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Scotland Train journey around Scotland 2014

Georgia & Zig

100+ Posts
Contest 2019 Winner!
Our first time in Scotland! What a beautiful country!

Episode 1—Edinburgh

Found in a fortune cookie on September 2nd 2014:
“A new voyage will fill your life with untold memories.”

My backpack – 15 pounds; Georgia’s rolling carry-on – 28 pounds

Wednesday, September 3rd

Jenny, our oldest daughter, drove us to Lexington Kentucky’s “Bluegrass” airport again and suggested that we seemed to be continuing to spend our kids’ inheritance. We plead guilty. We got to the airport at 12:30 for our 2:30 flight. The X-ray machine ate my passport and plane tickets with our seat assignments. They fell through the rollers to the inside of the machine. Sheesh! Luckily the operator saw it and retrieved them for us.

We had to fortify ourselves with a tomato juice and a Mr. Pibb. Last Saturday we spent the afternoon and evening in Good Samaritan’s emergency room. Georgia had stomach pains and went to Urgent Care Saturday morning. They found an elevated white blood cell count and sent her to the hospital for a cat-scan to see why. Diverticulitis. They are treating her with antibiotics. So no wine. Never what you would call a “happy traveler,” she called her primary care doctor who took mercy on her and gave her four xanaxes so she’d be calm. Any calmer and she’d be unconscious.

Landing in Atlanta was a little bumpy. After the landing it poured buckets for a few minutes with lots of lightening. Glad to have missed it while we were in the air.

The flight from Atlanta to Paris was dreadfully cramped but we had an interesting seat-mate from Nigeria, now living in L.A. and sending her 11 year old daughter to boarding school in Virginia. She said she was in the Eboe tribe in Nigeria. We talked about the inter-tribal and inter-religious conflicts they were suffering. I wish the US weren’t becoming so “tribal.” We watched movies and squirmed in our seats trying to get comfortable.

Thursday, September 4th

At the Paris airport we were trying to find our gate for our flight to Edinburgh. It was down in the basement and out at the edge of the world! If this had been our first trip, we would have been left paralyzed with anxiety, but now, no sweat. A bus had to take us across the airport from the gate to the airplane.

The Edinburgh airport was about the same size as our little “Bluegrass” airport. We ended up in the wrong line for customs, but got switched over painlessly by the police lady. Our taxi driver, from India, was funny. He said that no one was talking about the referendum on whether or not to leave the “United Kingdom,” then wouldn’t shut up about it all the way to the Gillis Centre! We saw more “yes” (leave) than “no” (stay) signs, but I don’t think anyone knows which way it is going to go. Pride suggests “yes” but prudence suggests “no.”

We met our friend and Virginia companion, Janet at the airport. She is such a bright spirit! But like us, starting to slow down.

We checked in to the Gillis Centre which is also the Catholic Diocese office. It is a rabbit warren of rooms and hallways and because we needed the elevator for Janet we have to go up in one building, traipse through the main offices into the new wing, then out to the end where our rooms are – the very opposite end from the registration desk.

I needed to rest my eyes for a few minutes and was rudely awakened an hour later because some people want to see the sights ! We three walked to Marchmont Street to buy some bread and olives and find a pub recommended by the desk clerk. And it was great! We had Tennent’s beer and ale. I had macaroni and cheese for supper. The nice, chatty young proprietor recommended a vegetable curry to Janet and Chicken Tiki for Georgia. We are not going to starve on this trip.

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We walked back to the house and I went out again alone. I found a nice working-class people’s park (a converted golf course) where people were jogging, throwing balls for their dogs and letting the kids play with wooden swords. Teenagers were gathered around picnic tables and people were just generally treating the area like their community front yard. The houses were all connected row-houses and the front yards were only about 5 or 6 feet deep and the width of the two story house.

I found a sign for a block party on Saturday. (9/6) I walked to the “Internet” pizza parlor. They had one computer with a bar stool. They said I could use it for free it I didn’t need to print anything out. No problem. There was a sweet Italian multi-pierced waitress who couldn’t tell the difference between an American and a Scottish accent. I got a dish of rum raisin gelato. Yumm.

Everyone is so slender!

I went back to the room and crashed.

Friday, September 5th

We got up at 8 AM for a breakfast of bread, cheese, meat, yogurt, cereal, hard boiled eggs and Nescafe coffee granules!

After breakfast we visited the Gillis Centre chapel. It has a lovely stained glass I.H.S. rondel window. The Ursuline Sisters once lived and had a school at the Centre. When they had to leave because of dwindling numbers, they wanted to sell the building to the Catholic Diocese but couldn’t because it turned out that the diocese already owned the grounds. This caused hard feelings, so the sisters sold the old mansion on the grounds, which they did own, to a banker for half what it was worth. This unfortunate episode persuaded the diocese thatthey needed to see what else they owned in Edinburgh, and discovered that they owned large parcels of land downtown that other people thought they owned. It created a mare’s nest!

There were dwarf fruit trees on the grounds so we ate a few apples then caught the #5 bus to High Street, walked to the base of Castle Hill, visited Giles Cathedral, then down to the National Gallery. There was a stunning Rembrandt self portrait and a portrait of a reclining woman (who may have been his mistress). There were glorious Raeburn portraits and his Skating Minister painting.

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We saw Tintoretto, Bucher, the lovely Renoir Woman nursing her child, Van Gogh’s Olive Trees and his portrait of the woman potato-eater. There was a beautiful Seurat landscape and his study for Afternoon in the Park. El Greco’s Head of Christ was on loan, and so was one of the two magnificent Chardin still-life flower paintings. But everything was gorgeous. Obviously it was a smaller collection than the Louvre but very well displayed and comfortable to view, not so big as to wear you out walking around.

We then had to get cell phones so we could keep in touch in case one of us wandered off. (I don’t know why they were both looking at me.) And then our rail passes for Scotland had to be bought. Those purchases took us 2 hours!

We stopped at another Italian restaurant for a little mid-afternoon smackeral: delicious scones, lemon cheesecake, tea and cappuccino, then took the #5 bus back to the Centre. I walked back to the little grocery store to get some more bread, tuna and wine for a picnic supper in the breakfast-room downstairs. We watched a little BBC news. The registration for the referendum is HUGE, but no one knows which way it will go. The Polish girl at the front desk said she thinks it will be very close! The 18th will tell.

Saturday, September 6th

Today was the day to try to do everything! We were up at 8 for breakfast. Then we caught the #5 bus back to walk the Royal Mile. We saw the John Knox house, Saint Patrick’s and Blackwells, Edinburgh’s oldest bookstore. Went into the Royal Oak, a 200 year old pub. It had water samples from Perth, Nova Scotia and Edinburgh. Who knows why. There we met Colin Brown who leads the Rebus Walking Tours. We went out with him on a literary walking tour to see places mentioned by Ian Rankin in his John Rebus Detective series. We stopped at the Morgue, the School for Boys, the Medical School (where Conan Doyle studied and Sherlock Holmes was “born”), the Crags and Arthur’s Seat, an extinct volcano and the highest point in Edinburgh. Colin would also read excerpts from the books at these various sites. We enjoyed the walk and the other “Rebus fans.” And the scenery was pretty special as well. Edinburgers don’t typically pooper-scoop behind their dogs. Colin had to warn us frequently, “Watch out! Some poor lad has dropped his Tootsie Roll there!”

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We had lunch at the Dovecot Studio Pantry. Delicious cream of chicken, smoked salmon and cucumber salad.

I then staggered up to Arthur’s Seat and Georgia and Janet went shopping.

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For supper we had pizza, lasagne al forno, linguini del mar and wine that we had to buy across the street and bring back.

After supper we went to look for St Patrick’s Church but couldn’t find it. Did find the 1924 Olympic champion Eric Liddell community center, a re-purposed church with some interesting stained glass and community made knick-knacks. Then we went back to the Centre and so to bed.

Sunday, September 7th

We waited for the bus to take us to Mass and missed it. A taxi pulled up and we took it to St. Mary’s just in time. I enjoyed the priest’s message: Treat your brother like a pagan or tax collector and treat the pagans and tax collectors like a brother. Sounds harsh towards your brother but he urged us to remember how Jesus treated tax collectors and pagans. At the end of Mass, we received a blessing from Cardinal Archbishop Leo Cushley of St Andrews and Edinburgh.
Afterwards we had real coffee instead of Nescafe granules in their “hospitality suite.”

Then we took the #9 bus to the Royal Botanical Garden. It was amazing! There was a rock garden with lavender and white giant fall crocus.

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We saw an Andy Goldsworthy slate sculpture in the shape of a cone and David Kindersley-designed plaques with quotes by Gerald Manley Hopkins and Wittgenstein. His type designs are amazing. There was a beautiful viewing spot of the city. And a tribute to Donald Duck, whose Uncle Scrooge McDuck was from Scotland, doncha’ know. We ate at the Gateway Restaurant at the West Gate of the garden (fish and chips, steakburger with chips and Glenlivet Speyside scotch with a few sparkling ice cubes and a tiny slice of lemon!)

Then we took the bus to the National Portrait Gallery, a beautiful building in town. The driver told us where we needed to get off. I love public transportation. People are always happy to help tourists—as long as we’re not in a huge group and make a minimum effort to be polite. The Portrait Gallery has a wonderful collection of Scottish portraits and a great café too. We liked the Sir Henry Raeburn self portraits and Ramsay’s portrait of David Hume, the Robert Burns portrait, the Sir Walter Scott portrait and many others. There was also a WW I display which Janet enjoyed. In the café we even spied a portrait of Ian Rankin!

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We took the Lothian bus home and had to persuade Georgia to get off, as she didn’t think we had arrived yet. Had some Prosecco left over from yesterday. Tomorrow we leave for the highlands!

(to be continued)
 

Georgia & Zig

100+ Posts
Contest 2019 Winner!
Episode 2 - Stonehaven, Arbroath Abbey, Nairn, Inverness

Monday, September 8th


After breakfast we took the bus to Waverly Train Station. Rode the train to Dundee and stopped to see the ship “Discovery” but didn’t get on board. Then we tried to find a church open. None. Couldn’t even find a Catholic church. This was Scotland, after all. John Knox really didn’t like the Catholics and I don’t think they cared for him very much either. There was a library at the top of a shopping center. I used their computer to check my e-mail. No messages from home. No news is good news, I guess.

We had to take two different trains to get to Stonehaven. The Scottish conductors are so helpful and we could almost understand them. They spoke something akin to English. They made sure we caught the right trains.

We checked in at the Adina Bed and Breakfast. The Innkeeper, Diana, is trying to make a go of being an artist. Paintings with bright colors. She is part of a consortium of many hobbyist artists and she exhibits in her own B & B. She said, “You’ll have to excuse me; my mother always said I have a mind like a butterfly – flitting from one thing to another!” I’m not sure trying to straddle two very different careers, B&B Hostess and Artist, is going to be very successful—especially with the mind of a butterfly. As the song suggested, “You need to pick up on one and let the other ones ride.”

Aberdeen is the large town near here. We ate a terrific seafood supper at the Belvedere Hotel just down the street from the Adina. There was a little girl there who didn’t finish her ice cream/milk shake. How very UnAmerican!

Walked back to the room and discovered that the TV shows were lousy. So we watched Legally Blond. If you can buy the premise that a Valley Girl with a pink-coated Chihuahua would want to be a superstar lawyer, it was entertaining. But it certainly required a “willing suspension of disbelief.”

Tuesday, September 9th

We had a breakfast of pancakes and un-smoked bacon. Like thin-sliced very fatty ham. Then we walked downtown and used the library’s computer again. Then I decided to ride the “wheel train” to the castle, but got off at the pier, thinking I’d take a scenic walk to the castle instead. From the pier I thought I could walk around the headlands then up some path somewhere to the castle. I started off okay but soon saw it was going to be impossible as the tide was coming in and the beach rocks were huge! I was having to climb up and down over boulders. Finally admitting defeat I turned around and headed back to climb the cliff path.

There was a teenager and his family painting a bench at an overlook. I was looking at him curiously and he said smiling broadly, “Community service. I’m a Scottish criminal.” I didn’t ask him what he’d done, but did tell him that he was doing good work and that it looked nice. His mother smiled shyly. It was a very pleasant walk to the war memorial which was unfinished to symbolize the unfinished lives. The vistas were lovely: flaxen fields, sandstone cliffs and blue sea. There was no path up from the beach I’d been on. Sometimes you’re much farther ahead when you just throw in the towel and turn around.

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A beautiful dark-haired German girl was sauntering along with her elderly mother. They were from Hamburg. I told her how much we liked Munich. “Oh yes,” she said. “The people in Munich are so very friendly and warm. We Germans in the north seem so cold but we are friendly when you get to know us.” I enjoyed seeing the castle from afar, but had no desire to walk down the path to go inside.

The walk back to town went past a dairy farm. Scottish cows have the same beautiful eyes as those we saw outside Bern Switzerland.

For lunch the three of us sat on a bench beside the “Bucket and Spade” and had Fish and Chips and “fried Mars bars,” the delicacy that Stonehaven is “world-famous” for. We watched tiny blue-black swifts darting back and forth and skimming the surface of the Carron Waters.

We took a late trip to Arbroath by train to visit the Arbroath Abbey ruins and a meal of “Arbroath Smokie.” The abbey ruins were huge and gorgeous, but left me sad that it couldn’t have continued. But I guess there is a time to every purpose under heaven.

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We ate an early supper in a “Night Club” called the “Coast Bar.” Even the waitress looked like she’d dropped in from the 1960’s. Only the waiter looked out of place with his nickel-sized “ear lobe insert” piercings.

After supper took the train back to Stonehaven and had one last quick trip to the Belvedere Hotel for “peppermint slice” and a whiskey. I don’t think the hotelier is very happy in this tiny little town. His Nova Scotian girlfriend seems exasperated too. Too boring, I guess.

Back in the room we watched “Genova” on DVD with Colin Firth. Ugh! Not one of his better efforts.

Wednesday, September 10th

We had breakfast at the Adina. Diana confided in me that she is very worried about her son, Gavin. “He was always a difficult child. He would be fine one minute then say something wildly inappropriate to someone. I would try to correct him and he would say, ‘but it’s true.’ I think he might have Asperger’s. But now he has this business he is passionate about – selling and servicing fire extinguishers. He goes to conventions, he meets with people. He’s spent a fortune on promotions and marketing and has a very professional-looking website and literature. Things were finally looking up for him. And then one day I get a phone call. Right here. I was just doing my dishes. Gavin was at a customer’s house and had a seizure. He had just fallen down on the floor. A brain tumor. So, it’ll be a year with his license suspended.” She suggested to him that maybe he could hire some retirees to keep the business going. “His customers have been lovely,” she said. “They say they will stick with him. I don’t know. It doesn’t matter how old they get you never stop worrying about them. I would visit my mother. She was 90 and had dementia but when it was time to go she would say ‘You put on your sweater, mind. It’ll be cold. You’ll catch your death out there.’ ”

We caught the train to Nairn, then found our B & B, the Cawdor House. Paul and Mairi, our innkeepers. Her people have been there forever and are navy people. The walls were decorated with lots of pictures of ancestors.

We strolled around town and snacked at bakeries. We ate supper at the “Classroom”, a very elegant old stone building converted into a restaurant, selling local foods. Georgia and Janet had bowls of smoked fish stew. I had a blue-cheese salad. We also nibbled on olives and garlic toast. There were nice drinks.

Then we walked to the beach to watch the sunset, lovely pastels, and there were friendly people, children practicing their soccer, and dogs chasing balls.

We didn’t see any stained glass in town.

There was only one channel on the TV. Exasperated people were talking about the vote. Paul our innkeeper is a definite “Yes” person. He gets hot just thinking about it. “And don’t get me started talking about it!”

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Thursday, September 11th

We had a wonderful breakfast of porridge and poached eggs on toast. Georgia and Janet had delicious-smelling salmon.

From the kitchen I could hear “Here’s my number, call me maybe.” Sam, my assistant from Canada, would feel right at home. I made the mistake of talking about the referendum. Once Paul started he was off and running. The Scots have longed for independence at least since the Declaration of Arbroath in the 1300s. He’s very much the nationalist. “It’s like the Canadian referendum. 51/49 before the vote, then “No” votes pile out on election day when there’ll be a lot of tears!” “Yes, whichever way it goes,” I said. He ignored that. “Money. The Earls who signed the union agreement were all paid off. There was rioting in Edinburgh. The common people have always wanted independence.” He was starting to get hot.

I asked about his accent: “Whale” for “while, “a boot” for “about.” Different diphthongs. “My generation will be the last to have a real Scotch accent,” he complained. I was surprised he didn’t shake his head and say “tsk tsk.”

We walked to the train station to catch the train for Inverness. An older woman there was equally indignant at the prospect of leaving the Union. “How can celebrities like Sean Connery who live in places like Los Angeles have the nerve to tell us what we ought to do in Scotland. There are more people in LA than in ALL of Scotland. A ‘Yes’ vote will be a disaster for us.” Too bad we couldn’t get Paul and her talking together—though I suspect it would be more like talking past each other.

We decided to cheer ourselves up by talking about the beautiful weather. “Wasn’t the sunset lovely last night?” “Yes.” “Red at night, sailors delight. Red in the morning…” “shepherd take warning” she interrupted. “Shepherds’ in Scotland.”

In Inverness we walked around looking for church windows. The Episcopal Cathedral had some and so did the Ness Bank Church. The building was designed by William MacIntosh and had clear lozenge glass windows in a red border. The church had some Episcopalian-style windows made in the 1930s – 1960s. It’s surprising how harmonious they are.

We took a bus and boat tour of Loch Ness. Allison, our guide, on the phone, “I’ve got 15 Temptations on board.” The bus went to a dock on Loch Ness, then we took the boat to Urquart Castle.

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At the Castle I saw 4 Swiss/French motor cyclists, the “Jurassic Harley Club.” They didn’t look that old to me.

We took the bus back to town and sat with a Chinese girl from Yunan in Sichuan Province, traveling all by herself through Scotland. Then she plans to meet friends in Paris. Her English was excellent. She’s studying International Business. She said we need to see “Si Chuan” Province someday, especially “Jin Zai Gon.”

We got back to Nairn in time for a Caileigh, a Scottish dance/singing community charity benefit. They opened with everyone singing “The Rise and fall of Charlie.” Charles VII. A girl played a guitar and sang, “I want to take you to the islands” and “They paved Paradise and put up a parking lot.” “You don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone.” Children performed highland dances and a Gaelic a capella choir sang. They finished with “Cheerie me Ah!” a lovely wee peppy song. Then there were 12 teenaged bagpipers with one teacher. They stayed together beautifully and even had intentional chords in some of the songs. There were 9 boys and 2 girls. Loud! Deafening! Then a duet was played by the two best boys and a solo from a 12 year old. They had excellent fingering and rhythm. There were also 3 girl dancers. All the young people were very poised and the community was obviously very proud of them. That’s exactly what you want from your community.

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Georgia and I were coaxed into dancing the Virginia Reel with everyone and managed to trip over each other going down the line. I didn’t know Scottish dance was a contact sport. Ian and Joelene bought us a Tennants and a coke. A lady was determined that I would dance with her. It was awful. She kept saying 1,2,3 and swinging her leg as if I knew what she was doing. “A polka, A polka, you know a polka don’t you? 1,2,3,1,2,3!” At least I didn’t trip her, and provided some comic relief to the party. We won bath oils and such in the raffle and gave them to Ian and his wife. We couldn’t take them on the plane. Nice people. Very nice people, and a very nice evening. Then a nice walk across the street under a silver moon to our very nice B&B.

Friday, September 12th

We had breakfast at 8 A.M. of porridge, poached egg and a “fresh bun.” Then we walked downtown to look for a camera battery for Janet. We saw a huge one-eyed bull mastiff tied up to a pole outside the store. What a glorious golden-eyed dog. Very regal-looking. Other dogs walking by would look at it warily. It wouldn’t even deign to notice them.

A homeless (?) man walked up to me. “Gud day sir,” he said. I expected him to ask for change. “They better be sure to get the boxes here by Tuesday,” he said. “The vote is on Thursday, you know, but they better not wait till Thursday. There was brown drool running from the corner of his mouth onto the stained stubble on his chin and dripping onto his filthy green sweater. He shuffled from one foot to another. He stared at me intently as I started trying to edge away. “Don’t you just know. The polls open on Thursday and there be no boxes. Wouldn’t that be something? Just what you’d expect from these buggers.” Continuing to edge back as he edged closer I said, “Oh yes, that’d be something, alright. You have a good day now.” “Oh aye, have a good day yourself.” This addressed to my retreating back. He shuffled away to accost someone else with the topic everyone was obsessing over, but didn’t want to talk about.

On the train to Inverness I sat next to an older, elegantly-dressed woman who asked where I was from. “USA,” I said. “Well of course,” she said, the Scottish equivalent of “duh.” “Kentucky,” I said, “a little state between Ohio and Tennessee.” “I know,” she said. She’d traveled frequently in the U.S. She asked if Americans were starting to leave the cities and move back to the open spaces on the land. I told her not really, except for the Amish who had large families and who farmed very simply and were always looking to expand. She said she knew that too, having seen some Amish communities in Pennsylvania.

“Are you a minister?” she asked. I told her I was a Catholic Deacon. “I’m Episcopalian,” she said. “What’s the difference between the Episcopalians and the Church of Scotland?” She rolled her eyes. “Lots!” she said. “They don’t have communion at every service.” “Oh like the Methodists? I used to be Methodist.” “Oh yes,” she said, “and the church becomes wrapped up in the personality of the minister.” “Like some of the Protestant Churches in the U.S.” I said.

“I’ve been studying the Bible with (some TV show). We’re on Nehemiah now. The Old Testament was written for the Jews and the Gentiles didn’t understand it. The New Testament was written for the Gentiles and the Jews didn’t understand it. The Jews didn’t understand the New Testament because they didn’t understand the Gentiles and the Gentiles needed the New Testament because they didn’t understand the Jews.” (I’d never heard that exegesis.)

“I’ve been Episcopalian since I was a year and a half old and here I am, old and learning new things for the first time.”

“Be careful,” I warned. “Once you start down that way, studying the history of the church, you’re in danger of becoming a Catholic.” She looked startled. I switched the topic to the view out our train window. “Those mud flats along the Ness River. Do they grow any mussels or oysters or anything?” “No,” she sniffed, wrinkling her nose. “It’s just mud.” (like some biblical exegesis, I thought.)

We had a layover in Inverness. We picked up some buttons and some literature from a “Yes” booth. The man asked me if I had any questions. I told him I wouldn’t be voting since I was from the USA. “That’s O.K, we have international support.” I told him I hoped whoever won it wouldn’t tear the country apart. We’ve enjoyed our trip so much we’d hate to see it fall apart like Yugoslavia. “No chance!” he said. “The campaign has been conducted completely without rancor or violence. No matter who wins, it will be fine.”

We walked to St. Mary’s Roman Catholic Church. There was some almost primitive/folk art stained glass. Very touching.

On a WWI memorial window we saw:

For the fallen, 1914-1918
They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old.
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
we will remember them.
(Lawrence Binyon)

We also visited a Church of Scotland sanctuary. The main window was crudely painted. The artist wasn’t trying to be simple for folk-styled – they just were not very talented, I think. But at least the church was open, “open if you need a bit of peace.”

(to be continued)
 

Georgia & Zig

100+ Posts
Contest 2019 Winner!
Episode 3: Train/ferry to Stromness, ferry to Thurso, bus to Kyle of Lochalsh

Friday, September 12th


On the train to Thurso an older woman (our age) with dyed short reddish hair sat across from us and looked like she wanted to speak but never did. A few stops before Thurso we had a 5 minute layover and she and I both got off to stretch our legs. She was going to visit a son and daughter-in-law up from the English midlands. It was a 10 hour journey for her and she was exhausted.

She’d lived on the Orkney and Shetland Islands for 30 years. Loved them. Loved the isolation even. She had raised her sons there with one still living there in splendid isolation. There had been times in years gone by when they were cut off for months at a time.

She was just sick at the prospect of Scottish independence. “The Orkneys and Shetlands might even succeed from Scotland!”

She has 4 grandchildren and tries to arrange time with each of them alone so that each one will have her undivided attention.

Coming into Thurso, there was fog and granite walls. The train track was rough, the only rough track we’ve experienced in Europe.

We got off the train worrying about a close connection with the ferry. A raft of taxis were there but scooped up quickly. I asked one who already had a passenger if they were going near the ferry to Stromness. He said “no” but that he’d be back in 10 minutes. Six minutes later a cab pulled up to ask if we were the ones going to the ferry. “My colleague called me. He’s been detained.” And so Glynn Bladeford (God love him) said “O.K. young couple, in you go.” And so off we all went.

The ferry was enormous and built like a cruise ship with a gambling parlor-video games room, a bar and lounge, restaurant and shopping area. I had a Tennants and some crisps, stood on the deck, watched the waves and the birds playing tag with each other and enjoyed the lovely muted colors. The sun was going down, but there were too many low clouds for a nice sunset.

The Ferry Inn was right across from the ferry dock. It was another rabbit warren of a building but we had a nice room.

We had a delicious (but loud) meal in the restaurant. A group of 4 or 5 young women were having a celebration of some sort and were regaling each other with apparently hilarious accounts of extremely witty things they’d said to other people. I could come to love fish and chips – especially with vinegar and salt tartar sauce made in a mincer. Our dark haired waitress was “brilliant.” All the nice and even fairly “pleasant” things in Scotland are “brilliant.” She had a very nice tattoo of a pink lily on the inside of her left forearm.

The bed was comfortable. A streetlight was shining through the skylight (no window) but I was too lazy to close the blinds. We watched the last half of “Shakespeare in Love.” Such a witty movie and all the usual British suspects appear in it plus Gwyneth Paltrow who is brilliant in it.

Saturday, September 13th

We had breakfast at 7. Same waitress. I asked her when she slept. “I got a couple o’hours.” “On a table?” I asked. She just smiled.

Scottish bacon isn’t smoked and tastes like a very thin (1/16”) slice of ham about 1 ½ inches wide and 6” long. I had a poached egg on toast, porridge which was worse than Mairi’s “oatmeal” and served with milk instead of cream.

We went to the front desk to check out and ask if we could leave luggage. Waited for 10 minutes after ringing the bell. No one came. Went back to the restaurant and asked our waitress if there was anyone manning the desk. “Oh, right, that’s me,” and she hurried through. I asked when she was going to get off and have chance to rest. “There’s a wedding today for a girl who used to work here at the town hall. I’ll get off at half-one.”

At the “info” station across the parking lot we caught the bus for Kirkwall. The bus had the most cheerful bus driver I’ve ever seen. He chatted and joked with everyone who got on board.

Lovely, wild and empty landscape populated by little flocks of sheep and sad-eyed cows. Warm, gray stone buildings with slate roofs and no eaves. I’m sure that’s because they want to maximize the amount of sunlight coming through the windows. White window frames and sparkling glass. The lavender heather was just starting to bloom. With the gray skies and the muted, red sunsets, it’s easy to see the beautiful gray and pastel Scottish palette preferences.

We saw occasional standing stones and rock rings and a large ceremonial mound. A museum in Kirkwall showed incised rocks and artifacts found on the island dating back 5000 years. Ancient Viking and Norse hunters and fishermen set up settlements even before the Picts and later Vikings.

We visited the Cathedral of St. Magnus in Kirkwall. Now Church of Scotland I believe, but owned by the islanders themselves and not by whatever denomination uses it. It was built in the 1100s and repaired and refurbished many times over the centuries.

The present custodian has taken care of the church all her life – beginning as a girl working with her father. She showed me “proofs” of how the center tower had to be rebuilt and buttressed before it was even completed. Sandstone is not a particularly good building material for buildings expected to last for millennia. The outside walls and decorations are crumbling away.

I asked about the Orkney’s isolation. It’s not really isolated according to her and sense of community is dwindling. She still tries to visit people individually and spend time with them, but that is getting harder and harder to do when people have their favorite TV show and virtual communities. Real communities start to suffer for it.

The stained glass was mostly built by the Oscar Patterson studio in the 1920’s. I tried to persuade her that 2 of the nave windows were obviously from a different studio and pointed out the signature blocks. With a ladder or maybe binoculars she could learn who had made those 2 windows. “How wonderful it is to have outsiders show us things from their field of expertise,” she said with the same tone I would use for a slightly backward child. A new rose window built in the 1980s was truly spectacular. The 1920s ones were pretty standard stuff. The two odd-wads looked like murals. Their painting and borders were jewel-like.

My guide was steeped in the history and culture of the Orkneys.

With her children and grandchildren now close by, she is rooted like a sequoia. Any doings in London, or even Glasgow were foreign news to her – or at least she wishes they were foreign and irrelevant to her life.

I tried to walk to the Catholic Church. Ended up at the top of a hill in a housing development. A Norse God of a man cleaning his sidewalk of bush trimmings said “Oh aye, you’ve gotten yourself on top of the hill when you want to be down in the valley.” Isn’t that always the way?

Walking down I enjoyed spying all the little gray houses with their postage stamp gardens and yellow cats lazing on the window sills. I approached a speed limit sign that told me with a green smiley face that I was moving at 4 MPH. I don’t think I could have earned the red frownie face I would have gotten at 20 MPH.

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I found the church. It was a humble little stone building, open for prayer. It had sparkling clear lozenge windows and “Scottish Catholic” newspapers. I bought one and read of ISIS threats against Pope Francis, the Bishop’s calls for the faithful to vote their conscience after prayer and a religious Sister’s explanation for why she was voting “yes.” It was basically because Scotland always has been a separate country – just unfortunately dominated by that larger body to the south.

In a small shop I bought a leather hat – like a flat topped ball cap.

Took the bus back to the Ferry for a little afternoon smackeral – this time at Julia’s Café with a bagpipe band tuning up beside us (it seemed) for an hour. I was getting much too familiar with the bagpipe scale with its’ half-step between steps 2 and 3 and 6 and 7 instead of 7 and 8. Lots of practicing and young players.

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Same few bars of the same cat yowl over and over – like a recurring nightmare. Brought back horrid memories of hell-week in the fraternity I joined at the Colorado School of Mines. At least here the bagpipe music wasn’t being played backwards.

Still, the food and tea and biscuits(cookies) were nice and the sun felt warm upon my face. We strolled around the bay/harbor and used the computer at the library.

On the way back to the ferry we saw the wedding at the town hall. The bagpipes were all lined up to welcome the bride and groom. After the wedding they piled into a horse-drawn carriage. Didn’t see our waitress, or didn’t recognize her in her finery.

It was very foggy on the ferry. I fell asleep drinking my Tennants.

At the dock, our B&B hostess, Yoneone, met us and gave us a ride to the B&B, @4 Princes Street, in Thurso, showing us enroute where we needed to catch the bus to Kyle of Lochalsh in the morning. And, if she warned us once, she must have warned us 7 times that this being Saturday night, the bars were going to be rowdy.

I asked if there was a Catholic Church nearby with maybe a late Mass. “I’m sure I don’t know. I’m not a religious person.”

Our room was on the top floor, no elevator, and we had to contend with the pitch of the roof, but the bed was comfy. We followed her recommendation for supper at the Red Pepper. The “Maitre D” was a somewhat young woman who moved like a blond version of Meg Ryan in “Joe Vs the Volcano.” The first Meg Ryan character, Mr. Waturi’s secretary. “What’s wrong with you, Joe?”

The restaurant was all booked up but we could order food from the bar. Looking over the menu we decided on what we wanted and went to order it. The bartender must have doubled as the bouncer. Well over 6 feet tall with spiky black hair, he was the cock of the walk. There was going to be no rowdiness in his bar unless he was the author of it. So that I could place my order he told a bruiser to “Shove over,” which he did with alacrity.

I placed our order, but somehow he hit the wrong button on the screen and I had to pay for our meal in two installments. I’m not sure his elevator went all the way to the top floor. His mouth seemed to rebel at asking whether we wanted “Pinot Grigio” or “Chardonnay.” He relaxed a lot when I told him I wanted a pint of Guiness.

A cheerful dark-haired, multi-pierced cherub brought us our food. She had crooked teeth, a charming smile and a lisp produced by a silver stud in the center of her tongue. The haggis-stuffed bacon-wrapped chicken breast has a delicious Drambuie-flavored sauce on it. Georgia had more Cullen skink, the smoked haddock chowder that is her new favorite food.

After dessert the cherub asked us where we were from and spent a good 15 minutes telling us why she had set her heart on studying bio-medical research at UCLA. We told her about the University of Chicago and MIT. She laughed as her studded tongue tried to produce “Massachusetts Institute of Technology.” “That’s not easy to say is it?” she grinned.

Why are Americans who come here always so happy and friendly?” she asked. “Medication,” Janet said. We all laughed and the bartender/bouncer just scowled. The cherub had to see us out to show us where a cash point was. I gave her a card and told her to call us if she ever got to Kentucky.

The bar across the way was starting to crank up but we both slept soundly. Janet said a loud motorcycle and laughing pedestrians woke her up at closing time, but no worse than UVA, a college town, in Charlottsville, Virginia.

Sunday, September 14th, Thurso to Kyle of Lochalsh

Yvonne’s helper, Clare, fixed us a brilliant breakfast – eggs and sausage, toast and tomahto, strong tea and coffee.

After breakfast Janet and Georgia went to pack and Clare and I chatted. She was a big-boned, hearty woman with a new sunburn. “I always think I’m not going to burn and I always do.” She asked about our children and I asked about hers. She has one son in his early 20s. She’s worried sick about him because he is dating a woman 14 years older than him. “When they come over, she has more in common with me than she does with him!” She already has a 5 year old boy by another man. “I warned Darren not to get attached to the boy. Everyone says it’ll never last. She used to be the life guard at the pool where my wee bairn used to swim, for God’s sake!

I sympathized with her about the pain and worry parents feel over the decisions grown children make. And the helpless anxiety we feel when we’re sure they’re making a mistake – and that I’m sure it never ends. But “the 5 year old, don’t close him out. Love him for as long as you can. Who knows how that love will play out in his life. It may give him some stability even if things don’t work out between his mother and your son.” “But this is a small town and it would hurt too much to see him over and over.” “Well yes, maybe,” I laughed, “but it doesn’t matter when you and I hurt. It’s not about us. It’s about the little ones.” She laughed too. I patted her sun burnt arm lightly and wished her well. She wished us God-speed too.

At the bus stop we saw a young woman in red tennis shoes and white stockings sucking down cigarettes, lighting one after another. Her gram was keeping her company. Must be facing a stressful trip. The bus driver was uncertain about accepting our rail passes, but did, and so we were off for Lochalsh, through the great glen that bisects Scotland. In places it was as flat as the great plains with wind farms. I counted 22 enormous turbines at one location. The road was very narrow – not even a shoulder on the road. Gradually hills and then mountains built up on either side with dramatic cliffs and fields full of white sheep, except for the occasional black sheep, of course.

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Coming into the village of Dunbeath the bus descended at a 10-13% grade and had to navigate hairpin turns so tight I thought the driver would have to back up and do a 3 point.

The heavily pierced girl in the red sneakers had to take quick puff-breaks at every bus stop.

We’d hoped to keep the same bus all the way, but had to change buses in Inverness. In trying to find the right bus and be sure we could still use our rail pass, a driver suggested we speak with Wendy – she was the driver’s manager. Her bouffant hairdo gave her a little more height and her bureaucratic importance was enhanced with a John Wayne swagger. I explained our situation and hoped we could continue on our way using the rail pass to Lock ‘aash.’ Whereupon Wendy explained to me at great length that we should have used our rail pass on a train and not on a bus. “Rail passes are for trains and should only be used on a bus when no train is available. But as there was a train from Thurso to Kyle of Loch’ousch’ we should have used our rail pass on said train that went from Thurso to Kyle of Loch’ousch’ instead of the bus that went from Thurso to Inverness in hopes of catching another bus from Inverness to Kyle of Loch’ousch’, which also has a train that travels from Inverness to Kyle of Loch’ousch,’ though the bus driver can, at his discretion, overlook the infraction if he wants. And you can tell him that I will support him in this decision.” We did, and he did and so we took our seats.

A few minutes later Wendy climbed up on the bus to see if we had, and he had, and he told her we had, and he had, and I piped up that indeed I had, and that he had and so we’d taken our seats. She only wanted to reiterate that this was fine as long as we understood that “rail passes” were to be used only on trains – not buses – unless and only if there was no rail transport available and a bus was the only available transport. We three miscreants all assured her repeatedly (tugging on our forelocks) that we completely understood the error of our ways and greatly appreciated her overlooking this indiscretion. “That’s fine,” she said. “We are always willing to be flexible.”

The trip through the Great Glen was amazing. Red – orange – brown bracken, gray-green lichens, purple heather, gray rocks with white and black on them, olive-green and viridian undergrowth, spectacular treeless peaks and plots of land covered with dark-green fir trees to be harvested in a year or two, then replanted with seedlings. It reminded me of our trip through the Alps from northern Italy to Switzerland. Such a dramatic landscape and such lovely pastel colors. No wonder you see these same colors over and over in the clothing and home decorations.

(to be continued)
 

Georgia & Zig

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Episode 4– Kyle of Lochalsh, Isle of Skye, Fort William

Sunday, September 14th


We arrived at the Lochalsh bus stop only a block from the Kyle Hotel on Main Street. It was very old with narrow halls and doors. There were double swinging doors that were almost impossible to navigate pulling a suitcase. Poor Janet. Georgia let go of one of the doors too soon and smacked Janet right on the nose.

Rooms were small and ill-maintained. The TV was old and gasping for breath. They had to replace the batteries in the remote. Most of the light bulbs in Janet’s room were blown or missing. But what do you expect? Her room was 12a because “13” is an unlucky number.

We ate supper at “Hector’s.” It was delicious and the waitress was wonderful – handling a restaurant full of people with good grace and humor. And the “rusty nail” I ordered was great! She brought me just a glass of scotch to begin with. When I asked for some Drambuie in it too she brought it back much more full. “Now that’s a gud-sized drink,” she said. And it was.

Off to bed singing…

Monday, September 15th

Up and to breakfast, then to the bus for a trip to the Isle of Skye. The bus ahead of us was heading to Glasgow. People were on board and waiting for the departure time of 9:27. As it pulled out we moved up for our departure at 9:30. As our driver closed the door and started off, a middle-aged frantic woman ran across the parking lot waving wildly for us to stop. “Where is the bus for Glasgow? My luggage is on the bus for Glasgow.” She was wild and stood on the steps looking around in shock. The driver told her it had already gone. “I just went to get a drink. The driver said they were leaving at 9:30.” And there she stood bewildered – as if the driver was going to be able to fix things for her. Someone on the bus said “You can get a taxi at the top of the stairs.” Someone else volunteered, “Maybe you can catch up with the bus.” She stood frozen to the spot for a good 3 or 4 minutes looking around blankly. I was so proud of the driver who never lost his cool. “Shall I go up the stairs then?” she asked. The driver shrugged and she got off the bus. Poor woman. I hope she caught up with her luggage.

There were more wildly dramatic mountains on the Isle of Skye. Many of the houses are bright white covered with a rough textured stucco called “pebble dash.” We found a local arts and crafts festival in the village of Portree. There was also a large selection of “indoor yard-sale” items. I bought a Scottish cookbook from the 1940s. Georgia bought a beautiful heather-colored, hand-knit sweater. And we bought a calendar made by an ex-pat German lady living in one of Skye’s glens.

Then we found a beautiful park called “The Lump” where we took scads of photos.

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We walked to the library and saw a shinty ball game being played. To my untrained eye it looked like field hockey though I’m sure an aficionado could reel off lots of differences. One of the girls on the team rode on the bus with us heading home. She so wanted to talk with us but I’m sure her mother warned her about talking with strangers. It was she who told me what the game was called, and told me that everyone including the goalie wore the same equipment. Such bright, healthy children – hale and hearty, not overweight nor verging on diabetes. Fresh Scottish highlands air must be good for you.

For supper we had of Cullen Skink again and black angus burgers with chips and onion rings.

Tuesday, September 16th

We asked our waiter at breakfast about the low water level. He said it was low tide – happens every 12 hours. Janet said there didn’t seem to be any water coming down the hillsides – maybe the water would be deeper when the snows came. “No, no,” he said, gesturing out the window, “The water is coming from that new Atlantic Ocean we have out there.” It’s got to be hard dealing with tourists day in and day out.

We met the most interesting man while waiting for the bus. Scottish to the core and walking a littlee, dirty, white “Westie,” a western Scottish Terrier. He was just standing on the corner watching everyone walk by. He made to leave but I said “What a beautiful dog. What’s his name?” He said something I couldn’t hope to pronounce. “That’s Gaelic for “George” he said. “I squatted down and “George” let me pet him, but you could tell he was ‘allowing’ it, but not really ‘enjoying’ my attention. I stood to back up.

The man was telling Georgia and Janet that he had just gotten off the ferry. “Is he easy to train?” Georgia asked. “I don’t know, I’ve never tried to train him. He just does what he wants.” About that time George wanted to tell a couple walking across the parking lot that he didn’t want them there. He started growling. “What’s he growling at?” I asked. “He’s not growling. He’s (sneeze).” which I think was Gaelic for singing. Then George must have thought the couple weren’t moving fast enough off his parking lot – so he started to bark. With each bark all four feet came off the ground. It was hilarious!

He told us that he had been a fish farmer raising salmon on the Lochs. He had tried to take George out in the boat with him. “My other dog loved boat rides but George gets sea sick.” “Sea sick?” we all laughed. “Oh ay,” he said, “Can’t stand to be on water deeper than his knees.” “Had to retire.” He said. “George couldn’t stand the water and once the Health and Safety people came out to the site we had no end of trouble. Before then we never had an accident, but after they showed up the trainees were dropping in the water like flies, --plop, plop, plop-- I knew it wasn’t the salmon jumping.”

I told this story to our host in Fort William and he “ratified” it: “Oh aye, Westies are bad tempered little beasties. You don’t train them. They train you. If one gets a bite on your ankle they won’t let go. They were trained to be cattle dogs, you know, they herd them by nipping the cows heels. Hard to believe though, so short you can’t even see them when they run through the heather.”

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We finished our trip through the great glen all the way to Fort William on the west coast near Ben Nevis, the tallest mountain in the UK where we met our hosts Tom and Sheena Wynne at the St. Andrews House B&B. The house is a stunning stone home, once the rectory and choir school for the Church of Scotland church just down the hill on the village green. We found the Catholic church and saw that there was a special Mass and Eucharistic exposition tomorrow on the eve of the referendum. We’d missed Mass last weekend for traveling so we’re looking forward to going tomorrow.

Wednesday, September 17th

A nice breakfast was served. Tom said he had to go out after breakfast. We walked down to the church and took our seats. An elderly priest admonished us about what a serious day was coming up tomorrow and that we should maintain silence during Mass and during the exposition afterwards. His tone was sepulchral. Easy to tell that he was worried at the prospects of a vote. But which vote? Yes or No? Which scared him more?

As we sat there I thought I saw Tom rush down the outside aisle in his blue windbreaker vest. And then he appeared wearing a deacon’s stole at the altar with a younger dark haired priest. My eyesight is not good anymore. I kept thinking that I must be mistaken. I tried to whisper a question to Georgia but she couldn’t understand my “Is that our host?” She thought I was talking about ghosts.

The first reading was the 13th chapter of 1st Corinthians, the wonderful hymn to Love: “Faith, Hope, and Love abide, but the greatest of these is Love.” The Gospel was from Luke. “You criticized John the Baptist for being ascetic, you criticize me for eating and drinking. But Wisdom will be vindicated.”

It sounded like Tom’s lilt but I couldn’t be sure. The old priest gave the homily in an almost impenetrable thick brogue but I thought I heard: The prioress in the Canterbury Tales wore a sash that proclaimed “Amor vincit omnia.” Love conquers all. But we know that’s not true. Love can be beaten down with any number of different concerns and issues; and even if it’s not beaten, it will end with death at least. But St Paul is not talking about Amore – rather he’s talking about Agape – best thought of as Christ-like love. “And Christ-like love can never be conquered and has as its destiny, heaven.”

“With the Grace of God, may we learn to love each other with a Christ-like love,” he said. I didn’t see the deacon after church, but I asked the young priest what the Deacon’s name was. He said it was “Tom something,” but he was up from Birmingham and not certain. A couple of ladies leaving the church said. “The Deacon? Tom Wynn. He used to be a butcher and his father before him.” And yes, he did own the St. Andrew’s B&B – used to be the rectory for the Church of Scotland. How cool is that?!

(to be continued)
 

Georgia & Zig

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Episode 5– Fort William, Mallaig, Glasgow

Tuesday, September 16th


We met up with Janet and caught the train for Mallaig - one time the largest fishing port in Europe, where Russian factory ships used to stand off the coast and badly over-fish and process millions of tons of herring.

Mallaig was trying to rebrand itself as a tourist town. I marveled again at the lack of graffiti. There were a lot of tacky shops and over-priced eateries. We found a table at an outdoor café on a side street and had cheese toast and mussels. Then we walked to the library to use the computer. A class of 25 eight and nine year olds blew in to check out books. The teacher and the librarian both tried to quiet them down and they were quiet for 8 and 9 year olds, but when they blew out again the silence was deafening. It was like throwing a switch. The librarian smiled broadly and said it was like a storm had blown through. All she had to do now was pick up the debris. I thought it was all charming and you could see she loved them too – noise, debris and all.

Our rail-trip was lovely. The highlands are truly amazing.

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Back in Fort William Janet excused herself as not feeling well, and needing an early night. We bought some Prosecco and snacky things and headed back to the B&B. Tom and Sheena were at the store too and we walked back with them expressing our surprise at learning that we were both deacon-couples. We sat outside drinking and toasting each other and talking about the diaconate. Tom was one of only 3 men ordained this year. Three new men enter every year and basically have to go through a divinity degree on the academic side and the church has classes on the homiletic and spiritual side. He reckons they would usually have 6-8 men ordained every year but they are without a Bishop too – in fact they are without a Cardinal, since Cardinal O’Brian made such a scandal. Scotland needs a Cardinal and 2 Bishops. Sometime in the recent past a priest was ordained Bishop then quit the priesthood. What a disaster.

Tom is very concerned about the viability of an independent Scotland. Tomorrow will tell.

Thursday, September 18th – train to Glasgow

“He drinks like a chimney.”
“You mean ‘fish.’”
“No, He don’t like to fish.”

-sign in a souvenir shop

The conductor on the train to Glasgow said the vote was going to be razor thin and probably “yes.” I told him I hoped that whoever won it would be a convincing win. Otherwise I was afraid people would be even more upset. A newspaper agent said he was afraid the yeses would have it too but spoke about an Englishwoman coming to his parish and wrinkling her nose at getting Scottish pounds in change. “Ooh, do I have to accept these?” she said. “I’m voting ‘no’ but it’s in spite of people like you!” he told her. He was getting hot just thinking about it again. The fear and anxiety is palpable in those who are middle-aged and older. They see themselves as Scots but also Britons. They and their elders have fought and sacrificed for Great Britain and the thought that it was all a waste is deeply, deeply painful for them. The young seem to have been fed on “Braveheart” with their mother’s milk. They’re not trying to build something great with England, Wales, and Northern Ireland. They’re trying to get out from under Mum and Dad’s thumb.

And then the Irish who are working in Scotland (like the steward on the train) get into shouting matches with people on the train platform. That doesn’t help anyone.

The fresh-water locks looked way down. I asked the conductor. He said it was the aluminum factory sucking down the water and the fact that they’ve had a drought for 2 years. Water is falling 10’ per year.

We saw our first patch of graffiti under the bridges coming into Glasgow. A much grittier city than Edinburgh. I even spotted barbed wire on top of a fence – like the southside of Chicago. The Argyll Guest House is nice but Janet can’t make the steps to the basement single. I don’t like it. It’s claustrophobic with a window that opens onto a creepy alley. Luckily we were able to get her another single. The double at the front of the guesthouse is very large and comfortable and located on the ground floor with the sound of city traffic going by. I like it.

We walked to the Kelvingrove Art Museum, only a block away from our guest house, to see where it was. Then we stopped at a local bar. I had a delicious Scottish brew, “Shiehallion” and Georgia had a white Russian served in a milk bottle. She swore there was no vodka in it. The bar catered to 20-somethings who liked rap music. We finished and left. The waitress had beautiful blue eyes. She informed me earnestly that the “yeses” were going to have it – but she was worried about the consequences.

We had a wonderful supper at “The Butcher Shop.” I had rump steak, blood red and dripping, with French fries and a huge pat of garlic butter on top. Janet and Georgia had sea bream and it looked really good too. They assured me it was. Dessert was a sticky toffee pudding. Yum!

We took a taxi to the Gryphon Bar for an unusual Bloody Mary and a Bailey’s. Then we walked home part of the way. There were crowds standing on the sidewalk waiting for referendum results. A few Bobbies were in evidence to keep the peace. We took a cab the rest of the way.

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We had a nightcap at the restaurant in the Argyll Hotel. The cheesecake was awful and they didn’t even have Drambuie. What kind of Scottish bar doesn’t have Drambuie?

There were no results yet on TV. They’re supposed to start coming in about breakfast time.

Friday, September 19th

Shouting on the street woke me up about 4:30. I figured it must be results coming in. I turned on the TV and muted the sound. Georgia wasn’t feeling well and needed the sleep more than politics. The first results were several small “counts” and the “yes” vote pulled into an early lead: 51:49, but then a drumbeat of “nos” began that seemed to come about 1 every 2 minutes. The “yes” talking heads were getting quite testy. I’m glad that mute was on. Glasgow went heavily “yes” perhaps because of all the students. But eventually it was a decisive “No” vote 45:55. I think that was the best outcome – if they had to have a referendum at all. Like the newsagent said, “They nae should have ever started this. It kinna be good for the country.”

I fell back asleep content.

(to be continued)
 

Georgia & Zig

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Episode 6a - Glasgow

Friday, September 19th


I woke up for breakfast. Georgia was down for the count with Montezuma’s Revenge. She was going to meet us later at the Kelvingrove, but breakfast did not sound good to her. Janet and I set off for one of the diners we saw close to it. It was a leisurely walk past the perfectly manicured bowling lawn to the front of the museum. Then across the street to the “Orlando” which was closed! As was all the other eating places – closed. I stopped a young woman getting out of her car. “Do you know where we could get a cup of coffee and a pastry?” She thought for a minute then pointed up this little side street and to the left but observed, “We are not a coffee culture, you know,” and smiled.

Well, its’ a nice gray Glasgow morning for a walk. The museum doesn’t open until 10, and it’s not yet 9.

Around the corner w saw the “Firebird”, which was also closed but gets high marks for its Italian cuisine. We filed that away for future reference. Everything is closed. Very discouraging, but Janet noticed a sandwich board on the sidewalk, half way down the block. “Roast” advertising coffee! And it was open! Good strong coffee. No pastries, but carrot cake and some kind of “leaden” fruit bread that Janet swore was made with apricots, but looked like sun-dried tomatoes to me. The customer ahead of us praised the bacon sandwich as being “brilliant” so that’s what I ordered and Janet stuck with the “lead” bread. It was as awful as it looked. She cut it up in little pieces, the easier to eat, she said. I think she was just pulling that old Amy (our middle daughter) trick of spreading her peas around on the plate in hopes that it would look like she’d eaten some.

Gallante that I am, I shared my huge bacon sandwich with her. And it was brilliant. We talked a bit with the proprietor and his wife about the referendum results. You could tell they were broken hearted but stoic – hopeful that there would be more of the promised devolution.

We visited a drugstore then headed for the museum. We only had about 30 minutes to wait for it to open. We sat out front and wondered why we were the only ones there. It was a little breezy so we headed up the steps to get out of the wind. That’s when we saw that on Friday it didn’t open until 11:00.

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We headed around back and sat on a bench watching the people. There were lots of grandparents bringing little grandchildren – probably giving mom and dad a day off. So cute. Watched a little boy attacking only one side of an ice cream cone. I expected a storm when the whole thing hit the pavement, but no. He was quite stoic about the whole thing.

I took a picture for a group of Japanese who all wanted to be airborne at the same time. How photography has changed. First everyone had to be rigidly still and serious, then always smiling; now everyone seems to have to be doing something. It’s not a picture of them, it’s a record of an event.

The Scottish colorists and the Glasgow Boys were amazing. We took pictures of everything. I was so impressed that the pictures were arranged thematically instead of by artist, so Van Gogh’s landscapes were side by side with Matisse and Monet. Likewise the portraits. It was fun to compare how different artists tackled oranges!

The St John of the Cross by Dali was the high point for me. I didn’t know that it had been attacked by a madman. A short film showed how the conservatores had had to fix it. The most stunning thing for me is that Jesus is not nailed to the cross. It is his will, not Roman nails that keeps him there.

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Georgia came into the museum but felt terrible and left again right away. Janet and I headed back soon after and I went to fetch Imodium and crackers for Georgia. The pharmacist suggested Pepto Bismol too and gave me an emergency number to call if she didn’t bounce back.

I took my life in my hands and bought a round trip ticket for the bus and headed out for the Cathedral. I sat next to a man wearing a “No” button. We both had been very apprehensive about a yes vote and much relieved that it wasn’t close. I felt like suggesting he lose the button to help the healing but I guess everyone wants to be able to say “I told you so.” He probably had both a ‘Yes’ and a ‘No.’

It was a long walk through the Strathclyde College campus. It was “open day” at the Cathedral and Cathedral museum. Most of the glass was nice but ordinary. One window was special. It was funded by a primary, a secondary and a high school. It was very modern with a design made from ABC blocks stacked on top of each other spelling out the parable of the sower. Very impressive. We’ll have to find out who did it.

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The old windows had been removed from the Cathedral and some of them were in the museum, a paeon to interfaith understanding. A worthwhile goal, I suppose, but I was still offended to see a 15th century Madonna next to Kali. I bit my tongue and took pictures of the glass – especially the medieval ones and the William Morris windows.

Catching a bus home was more problematic. The road I came on is basically one way toward the Cathedral so I wasn’t sure how to catch a bus going the other way. I caught one bus where an old lady told me all about her grandson in San Francisco. She got flustered trying to tell me how to get “home” and gave up. “I kinna help you,” she said, “but I’ll pray for you.” I made it back walking backward against the traffic, but it was fun. I went along a long pedestrian mall where I found the Willow Tea Room. I did learn that I don’t like the quick dry underwear I bought. I was chaffed raw by the time I got back to the guest house.

Georgia didn’t feel like supper – just stayed in bed while Janet and I went to “Firebird” for Italian. We had antipasta of olives and bread and blue cheese and a “Classic” pizza of tomato with mozzarella. So simple but so good! And cheesecake on lemon curd for dessert. Poor Georgia – she missed a great meal.

I went to bed but Montezuma attacked me four times during the night. Ugh!

Saturday, September 20th

I still felt woozy in the morning but there was no way I was going to miss any time in bed.

We tried futilely to find a bus to take us to the Burrell Collection. We walked a mile back and forth on our road looking for an evidently mythical “bus 57.” We finally hailed a taxi, fifteen pounds, but priceless in avoiding aggravation. When we got there it was pretty clear we would have had a hike even if we’d found the bus.

The Burrell Stained Glass Collection was phenomenal. I really can’t imagine how he acquired some of these panels. One was from the 1140s from St. Denis Cathedral. How in the world did they let it go?

There were still life paintings by Chardin. What a collection he put together. But he must have been an insufferable person though, furious with people who bid against him. But, what collection. Stupendous! Some real jewels, however, had been removed because there were leaks in the roof. It’s not often that you see buckets catching water on the floor of a museum.

We walked quite a ways to see the Pollock House where the donors of all this land had lived. Their paintings were still displayed in the house where they’d always hung – but they were not nearly so beautiful as to the exquisitely conserved Burrell collection – they looked smoky and soiled. Two little Goya “cartoons” were the jewels though.

We were pooped and called a taxi to take us back to the hotel.

We rested awhile, then Georgia and I caught a bus towards St. Aloysius Church for Mass at 6:45. It was right near the intersection of Rose and Springburn Street. It turns out that’s just where the pedestrian Mall begins, so Georgia got to see the Art Deco Willow Tea Rooms too. We went early to church to take pictures of the stained glass. I was surprised to see that there were already a lot of people there. It turns out there was an evening prayer service (Vespers) with music being provided by a childrens’ choir. The church is a wonderful acoustic space and the organ was brilliant! The children sang in parts – often in rounds and simple harmony. The director was enthusiastic and animated. It was a joy and as the children filed out they got a long ovation. The Cathedral was nice but none of it sticks in my memory aside from the circle of Jesuit saints around the dome.

We took a bus back to the hotel to gather up Janet for supper. Tried “The Sisters” that the girl at the Firebird had recommended, but we needed reservations. We went across the street to Mother India’s. The Maitre D’ said they’d need the table back at 9. It was now 7:30 I guess that meant no lingering. I kept naming different beers to have – that Scottish one from “Alfies:” Schiehallion. “No, we don’t have that one – how about Kingfishers?” “How about Mangos?” I asked – having had that also. “Mango juice? You vant mango juice?” “No, I want beer.” “Beer” How about Kingfishers from our menu?” He offered me the menu again. “O.K., a pint of Kingfishers please.” Since that was the only beer on the menu.

Janet got chicken curry, Georgia got lamb, and I got “butter chicken.” There were also side dishes of rice, nan and spinach. It was hot and delicious. And we managed to finish right at 9.

But about 3 AM the chicken and spinach didn’t taste nearly as good coming back up. And again at 3:20, then again at 4:00 and again at 4:30. One last time at 5:00. Ugh.

(To be continued)
 

Georgia & Zig

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Episode 6b - Glasgow

Sunday, September 21st


Georgia and Janet went out as normal planning on going to the Hunterian. I took the morning off to try to recuperate. I finally met them at the the Hunterian in the re-creation of the Macintosh house.

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It was Art Deco-ish. It reminded me of Klimt too. There were beautiful curves and furniture of simple straight lines. Very spare and elegant. Blacks and browns with little magenta glass square “jewels” set in the wood. And little touches of color.

The paintings were again wonderful. Peploe’s portraits were treasures.

We took High Tea at Montgomery’s Cafe and then supper at “The Sisters.” After this trip I’m never going to be able to think of gray as bland ever again. The abstract landscape paintings matched the grays and olives, maroons and tans we’ve seen over and over. The wait-staff in black. A faun-colored carpet and gray plaid window valances. Curtains of gray with silver threads. Beautiful cream-colored plates and lovely stainless-steel cutlery. The same pallet everywhere in Scotland, and I approve.

Even the cars seem always to be black or white, silver or gray with just the occasional tourist vehicle in red or (shudder) bright green. Crowds of young people wearing black and gray with olive or heather colored scarves and backpacks. Ubiquitous black or gray tights under short black skirts. Always slim and striding along at an absurd pace.

Back to the room in time to catch an episode of Dr Who and then an episode of Downtown Abbey punctuated incongruously with commercials. Thomas, the footman, is still a snake, but a very slippery one.

Monday, September 22nd

We had breakfast at the Sutherland, then were off to catch the “Hop On, Hop Off” bus. That was fun and carried us past everything we wanted to see. We made a stop for St. Andrew’s Cathedral built in the early 1800s after Catholicism was again permitted in Scotland. Recently restored, it looks like it was dreadfully “overcleaned.” We stopped again at the Riverside Museum and toured the tall ship there too. We had a nice meal of the spectacular “pomme frites.” There were excellent exhibits of all modes of transportation. I think they even had a Nash Rambler there.

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We stopped again at the Botanical Garden to take some photos of the orchids. The bromiads and pitcher plants were incredible. You’d have to have a fly farm to feed at those meat eaters!

A few of the orchids were blooming but the climate has to be hard on them. The tiniest, most fragile ones were in greenhouses inside the greenhouse inside the greenhouse! And there were lovely geometric flower-beds. Wish we had another day to walk the grounds.

Back on the bus I saw a little girl dart across the road in front of the bus. Her mother wheeling her baby brother in a stroller hollered like a fish-wife at her and shot her a

look that would freeze a volcano. I don’t think I’d want to witness that reunion. I guess children do thoughtless things in all countries.

We ate a simple supper of pizza and wine at the Firebird. It had such a delicate sauce with a very, very slight taste of spices. There were extremely thin slices of ham plus rocket on half the pizza and “beef skin” and olives on the other.

Then we were off to bed for our final leg to Amsterdam tomorrow.
 

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