer months. The first frost ensures that the bitter components of kale disappear so that the green leaves are more delicious. Then, it’s time to pack the Bollerwagen and walk through the snowy countryside to celebrate this event.

A Bollerwagen is a wooden vehicle that is particularly popular among fathers and those who eventually want to become one. On Ascension Day, the self-declared Father’s Day in Germany, the male species fill their Bollerwagen with plenty of beer and walks through the fields, bawling songs that you can hear from afar.

The Bollerwagen is also the perfect vehicle to pull the annual Christmas tree behind you, or to go on trips with kindergarden kids. Or to march through the fields at minus 3 degrees to celebrate the cabbage.

Between November and February, there is such a thing called the cabbage walk in Germany. The concept is very simple: You meet up with your friends to walk to an Inn that serves kale. In order to make the walk entertaining, Northern Germans often play Boßeln, a sort of street bowling. The aim of the game is to throw a metal ball over a specified distance with as few throws as possible.

Once the group reaches the inn, it’s time for the traditional Grühnkohlessen. The meal consists of kale, Pinkel (a smooked sausage), and potatoes. As simple as that. The food itself may take a while to get used to, as it’s not the most aesthetic looking dish. But as soon as you get past the sight, it tastes delicious. Especially after walking in the cold for hours. The person who manages to eat the most, is the cabbage king. The traditional cabbage meal also involves a lot of dark beer. The event usually ends up with lots of drunk Germans and can be quite a wild celebration.

The cabbage walk would be a great thing to introduce to the Scottish culture – especially for the looks of other people when you play street bowling. If you mention that you will soon be coronating a cabbage king, Scots will probably not take you seriously anymore. But particularly the relatively hilly roads and the lack of a Bollerwagen, wouldn’t make the cabbage walk feel the same. That doesn’t mean though that you can’t have the dish by itself.

Kale is very healthy and nutritious – and is a seasonal product that doesn’t need to be imported from other countries. It might take some work to convince the Scottish folk to have kale by itself, but there are plenty of recipes out there that make the cabbage tasty and less…kaleish. The original Pinkel sausage might be harder to find here but have a look at an Eastern European shop as they usually have a good choice of Continental sausages.

Here are the two recipes for the traditional way to prepare kale:

German recipe:

https://www.chefkoch.de/rezepte/237101096472618/Gruenkohl-wie-ihn-Mutter-kochte.html

English recipe:

https://www.thespruceeats.com/gruenkohl-pinkel-kale-kale-sausage-recipe-1447074

Enjoy!

Popular UK Christmas Songs That Are Rather Unknown in Europe

The UK have a various mix of Christmas songs that even include Rage Against The Machine

It’s already mid-December. It feels like we’ve just skipped over summer and somehow already ended up in winter. Even though Christmas feels very sudden every year, it’s somehow a pleasant change now as it represents some sort of activity that we can do while we are stuck at home during Covid-19.

Usually, we put up a Christmas tree at home around this time – however, we already decorated the flat a week ago as it felt exciting to change the style of the living room we spent the last eight months in. Our neighbours put up their tree in mid-November. That was too early, even for my taste.

Last year, my work created a Christmas playlist that we would play in the office – this year, that is obviously not possible. So my colleague created a Spotify list in which we all fired our favourite Christmas song, just to be played at home. I had already discovered last year that Melanie Thornton’s full version of “Holidays Are Coming” is a complete stranger to Scottish people. And also this year, there are still some songs that I didn’t know before.

So in case you want to get into a Christmas mood and learn some of the most popular songs in this country, we collected some of them in this article.


The Pogues – Fairytale of New York

This song took me a few attempts before I started to like it. It just sounded to me like some song I would potentially listen to in a pub, and I didn’t find it Christmassy at all. The song is about an Irish immigrant who sleeps in a prison cell after being drunk on Christmas Eve.

A song about lost youth and ruined dreams is probably not what you would listen to in Continental Europe. Most German songs are either highly conservative church songs or made for children in which we sing about baking cookies. And we certainly don’t shout “You’re an old slut on junk”. My Silesian great grandmother would roll over in her grave.


Elton John – Step Into Christmas

A song that can’t be missed on any Christmas playlist is Elton John’s “Step Into Christmas”. It was one of the UK’s most popular Christmas songs in the early 2000s despite being released in 1973.

Elton’s positive energy, powerful piano tunes and the unusual strong bass in the background make you dance around in the kitchen and is great to get you up from the couch.


Chris De Burgh – A Spaceman Came Travelling

Compared to Elton John’s powerful Christmas song, Chris De Burgh’s Spaceman is perfect for a hot chocolate on the couch. Although the title doesn’t seem to have a lot in common with Christmas, De Burgh imagined the star of Bethlehem being a spacecraft when he wrote the song. It never became a hit in the UK but is now a popular Christmas song every year.


Aled Jones – Walking In The Air

You may have come across the famous Irn Bru advert with the snowman and may have suspected some deeper storyline behind it. The advert is based on “The Snowman” which is an animated television film from 1982. A young boy becomes friends with a snowman, and together they fly above famous Scottish land sights. Halfway through, Peter Auty starts to sing the song “Walking In The Air”. Aled Jones covered it three years after the film came out and his cover reached the UK’s top 5 charts.

If you haven’t seen the snowman yet, you can find the Youtube video below – “Walking in the Air” starts at 15:25. And please don’t forget to watch the Irn Bru advert as well. Even though the drink tastes like chewing gum and will probably never be part of a Continental household, we must appreciate that the advert is pretty clever.  


Rage Against The Machine – Killing in the Name

Yes, you read that correctly. When my manager put that song in our playlist, I was probably equally confused as you are right now. After some research, I found out that “Killing in the Name” became the Christmas number one song in 2009. The reason why it peaked is one of the reasons I love the culture here.

Before Rage Against The Machine shook up the UK’s Christmas’ charts, X-Factor used to lead the charts for five years in a row. This was obviously enough for some folk. An English couple launched a Facebook group and encouraged people to download “Killing in the Name” so that X-Factor won’t win the charts again. Never forgotten will be the BBC 5 radio performance in which the band promised not to swear. You can probably imagine how that went.


Obviously, there are a lot more Christmas songs than the ones mentioned above – especially from the 50s. While Christmas songs in Continental Europe can sometimes be a bit cringeworthy, there are beautiful English ones for all sort of music tastes. Even when they were not intended to be for Christmas in the first place.

Tips for Driving on the Left Side of the Road

Image by Dagmara Owsiejczyk from Pixabay

Once you move to Scotland from Europe, you will probably find yourself in the situation where you get confused when you have to cross a road. Even after a few weeks you might still struggle on huge intersections and become utterly perplexed in the middle of the road.

Getting used to Scottish roads and figuring out where to look first can already be as tricky as a pedestrian. At some point you will probably want to drive a car but will have some anxiety about driving on the left side of the road. The good news is: It doesn’t take too long to get used to left-handed traffic. Here are some tips that should help you in preparing for your first drive on the other side.


Left, Left, Left

Even though it sounds obvious, you will have to trick your brain into thinking left. Even if that means that you take a moment at each intersection to say “left”. Especially when you have to turn right, this can help you ensuring that you don’t accidently become a wrong-way driver by manoeuvring into the wrong lane.

In Scotland, cars can legally park on each side of the road, so they are not the best reminder to drive left unfortunately. Again, if you are in doubt just keep telling yourself “left” and just slow down a bit.


Get Used to the Car

If you have never driven a car on the left side, it’s best if you take enough time to get used to the car before you start the engine. The wheel is on the right side and the gear change on the left. The good news is: The pedals remain exactly where they would be in Europe.

However, if you generally feel quite nervous about driving on the left side, you might want to drive an automatic car. That way, you can fully focus on the road and get used to left-handed traffic quickly.


Look Up The Route On Google Maps

Before you embark on your first left-handed drive after moving to Scotland, it’s a good idea to look up the route you intend to drive on Google maps. Especially tricky intersections, roundabouts or chaotic motorways such as those in Glasgow can make driving stressful, particularly when it’s your first time on the left side.

The more research you do beforehand, the better your drive will probably be and the more you will get used to driving in Scotland.


Check The Space on Your Left

Even when you finally managed to trick your brain into thinking left, you (or your passengers) will notice that you often drive too much on the left of your lane. You drive naturally more to the left side as you are used to sitting on the left. This can become a problem as you might eventually scratch your car on narrow roads, or even drive off the left-sided mirror.

While you are on the road, you can use the road markings as an orientation and try to keep as close as possible to the ones on the right. When you have to park, you might want to have someone sitting next to you who keeps an eye on your left side. After a while, you will eventually get better in estimating the space correctly.


Ignore Aggressive Honking

Unlike Germany, it’s not forbidden in Scotland to use the horn (at least during the day). Which means that people here really like to honk at everything and everyone. So don’t take it too personal if someone just honks at you for literally no reason. Just stay calm and keep on driving, it’s most likely just an impatient driver behind you.


Watch Out for Pedestrians

One of the first things you probably have noticed in Scotland (especially if you are German) is, that no one really cares about traffic lights, especially pedestrians. You eventually turn into someone who vehemently ignores long traffic light waiting times and just cross when there is no car in sight. However, you can’t do that as a car driver.

When you sit in the car, you develop a slight dislike of pedestrians ignoring traffic lights whenever they can or when they suddenly appear from nowhere. Thus, keep an eye on pedestrians as they might walk onto the road while you have green. At least you don’t have to worry too much about cyclists as they barely exist in Scotland and are (technically) not allowed to cross while you turn into a road.  


Driving on the left side of the road can seem scary at first and can make you a bit anxious, but once you have managed your first drive you will get used to the traffic quite quickly. Hopefully, the tips from this article has given you a better idea on how to prepare yourself for left-handed traffic.

Moving to Scotland – Things You Need to Organise

Loch Stack by Achfary. Picture by Cameron Swanson

You are thinking of moving to Scotland from mainland Europe? Next to some rough weather and thick accents you should be prepared for some extra paperwork as Brexit has made things a bit more difficult.

Especially with the deadline to apply for a pre-settlement status, you might want to give yourself enough time to organise everything in time. Here is a guide on all the things you will need to do if you are a European and plan to settle down in Scotland.


National Insurance Number

The first thing you should organise once you arrive in Scotland is to organise your national insurance number. With that, you are allowed to work in the UK and can claim benefits if you have to.

In order to get your National Insurance number, you will have to call the National Insurance number application line. They will then direct you to the closest Jobcentre who will set up an appointment with you. Unfortunately, it’s not possible yet to do that online, so be prepared to spell your name on the phone.

For the jobcentre interview you will need to bring the following documents:

  • passport (or identity card, but a passport is usually better)
  • residence permit (this can be your flat contract for example)
  • birth or adoption certificate (a copy or scan is usually enough)
  • marriage or civil partnership certificate
  • driving licence (not necessarily)

During the interview you will need to outline why you moved to the UK and if wish to work there. They are usually very friendly, so it’s more of an appointment rather than an actual interview.

Once you’ve completed your interview, they will give you a form that you can use for your employer to show that you’ve applied for a National Insurance number. The final letter with your number normally takes about six weeks before it arrives. So make sure that you apply for the number once you’ve arrived in Scotland.


Apply For Pre-Settlement Status

The next thing to do once you have applied for your National Insurance number is your pre-settlement status. The UK has left the European Union on 31 January which means you won’t be able to live in Scotland after the 30 June 2021 without a Visa. The process of applying for the status can take about a month, depending on the number of applications the home office has to proceed.

To get your pre-settlement status you have to visit the government website and apply to the EU Settlement Scheme. You will need to have your National Insurance number, proof of residency and identity ready. They might ask you to verify your identity, especially if you haven’t lived in Scotland for long. For that, you will have to send your identity proof to the home office. In case you want to travel abroad soon, you might not want to use your passport as it can take up to a month before they send it back.

After a few weeks, you will then get an email with a letter that will tell you if your application has been successful. In case you have to prove your status, you have to use the online service to get a ‘share code’. You can send that to your employer or family, for example.


Register With A GP

In the UK, you have access to free healthcare through the NHS (National Health Service). So the good news is, you don’t have to worry about organising health insurance. With your national insurance number, you can register with a GP (General Practitioner). In the UK, you will always have to go to a GP first before you see a specialist. So even if you know what doctor you have to see, you will need to get a recommendation first unless you pay for the treatment privately.

All you need to do is to check what GP is based in your community and visit the surgery to fill out the contact form. You can either receive it from the surgery or download it in advance. When you bring the form to the surgery, make sure you have proof of address handy as they might ask for that.


Open A Bank Account

If you want to move to Scotland permanently then you should definitely open a bank account. Before you do that, you will need to get some sort of proof of address. Unfortunately, your contract won’t be enough. You will need to show a letter that was sent to you, which can be a council tax bill, for example. However, this can be tricky especially if you’ve just moved to the UK. In case you already have your National Insurance number, you might be able to show that to the bank. 

Until you have your proof of address but need a bank account for your employer, you can sign up to an online bank. For example, Monzo is very popular across the UK and you can open an account without proof of address.


All the paperwork might sound a bit frightening, but it’s worth in the end. Once you get your pre-settlement status, you are pretty much good to go and have almost all the same rights as someone who has full settlement status.

Great Places in Scotland for Remote Holidays Without the Crowds

Cape Wrath Lighthouse. Picture by Cameron Swanson

With COVID-19 still lurking around, local holidays in Scotland are currently probably a better idea than going abroad. Scotland might not be as sunny as Spain or Italy but still has beautiful white-sand beaches. You don’t need to travel far to get to stunning remote places, far away from the city and any crowds that might eventually carry the Coronavirus.

Scottish islands are generally more vulnerable to the virus since they don’t have huge medical capabilities. Thus, here is a list of places that are on the mainland and don’t attract tons of people.


Ardnamurchan

The peninsula Ardnamurchan on the West Coast of Scotland is your address if you want to enjoy your holiday in wild, beautiful scenery. It takes about 3.5 hours to drive up there from Glasgow, so this spot is better to reach for any of you living in Fort William or Oban.

There are a few Airbnbs and hotels in the local villages where you can stay during your holiday. From there, you can visit Sanna beach for example. The water is blue like the Caribbean sea and eventually, you share the sand with a Highland cow.

If it’s rainy, you can take a day trip to the Ardnamurchan Distillery that produces excellent Single Malt Whisky and hopefully reopens soon for visitors.


Applecross Peninsula

Another beautiful spot in the North West of Scotland is Applecross. A bit further North, the region around the short row of houses is surrounded with spectacular mountains. You will most likely recognise the region for its famous pass, the Bealach na Bà. The road is known for its curvy shape and goes uphill to about 626 meters.

There are only a few Airbnbs and hotels in the area, so you might be best with a tent. But you will be rewarded with beautiful landscape, Munros and beautiful lochs such as Loch Hourn. Perfect for those who enjoy mountaineering and action.


Sands of Forvie

If you prefer a calm holiday at the beach with good chances of sun, then the Scottish East Coast is your address. If you look for accommodation there, try to find one that is close to the Sands of Forvie. They are the fifth largest sand dune system in Great Britain, so you can enjoy long walks along the white-sanded beaches with the sea to the one side and flora and fauna to the other.

Right next to the Sands of Forvie is the Balmedie Beach which is just above Aberdeen. With its flat sandy beach in front of long sand dunes, it is just as beautiful.


South Ayrshire

If you live in Glasgow, then the area of South Ayrshire is the closest for a beach escape. Chances for rain are a bit higher than on the East Coast, but that’s reflected in cheaper accommodation prices. The beaches of Troon and Ayr are probably the most well-known ones with their long sweeping stretches of sand. But also Croy Beach between Maiden and Dunure is great for a long walk in the sand.

South Ayrshire also offers lots of different castles such as the picturesque Culzean Castle on the coast or the Dean Castle Country Park in Kilmarnock. Unfortunately, both castles are closed for now but are still great for a day out to take pictures and walk around through the gardens.


Highland Perthshire

You love hiking but don’t want to drive up too far North and prefer staying in a wee village rather than a tent? Then Highland Perthshire might be ideal for you. You can look for accommodation in the beautiful towns of Pitlochry or Aberfeldy.

There, you are surrounded by dramatic mountains, lochs and ancient castles such as Balmoral or Blair Castle. Take a walk to the Queen’s view to look over Loch Tummel and the mountains around it.


Fife

The area of Fife in the East of Scotland is mostly known for St. Andrews but has much more to offer. Compared to the Highlands, the region is relatively flat, but isn’t as rainy and has landscape, beautiful fisher villages, coastline, landmarks and nature to offer.

It’s not too far away from Edinburgh or Glasgow, so perfect for a short weekend trip out of the cities.


Sutherland

If you want to make sure that you are definitely far away enough from any people, then you can drive all the way up to the top of Scotland. Even though Sutherland is a relatively huge region, it has only about 13 000 inhabitants. You are probably more likely to meet a sheep than a human being.

The dramatic scenery up there features magnificent landscape and beaches. One of them is Sandwood Bay. The beach lies in between high cliffs and has white sand and turquoise water for more than a mile. You will need to be good by food as there is no road access. But you will be rewarded with unspoilt, fabulous views.

Sutherland has a small number of Airbnbs and hotels, but it’s probably best if you bring your own tent to protect the remote area from contracting the virus.

How to Survive Cycling in Scotland

A trip to the shops in Scotland by bike is not as easy as in mainland Europe

One of the things you will notice once you move to Scotland is the fact that there are barely any bikes on the road. Fair enough, it’s raining a lot here, but that doesn’t usually keep people inside. Unfortunately, rain is not the biggest enemy of cyclists in Scotland. It’s the fact that roads are generally not made for anyone on a bike.

The infrastructure only includes a few cycle paths, which is especially a high risk on busy streets downtown. And on narrow countryside roads with big hedges on each side, it’s almost impossible to go for a nice cycle on the road without fearing that a car is going to hit you.

Indicators that the cycling situation is probably not the best, can also be seen in the road statistics. Over the past few years, there has been a sharp rise in accidents amongst cyclists in Scotland resulting in serious injuries. A survey showed that only 12 per cent have used their bike for at least 30 minutes in the last month. At the same time, Dutch residents use their bike for 25%  of all trips they make. Obviously, it’s not as rainy in the Netherlands and most of the roads are quite flat, but if you look at Finland, people are cycling even when the pavements are covered in snow.

If you don’t want to miss out on using your bike in Scotland, then here are a few hints that hopefully keep you from any serious injuries and improve your cycling experience.


1. Left, Left, Left

You are not in mainland Europe anymore, so you will need to keep left on the road. When you drive a car, then the position of the gears and wheel are a constant reminder of driving left. But when you are on the bike, everything looks the same which makes it even harder to fight the instinct of cycling on the right side. Especially with cars being able to park in any direction, you can’t always use them as a reminder.

Cycling on the left side also involves looking over your left shoulder and not the right. This can feel quite awkward at the beginning, so maybe practice on a quiet road first. And also practice intersections. After turning left, you might find yourself suddenly cycling on the right side again.  


2. Buy A Helmet

Try to forget about your look and buy a helmet. The roads here are not safe for cyclists and a helmet reduces the likelihood of serious head injuries significantly. Make sure that the helmet fits your head and watch out for the “BS EN 1078” marking. That means that your helmet meets the strict British and European safety requirements. Here is a guide that tells you which helmet is the best for what cycling activity.  


3. Don’t Trust Cycle Paths

Scottish cities are slowly integrating cycle paths in their infrastructure. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that they are safe, even if they are separated with a small stone fence from the rest of the road. Cars can suddenly drive onto the path or block it by parking on it.

Another threat comes from those on foot. Pedestrians are generally not used to bikes on pavements, so it happens every now and then that they suddenly walk on the cycle path without watching out for bikes. Try to cycle slowly when you see that the pavement is busy and always watch out for people that might jump in front of your bike. 


4. Don’t Trust Traffic Lights

Another thing that you shouldn’t trust is traffic lights. The only advantage they have compared to European traffic lights is the fact that cars can’t cross at the same time there is a green light for pedestrians or cyclists. So you can technically cross the street without the fear of a car suddenly bumping into you when you cross the street.

However, this is only the theory. You will notice that both cars and pedestrians stretch the rules of traffic lights a bit. Since Scottish traffic lights don’t let pedestrians and cars pass at the same time, it results in long waiting times. While Germans wouldn’t cross a red traffic light even if there is no car in sight, jaywalking is so normal in the UK that people don’t even know what the term means.

So, if you are on a bike, always slow down at green traffic lights and make sure that no car or pedestrian might knock you over.


5. Plan Your Route To Avoid Intersections

Since the streets in Scotland are generally not very safe for cyclists, always check roughly which route you want to follow before jumping on your bike. Planning routes makes cycling more complicated than it should be, but fewer intersections and quiet roads reduce the likelihood of an accident and also improve your experience on the bike.

If you plan a long cycle trip, watch out for blue signs. These signs are made for cyclists and show you more quiet routes.


6. Wear A Bright Jacket

If you decide to go for a ride on your bike, think about what jacket you want to wear. If you want cars to notice you, then a black jacket is not the best choice. The best jackets that increase the chance of other people seeing you are neon ones. You can get a so-called “hi-vis” jacket for just £25. They make other people see you but can also protect you from sudden rain. Check out this buying guide that compares different hi-vis jackets in various price categories. 


7. Buy A Bell And Use It

The easiest way to make pedestrians aware of your bike is by ringing the bell. You might have already noticed that people either don’t have a bell or don’t use it because they don’t want to offend anyone. But ringing the bell shouldn’t be interpreted as an affront because it ultimately saves pedestrians, and especially dog owners, from getting a fright when you suddenly pass them on a bike. And also makes it easier for you to pass.

It’s also a handy trick to pass sharp corners. If you don’t want to bump into other people or get hit by another cyclist, ring the bell a few times before you approach a corner. Obviously, you should still slow down, but at least you make people aware of you and your bike. 


8. Get A Lock. Or Two.

This isn’t necessarily related to safety on the roads, but if you don’t want to lose your bike in Scotland you will need a good lock. There is quite a high number of stolen bikes every year and the chances of finding a stolen bike are low. Even if you put your bike in the communal close, make sure you lock it appropriately, because everyone can access the close through the service button.

Once you have a bike, you can register it with the National Cycle Database. It helps to prevent bicycle thefts but the organisation also supports people in finding stolen bikes. 


Obviously, all the hints mentioned above won’t guarantee that you will never have an accident on your bike, but it decreases the likelihood. Fingers crossed that the infrastructure in Scotland will be improved in the foreseeable future and we can cycle more safely.

All About the (Fresh) Cheese: The Many Fresh Dairy Types Explained

Image by Диана Лаврова from Pixabay

Did you ever stand in front of the fridge in the supermarket and were overwhelmed by all the different types of dairy? Well, the choice in Scottish supermarket is sometimes even much smaller than in Continental ones. Here is a list of all the different fresh cheeses that are common in the Continental kitchen and how you can use them.


Soured Cream Products

Sour Cream

Let’s start with explaining what normal sour cream is before describing other soured cream products. Sour cream is made by adding a bacteria culture to normal cream so that it becomes thicker and get its sour flavour. Sour cream doesn’t quite like hot temperatures – once it’s too warm it flocculates quickly. That’s why it’s best to use sour cream for cold dishes such as dips.

Where to find it:

Pretty much every supermarket

Uses:

Dips (nachos for example), tacos, salad dressings, desserts


Crème Fraîche

Crème Fraiche is similar to the classic sour cream but has a higher fat content and tastes less sour. It won’t flocculate once you cook it, so it’s great to use in hot dishes.

Where to find it:

Pretty much every supermarket

Uses:

Sauce and soup thickener, Desserts, Dips, Topping (Flammkuchen for example)

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Smetana

Smetana, also called Śmietana or Schmand, contains a little less fat than crème fraiche but won’t flocculate in heat, too. This type of dairy is very common in Central and Eastern Europe as Smetana is a perfect allrounder for the kitchen. It’s often used for desserts or sides because of its creaminess and mild flavour.

Interesting language fact: The German word for butterfly (“Schmetterling”) was inspired by the Slavic word Smetana as it was a common belief that butterflies like dairy. So they just called them “Smetana Creatures”. The same applies to the English language as people noticed that the insects were attracted to the churning of butter. Thus, they called them butterflies.

Where to find it:

Polish, Russian, or other Eastern European food shops

Uses:

Desserts, Spread, Cheesecake, Soups


Other Fresh Cheese Sorts

Quark

Quark is made from milk that was given lactic acid bacteria culture. Compared to other fresh cheese, its crumbly and not as creamy. It gets its consistency from the filtration process in which the quark is continuously stirred. Its high rations of protein and low-fat content makes quark a healthy snack that fills you up quickly.

Where to find it:

Morrisons, Lidl

Uses:

Spread (best with some chive), muesli, desserts, dip, cakes, pastries


Twaróg

If you translate Twaróg, it will come up as quark. Both products are very similar, but still have subtle differences. For example, some twaróg products can be higher in fat than quark which is naturally low in fat. Twaróg can also be firmer than quark, so you can slice it better and put it on sandwiches.

Where to find it:

Morrisons, Big Tescos, Polish, Russian, or other Eastern European food shops

Uses:

Sandwiches, cheesecake, pierogi, voreniki, spread (twarozek), desserts


Cottage Cheese

Cottage cheese, also called Hüttenkäse, has a similar consistency like quark. It’s slightly crumbier then quark and is higher in fat and sugar. It’s very tasty if you add it to your muesli in the morning.

Where to find it:

Pretty much every supermarket

Uses:

Salads, muesli, lasagne


Ricotta

This cheese is from Italy and is made from sheep, cow, goat, or Buffalo milk. It’s a bit drier than cottage cheese and crumblier but its flavour is very similar. It contains more fat and calories, and its production is a bit different from cottage cheese.

Where to find it:

Bigger supermarkets

Uses:

Lasagne, desserts, Pastiera, sauce thickener


Mascarpone

This creamy cheese has probably the highest percentage of fat with 80%. Once opened, you need to use it quickly cause it’s quite a perishable good.

Where to find it:

Pretty much every supermarket

Uses:

Desserts (for example Tiramisu), risotto, cheesecake


Cheese that doesn’t contain cow milk

Bryndza

In case you are lactose intolerant, then bryndza is a good alternative to cottage cheese. It’s made from sheep milk and has a crumbly consistency as well as a salty flavour.

Where to find it:

Polish, Russian, or other Eastern European food shops

Uses:

Gratin, Polenta, Spread, Bryndzové halušky


Brousse du Rove

The name already suggests the origin of this cheese. It’s a French fresh cheese that was named after the village La Rove in southern France. The cheese is made from the milk of the Rove goats that have pretty long, twisted horns. The Brousse du Rove is very fine and creamy, and tastes quite mild.

Where to find:

Unfortunately, it quite hard to find the cheese in Scotland, but there are a few alternatives in fresh goats cheese. They might not be from the Rove goats, but the cheese is still tasty. It should be available in every supermarket.

Uses:

Salads, Quiches, Spread, Topping (honey and walnuts go very well with it)


Hopefully, this article shed some light on all the different types of fresh cheese. If there is a cheese or common recipe we missed out, please let us know in the comment section below.  

Fresh Food from Scottish Farmers During Lockdown

Image by Couleur from Pixabay

With the ongoing lockdown due to the Coronavirus, we are all currently stuck at home and can only go out for essential groceries or our daily exercise. That could mean that you can’t visit your favourite local farmer’s shop because it’s too far away, or because you to have to self-isolate.

The good news is: Scottish farmers and wholesalers have introduced delivery services to your door which is a great alternative to supermarkets. Especially during this crisis, its essential to support local businesses so that they still exist once this virus is over. We researched shops across Scotland that deliver veggie boxes and tried to cover as many areas as possible. Check out if there is an opportunity for you on the following list.


Seasonal Produce

Seasonal Produce is a wholesaler based in Glasgow whose mission it is to deliver quality produce to Scotland’s restaurants, cafés and caterers. With the Corona crisis, they introduced veggie boxes that they deliver to your door. They buy their produce from local farmers and try to recycle as much as they can. Plus, they engage with local communities such as the Woodlands Community.

You can choose between the normal £30 veggie box, or buy the vegan box instead that takes out the dairy and adds more fruits. They also offer 30 free-range eggs for £5 that are from the Corrie Mains farm. And if you need supply for your smoothie, you can also order 1kg of fresh seasonal berries for £10. And a wild mushroom pack for £5.

Website: Click here

Delivers to: Glasgow, Lanarkshire, Renfrewshire


Urban Grocer

Urban Grocer is a family run business that started as a wholesaler in 1946, supplying fruits and vegetables from Scotland. Since then, they expanded their product range, including exotic fruits like dragon fruit, kumquat and more. The stock changes with each season, depending on which fruits and vegetables are available.

The medium fruits and veggie box costs £18, and the large one £24. You can also choose to only order fruit or veggies for the same price. Next to this, Urban Grocer also offers butchers, fish, and breakfast packs.

They also offer a wide range of other products, including dairy from Graham’s Family Dairy, pasta and soups.

Website: Click here

Delivers to: Glasgow, Edinburgh


Black Isle Veg Boxes

We also researched farmers and wholesalers in the North of Scotland and came across Black Isle Veg Boxes. They are located in the middle of Black Isle, near Killen, and specialised in growing leafy greens and other vegetables. Their organic certified land is also the home to mutton, lambs, and rugs, which are all home bred.

You can choose between four different veggie boxes that contain lots of different organic vegetables that are grown by the farm itself or by other local growers.

The smallest veggie box for one person is £8, the regular one (with or without potatoes) is £12, and the large one is £18. There is also a box full of spring salads and greens, for £8.

Website: Click here

Delivers to: Black Isle, Inverness, Beauly, Muir, Conon, Dingwall, Strathpeffer, Evanton & places in between


Pillars of Hercules

Pillars of Hercules is a farm located close to Falkland, with St. Andrew and Perth being the closest cities. The farm produces various food and made it its mission to run organic principles so that the impact on the environment is kept at a minimum.

For £15 a week, you can order a veggie box that is full of organically grown produce. For £2, you can add 12 eggs to your box, for £7 a fruit selection bag, and for £7 an additional veg selection bag.

Once the lockdown is lifted, it’s worth paying the farm a visit. They have a beautiful farm shop, a café, a campsite, a cute holiday bothy, and even host different events.

Website: Click here

Delivers to: Fife, Loch Leven


Farmers and wholesalers who cannot take new customers right now

Due to Coronavirus, a lot of farmers and wholesalers faced an increased demand in veggie boxes. Unfortunately, a lot of them cannot accept new customers for now. Once the lockdown is lifted, you might be able to order veggie boxes from them again. That’s why we created a list of all of the businesses that cannot take new customers just now but might be worth keeping an eye on. Some of them offer waiting lists, so if there is no other business in your area but them, it might be worth signing up.


Knockfarrel Produce; Highlands

Website: Click here


Natural Vegetable Company, Inverness

Website: Click here


Macleod Organics, Highlands

Website: Click here


East Coast Organics Farm Shop

Website: Click here

Shop is re-opened


Bridgefoot Organic Co-operative, Aberdeenshire

Website: Click here

With ease of lockdown, they are now taking new orders again (but response time might be slower than usual): Place an order


Vital Veg, Aberdeenshire

Website: Click here


Your Local Farm, Slamannan, Central Scotland

Website: Click here


Grow Wild Organics, Central Belt East

Website: Click here


Bellfield Organics, Five

Website: Click here


Locavore CIC, Glasgow

Website: Click here

Waiting list: Sign up here

You can still order from their online shop and create your own veggie boxes.


Roots and Fruits, Glasgow

Website: Click here

Waiting list: Sign up here


Hopefully, you could find a farmer or wholesaler on this list that delivers veggie boxes to your area. If there is none on the list so far, check if you have a local veggie shop that have introduced deliveries recently. For example, the family-run grocery shop Ashby’s Fruit and Veggie Supplies in Partick, Glasgow, has recently started to deliver veggie boxes. Let us know if there is a farmer or wholesaler that we have missed out, and we’ll add it to our list.