Thursday, September 16, 2010

Back to Scotland (a.k.a "A Revisit to Where my Heart Belongs")

I have decided to post the journal of my last trip to Scotland. In it, you will read of our adventures (and believe me, we had them!), my thoughts and observances (thrills! laughter! there's something for everyone!), and hopefully you will be able to visualize the incredible trip I had in an incredible country.

The journal starts out a little haphazzardly but will quickly settle down into a more conversational, and much more fun to read, form. I will try to keep the translation from handwritten notes to here, on this screen, as close as possible.

A little background: When my husband and I were dating nine years ago, he, in what was probably aided by a bottle (or two) of red wine, promised me that he would take me to Scotland for my birthday. As the time of that big day rolled around, I had little expectation of it actually happening, for a variety of reasons. Imagine my surprise when I was gifted by CG with an excursion to the wonderful scenery of Alba(and I even got to plan the whole thing!).

So off we go - I hope you enjoy it!

04.29.09 – Thursday - 11:00 a.m. local time, 4:00 p.m. Denver time

Scotland – the second time around

Beautiful, misty

There are scores of pheasants and baby sheep grazing as the train passes by.

Every house and building from the train window we pass looks to be 200+ years old, many with ceramic/tiled roofs, and most steeply pitched
The train takes us through the wonderful village of Stirling – I gently reminisce about all my many pleasant memories there from 10 years ago as it slips past my window

Peugeots seem to be a popular choice of car (too bad my Peugeot watch broke)

I have a quick glimpse of kirk ruins on a hilltop in the mist – it is there and then gone, and much too quickly to get the camera
Watching the scenery change from soft rolling hills to those more pronounced, I start thinking about our first few hours off the plane, and smile because we are finally in Scotland!

I start with the friendly Scottish couple we met on the flight from Minneapolis. They had been sitting in our seats (window), and were apologetic when we arrived to sit down. They quickly found their seat across the aisle and back one row (if it was a mistake, I don’t blame them for trying!). I was pleasantly surprised to hear that first taste of Scotland when he was talking, and I couldn’t help but eavesdrop a bit on the lovely dialect while he was chatting with his wife.

When we were getting off the plane in Amsterdam, as I stood to head down the aisle I remarked to him that I thought they were going the same way we were - and indeed they were! I soon found out that H was very helpful with tips on where to go and what to do, while MG helped me find the proper gate when H darted into a Duty Free shop for cigars. and CG hit the restroom. Having moved to Canada some years ago, they were visiting Scotland for a surprise 80th birthday party (Aunt? Grandmother? I have forgotten the familial ties but not the event).

After the quick hop from Amsterdam to Glasgow, and while H, MG and I waited to collect our baggage, CG nipped out the gates for his first cigarette in hours, and H continued to give me pointers. Unfortunately, CG was locked out but was waiting for us when we exited the customs area. They wished us well as they were greeted by a relative or friend who whisked them away for the celebration and three weeks in this (their) wonderful country (I was already a bit envious of their extended time but, really, how more fortunate could I get?).

After finding the door outside into the pouring rain and finding the bus to take us to the train station (Tourist Booths know everything), we loaded our baggage onto the large carrier bus to ride along with the many professional people pecking at their cell phones on their way to their jobs – and we sat smiling. We were here, barely into our first day on holiday and it was already amazing!

However, we must have been a little too busy people and scenery watching as we somehow missed our stop, and were surprised when we found ourselves at the end of the line. But, the Scots being the friendly and helpful sort they are, the bus driver just told us to hop back on as he would be going back that way, and would announce our stop for us. Which he did! However, (and I chalk this up to being dog-tired and new) as we dutifully headed towards the corner to cross the street, the driver beeped his horn and pointed back behind him. We smiled and waved as we crossed the street and he waved back as he turned the bus around the corner. As we headed back up the sidewalk to the train station (using the diesel smell as our guide) we mentally noted that, do as the Scottish do, and cross the street where-ever next time!

The bus station was bustling and we were early (and most certainly anxious to get on to the second leg of our journey) so we kept a diligent eye on the large digital board over our heads for gate information. Noticing that our departure would be several minutes away, we ordered a cup of very strong coffee (our first taste of Costa), and entertained ourselves by people watching and trying to catch glimpses of the small bird flitting about the glass-paned atrium overhead. What I thought would be a quick trip to the loo turned out to be a somewhat clumsy quest. After first bumbling like the American tourist that I was at the turn-style just under the large sign which said “Superloo,” some nice Scottish lady advised me that it actually cost 20 pence to enter the gates (perhaps it was because she was getting a tad impatient waiting behind me?). I let her go ahead of me and, as I fumbled with my newly acquired coinage from the coffee shop to find the correct change to insert into the coin slot, I watched the coming and going of train-ward bound female passengers as they walked up and down the staircase to reach the rather tiny train loo. But all turned out well, and I was able to report back to CG without any more delay. I tipped him off to the fee to avoid any more attention, and he quickly disappeared, and then reappeared before one could almost say “Superloo to the Rescue!”

Finally, our train information flashed on the overhead screen and we found the appropriate car, then our seats (I had forgotten P had reserved us seats at a table), and we greeted the friendly young lady sitting in the seat next to me. Finding out we were headed to Inverness, she suggests visiting a small, scenic village with a beautiful harbor near Culloden (Tunney?) – if we got the chance – and then decided to give us (and herself, I am sure) more room as she took the regular seat across the aisle (I hope it wasn’t because we were travel weary with scant time to freshen up!).

I have now retrieved the small notebook out of my backpack and am starting to jot down bits and pieces of my experience here, hoping against hope that when I get home (halfway across the globe and many days away) I will be able to encode what I have written.


Back to the green, misty hills slipping by, we pass the Gleneagles (Gleann Eagas) train station – “Built in the year of peace 1919 after the Great War.”

More rolling green hills and delightful hedgerows amidst large, almost too bright (dazzling even in the mist and perhaps even too dazzling in the sun?) yellow fields (we later found out from Paul that these are rapeseed fields for rape seed oil).

We are now heading towards Perth – the hills are getting higher and steeper as we climb north-northeast.
The flocks of sheep graze, for the most part, ambivalent to the whoosh of the passing train but, every now and again, a startled ewe will bolt and make me smile as their curly little rears bounce as they look nervously over their “shoulders” and run from the train.

CG is sleeping (or near-sleeping as much as one can sitting straight up) and I find my eyes feeling heavy and my body relaxing to the lull of the rails beneath us...time and again I force myself to wake up, afraid to miss something…anything…

The rain seems to have stopped and has left the low lying clouds, like fog, to gently caress the trees; whispery, whispering, hiding history…Forests everywhere – pine primordial….

Passing signs…one that catches my attention…
Old Inverness – CG and I agree that it looks much like the Arathi Highlands (from World of Warcraft).

After getting off the train I am anxious to find the hotel M and I stayed at (the hard fought for “alternate” hotel) during our Clan Tour in 2000. Although we are wheeling two suitcases and carrying a laptop case and a backpack, we set off on the crowded cobbled sidewalks, and I instinctively know where it is at after 10 years. I peek in and CG scolds me for looking like I am going to check in so we decide to grab a taxi in the queue outside the front door, and we head to the Alexander Guest House instead.
There we meet G, who luckily just happens to be in (we were remiss and forgot to phone ahead) and we head up to our wonderful sunny yellow room. I am smiling again as we drop our baggage off and head out again on foot, happy to be standing, walking, moving again!

We find the alternate hotel from my previous trip again (odd, it has changed names and the name I seem to remember is across the street) and we enter the bar. Is it kismet that it is named “ASH”? I take a picture of the front of the menu as CG heads to the bar for our first wee dram of scotch and then, after a quick toast, I head to the door near the front desk with an arrowed sign towards the loo. Curious if I could find the very same room that M and I had stayed in (of the excursion- to- the- hospital fame), I wander up the two flights of stairs and head down the long hallway towards the room. A maid has a door open and I glimpse in, hoping it is “the room” but quickly (feel) realize it isn’t. Ah well – must have been the last one near the outside door, I think. I stealth back down the hallway, the two flights of back stairs, and then back to the table, hoping CG hasn’t noticed I had been gone a wee bit longer than necessary. However, it turns out it wasn’t the length of time I was gone, it is the guilty look on my face that has alerted CG, and I fess up that I had been sneaking around upstairs.

After enjoying the warmth of the whisky, we head out again into the light mist, eager to explore and restless to find some place for a bite to eat - it has been hours since we ate the light Dutch breakfast on board the airplane. Every place we encounter seems to be closed, and we find out that most establishments have a specific lunchtime (12-2) and dinner (5: 30/6:00 – 9:00ish), so we stumble into the City Grille Bar and Tavern and order a Guinness. Intrigued what the Scots would make of the dish, we also order some nachos. Indeed, when the appetizer comes, it is a small jumble of chips, a little heap of sour cream, and a light cover of chili, but oh-so-good anyway and it tides us over for the next half hour or so. After finishing, we decide to pass the remaining time before dinner poking around the gift shops, exploring the back streets, discovering an ancient kirk, and then taking an abbreviated turn up the hill to Inverness Castle, which we find has been turned into the local constabulary.

After making sure we have given ample time to the staff to open the doors, we hungrily head back to the recommended (by P) Mustard Seed, on the banks of the River Ness that we had already located earlier. We have the good fortune to be seated at a table upstairs next to the French Doors. Still smiling, I turn and watch the rain and the sun change the River Ness from dark to silver and we enjoy a delicious meal (P was right!) with CG having chicken and me ordering salmon (of course!). Weariness starts to envelope us as we leave the restaurant, and stroll back down the river walkway towards our room and the oh-so-enticing bed! We quietly slip into the room, even though it is only 6:30, kick off our shoes and collapse onto the soft white comforter. Finding “Everybody Loves Raymond” on the TV, our eyelids start to droop and CG beats me to sleep by 7:00…

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