Reports from our home base in Perthshire
05.27.2008 16 °C
Steps up to our farm cottage, Glen Farg, Scotland
Another of our classic driving days. After 700 kilometres, we arrived at our next accommodation on the dot of four o'clock. The owner happened to be standing out front, and said, "Wow. Who was navigating?" Jenn! Apparently, some people think this place is hard to find. Maybe we're getting better at this!
Where are we now? Just outside the town of Glenfarg, which is half an hour outside of Edinburgh, in Perthshire, Scotland. Very rural again. We're staying in "The Miller's Cottage" on a farm with sheep and llamas (I joked with our host that I thought they were just tall sheep...I hope he didn't believe me). The farm is nestled into a valley where three hills come together. We look out, then, in three directions to an elevated horizon, and to the driveway that leads down to the farm. There's a subtle beauty to this countryside, and a difference again to the landscapes of rural England and rural Scotland.
Anica in one of our farm's fields. Not pictured: llamas
Edinburgh! We had one of the most enjoyable days on our whole trip today. It cost a small fortune, but it seemed worth it. We started with the Edinburgh Castle.
Just outside the Edinburgh Castle
There's so much to see and do there; great place. We had a guided tour - just follow the kilt-wearing guide, and then explored our own. The castle is perched high above the city centre, on craggy black rock. It was formed by a volcano, and has been inhabited since prehistoric times. We saw the Crown Jewels of Scotland (including the "stone" used in the coronation of every British monarch since the 12th century), St. Margaret's Chapel, royal apartments where Mary Queen of Scots was born, a memorial to the World Wars, and a "prisons of war" display below ground constructed from what remains from the 18th century prison. And we heard the "one o'clock gun" being fired. Nowadays it's done with a modern artillery gun, which, when fired, makes your chest thump and the soles of your feet tingle.
It's almost one o'clock...fire!
We were thusly energized for our walk down the Royal Mile. This is one of the great pedestrian thoroughfares in all of Europe. Sure, it's full of tourist traps and souvenir shops, but it's still full of atmosphere and history. It runs down from the Castle at one end to Holyrood Palace and the Scottish Parliament closing off the other end. Along the way, you see brass signs for the "closes." A close was a narrow alleyway neighborhood that sloped down from the High Street (Royal Mile) to the water. Each has a name, like "Fleshmarket Close," or (my favourite) "World's End Close."
At the end of the Mile is the stately Holyrood Palace, an ultramodern apartment complex, and the Dynamic Earth centre. Anica is writing about this at length, so I'll let her tell you about it. I will say it's the best science-related attraction we've been to anywhere in the world. Also, just as we were about to buy tickets, some people called to us from behind "Wait! We have free tickets we'll give you," And they did! That saved us about $40! It was a good karmic feeling too, because we've done that for others with unused metro tickets and parking time.
Exterior of the Our Dynamic Earth Centre
The final attraction of the day was "Mary King's Close." Again, expensive but very unusual and atmospheric. It's a close dating back to the 1600s that survived below the floors of the city council chambers because its lower levels were used as foundations in the 19th century. Since the "close" slopes away from the high street, there's an underground street and underground row-houses that remain. They've been re-opened, and (only just) cleaned up and lit. Great stories are told on a hour-long guided tour.
For dinner, we ate in Edinburgh at an Indian restaurant called "Britannia Spice." I had googled "Best Curry Britain" and found they won the BCA in 2007 (that's the British Curry Awards, there really is such a thing). We drove through what must have been every street in Edinburgh currently under construction to the waterfront district (near where the Royal Britannia is; thus the name) and had a wonderful, but not cheap (this wasn't curry and a pint pub fare) Indian meal. The waiter reminded us of being in India when he insisted on bring Anica a free plate of french fries to add to her meal. That was the kind of doting attention she got all the time in Asia.
Meanwhile Anica made friends (somehow) with a teen aged girl at the table next to us. She was amazed to hear of our travels, saying she lived "just down the street" and spent more time talking to us than she did to her dinner companions. So it was a memorable dinner. Best curry-house in Britain? Who knows! But it capped off a great day.
After a down-home day on the farm, where we chased sheep and llamas around, and hopped back and forth across the "burn", we headed out by car again today, to Glasgow. It once had a reputation as a rough, depressed city. Well, I don't think it's fully recovered! When we first got there, the place was really dead. Of course, that's because we went to the Necropolis.
Glasgow Catheral and Necropolis
After a peek inside the cathedral, we visited St. Mungo's Museum of Religious Art and Life. This was like a review for Anica: a museum that puts all the religions and their practices side-by-side. She saw Sikh, Hindu, Buddhist, Jewish, Christian, and Muslim artifacts, and we recalled that we've been inside at least one place of worship for each during this trip. The museum also had someone with "hands-on" artifacts, and we talked with him and Anica handled various objects, such as a Sikh kirpan (dagger!).
We strolled the pedestrian-only downtown streets of Glasgow, and then hopped back in the car to drive back a different way. It took us past Stirling Castle and the Wallace Monument, both quite striking perched up on their hills.
For dinner, we stopped in Perth, which is a small city close to where we're staying. Unfortunately, the place was practically shut down. After rejecting the one or two restaurants we found open, we ended up at Pizza Hut, which was packed. A world-wide trend if you use the "go where the locals go" advice. It's the first time we've had to resort to that in the UK.
There's six weeks left in our trip. Jenn said there's three ways you could feel at this point; there's "I can't stand the thought of going home and back to normal," there's "I can't stand another day of travelling and I wish I could go home now," and then there's the way she feels (all three of us do, really): we're looking forward to being home again, but if somebody said you could go home now for free, we'd say "No Way!" We don't want to miss out on any of it.
Out from the 1st tee, in to the 18th green - the Old Course
The birthplace of golf! St. Andrew's today! Unfortunately, there was a tournament on, so you couldn't walk all over the course like you normally could on a Sunday. But I got my picture taken in front of the bridge on 18, at least, and we still were able to walk across the 1st/18th fairways, and stand behind the first tee and the 18th green. It looked so familiar from all those hours of watching the British Open on TV!
On The Road (Hole)
We really got a feeling for how windy is gets. Even on a perfectly sunny day, it was so windy, the seagulls could barely get off the ground.
St. Andrews itself is a unique town. In the space of about half a mile, you've got a university, a high street packed with golf shops, a ruined cathedral (thanks, Henry), and a dramatic coastline of beach, rocky cliffs and black seaweed. We walked out to the point, stopping for lunch at a Thai-Japanese restaurant (sounds so typically Scottish, doesn't it?).
Part of the shoreline in front of St. Andrews Castle
And, oh yes, we actually had a fire tonight! In a real fireplace - not the push button kind. If this doesn't sound like much of a feat, then you overestimate my handiness around the house (easy to do). The fire, wood and kindling was sitting right there and Jenn was saying "we should have a fire." I replied my usual way: by doing nothing. Jenn took charge her usual way: she googled "how to make fire." If nothing else, we'd be gathering around the glow of the laptop for the evening. But, once it was clear there were no mysteries to the process, I got the fire roaring and tended to it for a few hours. We even roasted marshmellows.
Today we took a drive through the Scottish Highlands. From our cottage near Perth, we drove up to Inverness, through the Cairngorms National Park, then around and down the coast of Loch Ness. The whole loop was about 450 km, and was one of the best, most scenic drives we've done anywhere in the world. It was a gloriously sunny day (yes, we've done it: a week in Scotland with nae rain, not even a wee drop), and the light just plays off the hills in ever-changing patterns. A single cloud with turn the green to black, changing the look. It's rugged, like tundra, but also with firs and pines, and even snow left high up on the sides of mountains.
Entering the Highlands
Several people have asked: do you have an affinity or special feeling for Scotland as your "ancestral land?" The answer is no. The connection is too remote: only a few of my great-grandparents or great-great grandparents lived here, no one I've ever met. Scotland is very much a foreign country, with bewildering foreign customs, and what sounds like a foreign language. I get about as many words in a sentence of Scots-spoken English as I do from a sentence of French. The process is the same: what did I hear? What's the context? Oh, I think I know what he said. Now, I'll answer. I'm sure the French understood my struggle, especially when I answered in broken French. The Scottish probably just think I'm slow-witted.
Loch Ness today was a striking blue. We learned it gets as deep as 240 metres, but they weren't still waters - very choppy, which was fun, because every ripple could be mistaken for Nessie's back. We saw a multimedia "Loch Ness Experience" that really did get us thinking. It traced, fairly objectively, what people have reported and how people have searched.
Urquhart Castle and Loch Ness, monster shown background, left
The drive back hugged the coast of first Loch Ness, and then the imaginatively-named "Loch Lochie." Among the many spots we pulled over to admire the view was a lookout where there's a memorial to the "Commando" forces of World War II. While we there, a couple were scattering the ashes of a loved one. It was touching to see, and a poignant reminder of how special a place that is.
P.S. I had haggis for lunch. It was actually pretty tasty!
"Past, Future and good old 2008!"
Today, the first thing we did was see Edinburgh Castle. The reason I am not writing about this is because I want to say so much about Our Dynamic Earth and Mary King's Close it might be enough. After lunch we walked down the Royal Mile to the end where Our Dynamic Earth is.
The first was a little exhibithien and then this guy said "now you are going in an elevator back 30 billion years ago, good luck, I mean, have a good trip!" Back past mummies, past cave people, past dinosaurs into the creating of the universe! Then first when we got out was a screen saying "force feild on." I quickly grabbed onto the first railing I saw before we aw the big boom creating the universe. Boy was it loud!
Next room a plaster creation of a volcano and a volcano eruption and then luckily evreybody holding on as a volcano caused earthquake (pretend). Then the lady said this next one is more comfortable! We entered into a recreated artic world (still around 50 million years ago) where we were almost sort of flying! I was rocking back and forth because of the picture moving!
Then the doors opened and we entered into a room labled amibos, dinosaurs and humans. Ok, I said, heres the one I was waiting for, what's it like? Instead of a movie with dinosaurs roaring, a T-rex suddenly in the picture, thee was one display of amibos, one display of dinosaurs, one display of humans, then on to citys and industrial ports. First we had to see the artic. And there was make-believe ice in there (so we thought before Mum touched it and cried, "it's real!" Hmmm I was wondering why it was so cold in there!)
Then the next room was all about tempature. City, dessert, savanh, and rainforest. After a guy said "now this is a rainstorm in a rainforest" then pretended to run away I yelled to the guy (for real) "You come back here your not going anywhere!" Then the next room had chairs, and was about the future! I also bought myself a calm necklace which actually works! Then we played in the play area before going to Mary King's Close.
There we hopped on a tour through dark small rooms with of course: a friendly tour guide. And it was time for a half-movie half-read ghost story where I hide behind Mum and the nice guy turned on the lights. and then it was time for a freindly ghost story. It was about a girl ghost Annie (a kid) who died of greif when her family moved away from her, she ost her freinds and had lost her ony companion, a doll. [Somebody who encountered her ghost] bought a doll and it's on display with many other stuffed animals other people bought. It also was apparently world famous.
Then we had Indian food for dinner and started talking to a thirteen year old girl just when I was in the washroom and said "there's no soap." Then we drove back which was pretty fun. Even though we got back at 10:00. Went home, G.N.! P.S.This title is called Past, future and good old 2008 because: half of Our Dynamic Earth, past, and Mary Kings Close was past. Part of Our Dynamic Earth was future, and good old everyday stuff was 2008
Today we went to Glasgow. The first thing we did was go to the Nacropolis. The Nacrapolis is a big cemetary with poor (stones), middle (tombstones), rich (statues and stuff), famous (big buildings). The youngest was 9 months, the oldest 102 years and a half. Then we walked to St. Mungos mueseum or religus art and life. This museum was excellent! It had: Hinduism, Islam, Buddhaism, Christan, and Sikh. They had things like statues, Mummys (they also did Eygptatian) masks, knifes, etc! I wrote a comment that I might even try to come again. The mummy wasn't unwrapped, but out of your sarcophagus is good enough for me! Then we did a lot of street window shopping before going to (nearby Glenfarg) Perth to have dinner. Went home, G.N.!
"Golf, Sea and Wind"
Today we went to St. Andrews. The drive there wasen't to long about half an hour. When we got there we parked and walked to the golf course. There where people playing on it but we could still walk on the paved path. We walked down past the clubhouse by the water and back up to the shop where Dad bought something. Then we had lunch and visited the castle and ocean before going back home. Then me and Daddy played barbies around the world trip before we had steak, potatoes and carrots for dinner. Had dinner, G.N.
"Loch Ness Day!"
Today the main thing we did was drive along Loch Ness. But first we drove Inverness which was around 200 miles away which ment it took about 1-2 hours. Also because we diden't go on any of the M's (M stands for motorway like M20. We took the As and Bs (the longer ones). When we finally got to Inverness it was past lunch time so we decided to just have lunch before then continue to Loch Ness. We had a yummy lunch of a Burger for me, Haggis for Dad, and Pie for Mum. Then we went to Loch Ness. We didn't see Nessie but almost as weird as seeing Nessie I heard a cry that might of been her. Though I do belive Nessie's real! Then we went to a place where we saw movies all about Nessie, which was probably my favrite sight that day! The movies were about sightings and pictures of Nessie and I even bought a stuffed animal of Nessie and called her Nessie. Head back, had dinner, Went home, G.N.!