Friday, November 28, 2014

Scotland

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We flew from Amsterdam to Edinburgh, Scotland, where we rented a car, and immediately drove to Glasgow, an hour to the west.  We rented a cottage in Glasgow for a week (a cheaper town than Edinburgh), and were looking forward to a slower pace, and cooking our own meals.  Our travel fatigue is obvious when we reviewed our pictures for the first two days.  On the first day, David took his normal series of pictures of our accommodation, as a visual mnemonic, and we both had snapshots of amusing aisles in the grocery store while we shopped for our meals.  Half of one, long aisle was devoted to canned beans, from single cans, to 4-packs, and even small, wheeled palettes (maybe 30 cans each?), ready for customer pickup.  We didn’t know the Scots were so serious about beans.  Another aisle was taken up by ketchup, mayo, and other condiments.  On the second day, there are only pictures of the three meals we made—we didn’t even leave the cottage.  It was wonderful!  The cottage itself was another AirBnB arrangement, and was very nice.  We had a full kitchen at our disposal, as well as a washing machine (and clothes lines in the large back yard, for drying).  The street out front has little car traffic, but lots of pedestrians, and we enjoyed people watching.  It was in the 70s, and apparently that’s roasting hot for the locals, who are all wearing as little as possible, and sporting lobster red sunburns.  We read books, reviewed our photos—we were just catching up to pictures from Croatia by then—and watched a movie.

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We finally ventured out on the third day (all of the pictures above were taken then) for an afternoon drive to Loch Lomond (we took the high road), which was beautiful.  On the way back, we ignored our GPS, and took some pretty (but narrow) back roads (do we never learn?).  Driving in the countryside was very pleasant.  Cities and highways were a different matter; Scottish drivers seem to be in a perpetual state of road rage.  We heard more shouted obscenities in our time in Scotland than we’d heard on the entire trip.  Outside of their cars, people were incredibly friendly though.

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We got a little more adventurous, and drove back into Edinburgh for a day trip.  We spent the morning at Edinburgh Castle, which overlooks the city from a tall hill—Castle Rock. 

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The statue in the background is Robert the Bruce, a distant in-law of David's. We saw the crown jewels, and walked the grounds before getting both hungry and tired of the pushy crowds.  After a hearty pub lunch, our world view was refreshed, as usual, and we walked the Royal Mile looking in shop windows, watching people, and chatting.  At the bottom of the hill, in front of Holyrood Palace, we decided we weren’t up for another tour, and found an off-street walking path that took us back to our car.  We drove back to the cottage, stopping for more groceries on the way. 

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After another day spent at the cottage, both relaxing and catching up on pictures, blogging and correspondence, we ventured out for another day trip.  This time we headed south, across into England to see Hadrian’s Wall.  Just outside the hamlet of Twice Brewed (yes, really), we found the Housteads Roman Fort and museum.  The museum was tiny, but packed in a lot of useful information about the wall, the fort, and the general time period.  They also had some amazing riveted chain mail.

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We explored the foundations of the old fort and then walked a section of the hiking trail that parallels the wall itself.  We saw a few trekkers along the way; hiking the entire length of the wall, and spending each night at one of the many inns along the way is a popular holiday here.  On a day like this, we could see the appeal, and day dreamed about doing it.  Not this trip.

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Our final day trip was in the one direction we hadn’t gone yet--to the north.  We were headed towards St. Andrews, but the places we found along the way outshone the destination.  We had packed a picnic lunch, and ate it in Stirling.  In the car next to us, an older British couple were eating their picnic lunch, only with full tea service and fine china.  It was like seeing ourselves, 30 years and a nice tea service from now.

We’d seen a crazy looking gothic tower as we drove through town, and over lunch, we devised a route to take a closer look.  It turned out to be the Wallace Monument, built in the late 1800s.  We paid the small entrance fee and climbed the spiral staircase (246 steps) to the incredible view at the top.

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This was our last full day in Scotland, and that also meant it was our final road trip before we returned home.  We were trying to suck the marrow from the day, so we took backroads and explored whims.  We came over a hill and saw a beautiful field of flowers and made a snap decision to pull off to enjoy it.  Within a few minutes, two other cars stopped as well; all of us parked on a tractor access road through the fence, and we all struck up conversation about the beautiful field, the warm weather, and exactly what kind of flower we were looking at.

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We didn't ever really figure out what the flower was, but it was pretty. Eventually we made our way through the back roads to our next destination...the birthplace of a fine biscuit and Lana's family name (Abernathy), if a slightly different spelling.

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After a long, circuitous route there, the town of St. Andrews didn't end up being as memorable as the trip to get there. The town was cute but fairly touristy. We ended up seeking out the best ice cream shop in town and then walking around with our ice cream window shopping.  On the way back to Glasgow we hit lots of traffic, even though we took the non-winding "fast" way.

That last, perfect day was such a beautiful end to our time in Scotland.  Having a place to stay for a week and mixing some ordinary days with our adventures was a good way to transition back into "real life."  We were headed back to that real world, but not just yet.

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We took the train from Edinburgh to London, and we were very excited about returning to London, our favorite big city. For some reason, we didn’t take any pictures of our regular pack-horse, luggage-carrying posture until our second to last hop.  The above photo shows how we navigated the world while on buses and trains (and airports for that matter) as well as trekking across cities to hotel rooms and apartments.  The two bags actually balanced each other pretty well, and allowed us to keep a close eye on our backpacks at all times.  We could also walk down the narrow aisle of a bus, train or boat without struggling to fit a wheeled bag between the seats, or quickly move from one vehicle to another. It was hard on the shoulders and fairly sweaty in warmer climes (which was nearly always), but we generally didn't have too far to walk with all our bags.  And carrying the bags like this was a regular reminder not to buy things that would further weigh them down.

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Glasgow had been an excellent place to relax and regroup, and it was also well situated for striking out on day trips.  We would be leaving behind our spacious rooms, open countryside, and home-cooked meals. But we were looking forward to exploring more of London, and beyond that, our return home.  We settled in to our seats, ate our packed lunch, and took one last picture of Scotland before crossing into England.