Rosslyn and Ryrie

Peter left for Berlin the next morning. It was sad, but not really that much. It felt more like the kind of goodbye you’d give a friend when they were leaving your house and you had plans to see them that weekend. Which was in fact true for us. After a few more days in Edinburgh we would be getting on a plane and flying down to spend the weekend in Berlin.

The morning got started slowly. Peter didn’t have to leave until about 9:30 so we took our time waking up and getting breakfast. When the time came, we saw him out the door and told him we’d see him soon. Our trio had turned back into the dynamic duo. Which was probably for the best. It had only been three days, two and a half really, that we’d spent with Peter, but there was so much we had crammed in and so much of it involved stairs that by the end of his stay we were running on just fumes.

But there were still so many adventures to be had! We couldn’t slow down, at least not to a stand still. After cleaning up, Mom and I gathered our things and returned to the Vodafone store. With Peter gone it was even more imperative that we have at least one phone that would work properly. We showed up a few minutes before they opened, as did several other people. Once the doors were open we all moved forward into the lobby. A red-haired fellow took down our names but it wasn’t really necessary. A second later a man behind the counter called us over. Short story made shorter, I gave him my phone, he did phone stuff to it, it worked, we left. Hooray!

With my phone finally functioning, I looked up the bus route to Roslin to see the Rosslyn Chapel. Why the town and the chapel are spelled differently I have no idea. We walked the block from the Vodafone store to the bus stop and prepared for the hour-long drive out of town. The ride was comfortable enough and didn’t wear on that long. We were dropped on what looked to be a completely closed down street. A few restaurants on the street corners seemed to be the only places open and doing business.

We began walking down a quiet lane with some other people from the bus, following signs to the chapel. Farmland stretched to our right and our left, divided by the road we walked on and a large grove of trees. We soon came across a car park for the chapel and a bit beyond that we reached the welcome center. The building was brand new and state of the art. It had been outfitted to tell the chapels history, and of course sell all those lovely souvenirs we just have to have.

We waited in line to get our tickets then left the welcome center and entered a gravel courtyard. This side of the chapel was in complete shadow, making the many turrets lining its roof look dark and menacing. There was a single door beneath a rounded archway set in amongst the stones. The other side of the chapel was the polar opposite. It was directly in the sunlight, a brilliant array of tan, brown and red stones with blackened spires. The entryway at the south of the building boasted the cleanest stones off all, as it had likely been added on more recently.

From the outside, Rosslyn looks much like any other religious building from its time period. What makes Rosslyn Chapel an amazing place to visit is what is inside. I’m not religious but I’ve seen enough ornately crafted religious buildings to know most of them are all about the same. But Rosslyn Chapel is on a whole other level. The chapel is a fairly small structure. It’s not anywhere near the size of the big Gothic cathedrals. That makes the number of carvings and ornaments that much more impressive. There is something to look at on every inch of the inside, and every carving tells a story or has a fascinating story behind it.

Some carvings depicted the seven sins and seven virtues. Others show the Dance of Death, depicting characters from all walks of life yet all are accompanied by Death. The Nativity Scene is there, as is the Star of Bethlehem. There is a carving of an angel playing the bagpipes, of the Green Man, a pagan figure representing the power of nature, and the Apprentice Pillar, with its own story carved into the rock. The list goes on and on. Behind the alter of the church were stairs leading down into the crypt, a location made famous after its appearance in The Da Vinci Code back in 2006.

We sat and listened to a presentation by one of the guides and learned of the chapel’s origins and history. William St. Clair founded the chapel in 1446 for his family. In its time, it has been used to stable the horses of Oliver Cromwell’s troops, been visited by the likes of Robert Burns and Dorothy Wordsworth, and was restored by architect David Bryce, after which Sunday services began to take place for the first time in 200 years. The chapel had a similar affect as the Stone of Scone. Here was this place steeped in so much history and we were standing right inside of it. It was amazing to think it had once been some decrepit, forgotten building when it was positively radiant now.

Sadly, we weren’t allowed to take photographs inside the chapel, but if you really want to see some of the carvings you can find them on the Rosslyn Chapel website. After seeing all we could take in, we made a quick stop in the gift shop then walked back up the lane to where the bus had dropped us. The next bus didn’t come for another 45 minutes so we had some lunch at a restaurant on the corner. The place was small and too tightly packed with tables and chairs, and we got stuck at the tiny table right next to the door. After we left, we decided we should’ve gone to the Tea Room across the street. But alas, we did not.

When we arrived back at Prince Street we had a cow to see. Mom had spotted a stuffed Highland cow inside one of the souvenir shops on our way into town that morning and she wanted to go back for a photo-op. Don’t worry, when I say “stuffed” I mean like a stuffed animal. Jeez, what kind of people do you think we are? I took a few pictures of Mom and her cow before we poked around the store a little bit. I debated getting some Scottish flag boxers but decided it wasn’t worth the pounds. We grabbed another bus back to the flat to grab something to eat and relax a bit before heading off on our next excursion. Or so we thought.

We had planned to catch a train out to Falkirk to see the Kelpies. If you don’t know, Kelpies are water beings said to inhabit the lochs and pools of Scotland, and they often appear in the form of a horse. The Kelpies we were going to see were 30-meter tall horse head sculptures created by sculptor Andy Scott. The two horse heads were erected in a park known as The Helix and each weigh over 300 tons. They are crafted from steel and filled with lights. When we went the Kelpies were lit with red but apparently the color changes from time to time. We did not, however, get there on the day we had planned.

Maya and Malc were in the kitchen when we went in to get some lunch. We got busy chatting with them about our plans and asked how things were going with them (they were right in the middle of a move when we were staying with them). We talked so long that we caught our bus too late, which made us miss our train. Of course we had only just gotten our tickets out of the machine when the train pulled out of the station. So we walked sheepishly into the office to ask if we could change our tickets for the next day. The man did so without making us feel any sillier than we already did.

Defeated and deferred from our evening activity, we did what all smart people do in our position. We went to the pub. It was the same bright blue pub we had first seen on our arrival in Edinburgh. Its name, Ryrie’s, when said out loud reminded Mom very much of Scooby-Doo. To this day, whenever we talk about it, her speech is temporarily disrupted and she turns into a cartoon Great Dane with a speak impediment. The pub was just as lovely on the inside as it was on the outside. We took a small round table in the corner with a nice vantage point of all the other goings-on in the bar. No one came over to help us so I went up to the bar and brought us back two pints.

The pub grew dimmer as the sun disappeared behind the buildings outside. The atmosphere stayed lively though. A group of people was watching the game on TV (I don’t know what game but sports fans always seem to refer to whatever is on as ‘the game’) while others sat enjoying their drinks and nice conversation with friends. It was unfortunate that we’d missed the Kelpies but it was nice to have a quite evening at the pub as well. The honey-colored liquid slowly vanished from our glasses as we passed the time alternating between people watching and brief exchanges of words.

When we left the pub, we took a minute to photograph the beautiful blue outside with its hanging flower baskets and gold lettering. The night was mild and the hour not too late so we decided to walk back home rather than spend even more time that day on a bus.

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~Ren

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The Castle and the Hill

The next day was a much less taxing and physically draining day. We left the flat by mid-morning and spent the first couple hours in town browsing in bookshops. Out of all the bookshops we stopped in, only one of them was actually planned. The others we just happened across. Our one planned bookshop stop was to Old Town Bookshop. The sign, which I had seen via Facebook back in the States said, ‘Books, Maps, Prints.’ Those are three of my favorite things!

It was a long narrow shop that was saturated with old book smell. The walls were lined with shelves that reached to the ceiling before it curved into a shallow dome. There were books in glass-faced cases, books stacked on top of shelves, books stacked on books stacked on books. V-shaped cradles along the floor held prints and maps of all different sizes, and shoved in the corner, almost buried under all the books, was the front desk, and behind it, a single man.

I stopped and craned my neck to look at all the old spines with faded text. Everything felt and looked ancient except for a few newer books that had found their way in. I flipped through maps of places and regions I was unfamiliar with until I found one, appropriately sized for a carry-on, that detailed Scotland as it was known long ago. I paid my five pounds for the map and we left the shop. It was already getting close to noon so we headed down a street adjacent to the Royal Mile and found our way back to a place called The Doric. This was another restaurant on Maya’s list, and we had decided the day before that we would come back here for lunch.

At first look, it seemed the place wasn’t even open yet. We were the first customers to arrive. A red-haired woman came out and seated us by the window overlooking the street. Not long after we had arrived and started to look over the menu, another group of four showed up. Now it was just the seven of us in the restaurant.

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Obviously there was something very interesting outside.

The conversation started off with us making jokes about visiting the Edinburgh Dungeon that was across the street, and from there we entertained silly ideas about getting tattoos at the Royal Edinburgh Military tattoo, which doesn’t even make any sense. It’s extra funny to me now since I’ve since learned what a military tattoo is. I’m an idiot sometimes.

We ate and chatted and I watched, amused, as the guy at the table diagonal to us ordered a whisky and then proceeded to look confused when it arrived. I don’t know if it was because his glass was so much smaller than all of the glasses the girls at the table got and that was funny to him, or if it was because he had never ordered whisky and was confused that he got so little. Either way, it was interesting to watch and wonder about.

When we’d finished lunch, we started up the hill towards Edinburgh Castle. I’d like to take a brief aside here from the day’s events and talk about traveling to and visiting high tourist areas. There are some attractions I avoid going to completely simply because they are too touristy. Other places I’ll go to because I still want to see them even if they are touristy. Edinburgh Castle is possibly the biggest tourist trap in Edinburgh but it has somehow swung past the point of not visiting because it is just that big of a deal. So we went. And I didn’t have a terrible time, but I wouldn’t have been too bent out of shape if we hadn’t made it either.

That’s something else about traveling. So many people are determined to have a good time every minute they’re away, but that’s just not going to happen. You’ll have bad days. You’ll get tired and sore and irritable with the person you’re traveling with (or yourself, if you’re alone). You might go some place that seems cool and it turns out to be rubbish. But that’s part of the experience and the adventure. What I’m trying to say is don’t feel bad about having a less than spectacular time. But enough of my aside.

So we went to Edinburgh Castle, even though it was swarming with tourists. As we crossed the large courtyard between the street and the castle doors, I spotted a food truck boasting Edinburgh’s finest ice cream. Peter had been talking about getting ice cream ever since he arrived (I would later learn he had developed a serious dependency on ice cream since moving to Germany) so I pointed it out to him. He couldn’t resist. We walked over and each got a cone except for Mom (no dairy free ice cream here) and ate them while looking out over a sun-soaked Edinburgh.

Peter, a much more experienced ice cream eater, finished his cone before I did. He and Mom were ready to get going so I sucked the rest of my cone down as quick as I could without getting a brain freeze. We crossed over a dry mote and passed through the outer wall of the castle. There was a row of window across from us where people were picking up their tickets. The sales windows were away to the right with a long line out front that wrapped back and forth between black dividing strips.

Already a tiny part of me was resisting going any further than this. We walked over and got in line. There were at least four rows of people to be cycled through, but to be fair things seemed to be moving all right. It was Peter’s brilliance that saved us from having to shuffle along with the rest of the crowd. In the end, we didn’t wait any longer than the time it took him to order tickets online and pick them up from the first set of windows. Once he gave us the ‘all good’, Mom and I ducked under the barriers and we moved farther into the castle.

The path leading from the entrance up to the citadel was wide and teaming with people. I squinted against the bright sun and saw a line of gleaming black canons lining the top of the wall. Only later did I learn that many of these were fake and had been added simply for show. Slowly we moved forward. We hadn’t moved beyond taking pictures of the canons from various different angles before deciding to wait a few minutes to go on a guided tour. Five minutes later a man in a red jacket and awesome tartan pants showed up. He had each person in the group say where they were from, and we had a fairly diverse collection of people.

Our guide, who I quite liked, took us up the gently spiraled path to the castle’s highest point, telling us about the history of the castle as well as its current role in Scottish life. Not only is it a tourist attraction, but some of its buildings are still used today for military purposes. He pointed out all the buildings we could go into as well as ones we couldn’t and what they were used for today. The tour ended 20 minutes later in a courtyard flanked by the Great Hall and another large building that had been converted into a memorial for those who had fallen in battle. The group dispersed and Peter, Mom and I began our exploration of the buildings with the Great Hall. It was very ‘Harry Potter’ so of course I had to go in.

There were two buildings in the whole castle that really had an impact on me. Two buildings and a cemetery that is. One was the war memorial. It was a long building, equal to the Great Hall in length. Inside, resting on a long stone shelf, were volumes and volumes of books filled with the names of those who had served in war and had died because of it. I don’t remember how far back in time they went but I do remember that they were still being added to today. That was the most heartbreaking thing for me. Also inside the memorial was the highest place on the hill. The building had been constructed around it, this great jagged spear jutting up through the floor.

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The building perpendicular to the Great Hall housed the Stone of Scone. The story behind this gives a bit of insight into why Scotland wants independence from England, I think. The stone is also called the Stone of Destiny or the Coronation Stone. This is because, when monarchs were crowned, they would sit upon the stone and it was all very regal and what not. The stone originally belonged to the Scots until the English stole it in 1296 as a spoil of war. This is why the Scots can’t have anything nice. England steals it.

Eventually they got it back though, but only after some stupid agreement that England could still use it for their coronations even though the stone would otherwise remain in Scotland. It’s all a bit silly and traditionalist if you ask me but it was quite a sight to see. The stone is made of red sandstone. It looked so old and worn you’d have thought it would crumble at the slightest touch. A metal rod had been thrust through the middle of the stone to help ease transportation, and there was a great crack on its face from a drop during an attempted theft of the stone.

The Stone of Scone had more of an impact than any of the other displays. Everything was stuck behind a glass case, but there was something more powerful about seeing that old battered slab of stone than there was various old uniforms or weapons or even the Crown Jewels. Those were all very nice but they all felt so fake. The Stone seemed to ooze history and time from every pore and flaunted its age and significance. It was too bad we couldn’t have spent more time there, letting the full effect wash over us. Instead we were herded through the room with everyone else like we were cattle.

The graveyard poked right at a soft spot in my heart. It was a war dog cemetery, a small, semi-circle plot of land sticking out from the side of a building with neat rings of headstones in it. It warmed my heart to see this small gesture of love and kindness towards those animals that found themselves in circumstances outside of their control. I think too often people assume animals are here only for our own ends and would be lost with out us. But that is a frustratingly self-centered way of thinking and I was glad to see at least someone make a small token of gratitude.

We continued our wandering down the walkway, going in and out of a few other buildings and taking some goofy pictures next to the really big canon before walking back down the street to the entrance. I always wonder about big must-see attractions like Edinburgh Castle; how many people are there because they actually care to some degree about what they are looking at? I wonder how many people appreciate how fortunate they are to be standing in a place that has stood for hundreds of years, to see places that have seen more life and death than they every will. I wonder if they ever have moments like I do, where they realize how amazing it is to be walking along the same cobblestones as, surely thousands, of people had years and years ago. This is a place so many people called home, where they worked and lived and breathed, making their way in the world just as we do today. It’s incredible, and I think so many people forget just how incredible it is. To them it’s nothing more than a thing to go see so you can say you’ve done it. It’s an item on a checklist. All the history behind it is lost.

None of this was in my head that day. As we left the crowds of people behind all I was thinking about was how hungry I was and how nice it would be to sit down for a bit. Before heading back to the flat we decided to stop for a quick bite in a bistro my friend had recommended. The place is called Maxie’s and it’s a cozy place with wine bottle candleholders and bizarre art stuck all over the walls. We didn’t get much, just a few cups of tea, a salad, and some bread. The Greek salad I had was delicious. I think it was the feta; sooo good. It felt good to sit down and relax. The last couple of days had been non-stop fun and it was starting to catch up with us. Mom joked about taking a nap right there on the bench cushions while Peter and I finished our food.

We couldn’t go home just yet, though. We had one more thing to do before Peter left. There was only one thing Peter had told us he absolutely wanted to do while he was in Edinburgh, and that was climb to the top of Calton Hill. During his research, he had come across this gorgeous picture of Edinburgh taken from the top of the hill, which seemed as good a reason as any to go check out a place. We left Maxie’s and caught a bus back to Prince Street.

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We got off at the end of the North Bridge and began to walk along Prince Street until we came to a path the branched off to the left. A short while after the turn we came to a few flights of stairs, which then became a long ramp leading up to the top of the hill. At least it wasn’t all stairs. I think we’d all had enough of stairs. The path lead us straight up and deposited us at the base of a large cylindrical monument made up of a ring of columns. It continued on into the rest of the park off to the right. The memorial in front of us was for Dugald Stewart (great name, huh?) who, Google tells me, was a Scottish Enlightenment philosopher and mathematician. His monument is at the forefront of the picture that enticed Peter to come to Calton Hill.

Our trio split for a bit. Peter went further up the hill to get a better vantage point for his picture and Mom and I walked around the perimeter of a large white, gray-speckled building that was part of the old Gothic Tower. There were lots of people out enjoying the gardens and the sunshine on top of the hill. We met up with Peter on the other side of the great stone building and walked over to the National Monument.

Our guide from St. Giles had described it as Edinburgh’s biggest embarrassment. It was built as a memorial to the Scottish servicemen who served in the Napoleonic Wars and was modeled after the Parthenon in Athens. Unfortunately, it was never completed due to lack of funds, so only 12 pillars stand on the hill today. Despite its blighted past, the structure was still a grand sight to see. One side was washed in sunlight, and the grooves and shades of gray of the columns were greatly accentuated. The other side was cast in shadow and set against the bright white backdrop of the sinking sun. People sat along the surrounding steps reading, chatting, and just enjoying being outside.

The three of us walked around the far side of the monument and down the slope to get a better look at Arthur’s Seat. From our angle it looked something like Pride Rock. There was a single large mound set at the base of a long, gently slanting incline. Arthur’s Seat is the main peak amongst the hills that make up Holyrood Park. Its elevation is 823 feet, which is nothing to us Coloradans, but reached significantly higher than any other point in Edinburgh that we could see.

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The sun was beginning to disappear behind the hill. We stood and enjoyed the last bits of warmth while admiring the expanse of Arthur’s Seat and the weathered old buildings of Edinburgh’s streets. Exhaustion finally got the better of us and we returned to the ramp from a gravel path that took us through the trees. Once we got back to the street, however, we realized we had a problem. We were short about two pounds for bus fare back to Maya’s house.

The first shop we tried to get change from couldn’t open their register without a sale. The second place we tried said the same thing but we weren’t going to try again so we just bought something. I was really glad we did, not only because it got us the change we needed but because what we bought was this delicious oatmeal fruit bar thing and, uh, it was just fantastic! Too bad we can’t get them in the States or I’m sure I would try to subsist on oatmeal fruit bar things.

With our exact change, we crossed the street to the bus stop and once again found ourselves waiting for a bus. As soon as we were inside our room, we all collapsed in a heap on our respective beds. Sleep sounded nice, but so did food, and we didn’t have much of that. The meal at Maxie’s would keep us going a bit longer so before we thought about dinner, we took the time to Skype with my brother, David. Not a whole lot of talking took place, however. Once you get more than two former roommates together on two sides of a video camera, things devolve pretty quickly into nothing but screwing around with camera angles.

We were lucky if we got 20 minutes of real conversation in before we started hiding off camera and then sticking our faces into frame from the side or overhead, our faces way too close to the camera. David decided to give us a tour of his house (which we’d all seen before) after we gave him a very short look around our new room. Then the cats showed up and the only words that came out of our mouths were, “aw, kitty!’ and ‘he/she’s so cute!’ and more ‘awwww’s.’ So overall it was a productive Skype exchange; roughly 20 minutes of talking and 40 minutes of messing around.

The time had come for us to venture out and forage for our dinner. This meant walking the mile or so to the Sainsbury we had passed on our ride home. We, that is to say Mom and I, needed to do some laundry. We decided the best thing to do was divide and conquer. Mom stayed behind to rest more and get the washing done, and Peter and I returned to the street to bring back groceries for tonight’s feast! Night had fallen fully when we left the flat and the street was empty except for just a few people. The air had a slight chill to it but I kept warm enough from walking.

We didn’t realize the Sainsbury was a superstore until we walked in and were greeted by racks of clothes and shelves of home goods instead of food. My brain took a moment to figure out what was going on before I dashed after Peter, who had just forged ahead. The aisles of groceries were at the back of the store. I’m usually a complete mess when I’m in a new grocery store, and I expected to be doubly so in a store where I wasn’t familiar with half the products. There was still a fair amount of wandering and doubling back that went on, but Peter was the one following behind like a confused puppy while I took the lead. It was rather fun, like a treasure hunt, navigating aisles to find the right ingredients.

We left the store laden with a bag each. It was getting colder and the straps of the bags cut into my hands. We made it back to the flat before things got too unbearable. The kitchen was empty when we walked in. I set my bag on the table and went to let Mom know we’d returned and were starting dinner. When I walked in the room, Mom was on her phone. I asked if she had gotten the laundry going, to which she responded no, she hadn’t. It wouldn’t be the end of the world if it wasn’t done tonight, but I had been hoping for something different to wear.

She said she would get it started while Peter and I worked on dinner. I left her to it and went back to the kitchen. Together Peter and I whipped up a large pot of pasta with veggies and some slices of bread, and an adult beverage each. I didn’t realize it until Mom pointed it out to me but I had bought a non-alcoholic cider. It wasn’t a big deal though. It was still very tasty.

We sat down to eat and listen to some music on Maya’s tiny pink speaker. I had bought a small pie on an impulse and we each had a few bites once we’d finished our pasta. Peter and Mom went back to the room a while later, but I stayed behind and made a questionable decision about what to do with the rest of the pie. By that I mean I decided to eat the rest of it. I tracked my progress, albeit a little late. Bite by bite, I took another picture and posted it to Facebook, like you do. And go figure, I forgot to take a picture of my empty pie pan. Overstuffed and fighting off a food coma, I dragged myself down the hall to get ready for bed.

~Ren

Tahunanui Beach and the World Of Wearable Art

Our second day in Nelson started off with a nice breakfast at Lambretta’s Cafe with Mathias. Before we parted ways we made plans to meet up again that night for one last hurrah before we went our separate ways.

Mathias went off to get himself sorted for the Abel Tasman Track while Glyn and I did a bit of bead shopping before crossing the street to rent a couple bikes. During my first few days in Nelson I had noticed it seemed pretty bike friendly, and I had been wanting to get back on a bike for a while, so renting bikes for a day seemed the logical thing to do.

After the obligatory ‘We’re going on a bike ride’ selfie, we began navigating our way out of the city centre and towards Tahunanui Beach. It’s the beach of Nelson, according to some website I looked at before I left. And it was a pretty nice beach. Very big with nice views and this random hut thing that someone, or several someones, built out of driftwood. But before we got to the beach, Glyn and I got distracted by the playground.

Back home there was a park and it had this fixture that we called the spider web. Basically it was this big rope pyramid that you could climb all over. Ours was taken away some years ago, probably because a parent complained about their kid falling off it and getting hurt. I’ve seen several in New Zealand, however, so I took advantage of this one while we were there.

Glyn tried and failed to make it to the top before the allotted Snapchat video time ran out, but he gave it a valiant effort. We also had some fun on one of those big slanted spinning wheels. And of course we had to swing for a bit. Then we went to the beach. I know I probably mention it every time I blog about going to a beach but it was really weird to me that the beach was only a 20 minute bike ride away. But, I’ll move on.

After walking a bit of the beach, looking for shells and exploring random huts, we walked back to the parking lot and moved further down the coast to find Natureland Wildlife Trust. It’s a small park with a handful of domestic and exotic animals. They work to educate visitors on conservation and healthy human-wildlife relations. Plus you get to feed llamas!

So we wandered around the park a bit, feeding furry, four-legged farm animals, who of course fought over the feed. Then we saw the more exotic stuff like meerkats, who are freaking adorable, if you didn’t know, and porcupines, who were busy sleeping. Small as it was, walking around the park only killed a few minutes. It was then time for the World of Wearable Art.

The World of Wearable Art is something I think most people will appreciate on some level, and if you don’t well then there may be something wrong with you. It’s pretty much just what it sounds like. People make outfits out of anything and everything, from chopsticks to straw. And many of them are absolutely gorgeous. Others are creepy as. There was also a classic car museum housed in the same building, and most cars have a beauty of their own.

I won’t say much about the museum since it is such a visual thing, but once you walk through the velvet curtain it is like entering a whole other world. Everything is strange but also familiar. The place has a sort of ethereal and mystical ambiance. I was in awe the whole time. Now enjoy the pictures.

When we finished at the museum we were running near to the end of our time with our bikes so we left the museum to find a bite to eat before riding back.

There weren’t a whole lot of places around. We decided on Smugglers Pub and Cafe, because who doesn’t love a good pirate themed restaurant? The place was empty when we walked in except for the staff. We were between lunch and dinner, but a family did arrive shortly after we did. The first order of business was drinks. Once we had those we perused the menu. I went with my go to (chips) and Glyn got this fancy platter.

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Aye, we be castin’ off now!

Once the bikes were returned, it was time to prepare for the evenings entertainment. We walked back to the flat to drop of some things and pick up others and then we were off the The Boathouse. I had noticed a sign for live music on Friday night while out on my walk with Linda. I’ve been missing live music in my life so I mentioned it to Glyn and he was game to go.

It didn’t take long after we arrived for us to realize we were very out of our…age range. The band was old, and so was everyone else. Besides some young kids that had been brought along, Glyn and I were the youngest people there. I still had a good time, however. The band was rockin’, people were up dancing, and Glyn ordered an amazing slice of chocolate cake. So we were happy.

An hour into the show we got a message from Mathias. He was finished hanging out with another group of mates and was ready to meet up for a drink. He swung by and picked us up and we drove into town to find a place to grab a drink. For a moment we thought about going back to Sprig and Fern but decided to mix it up and pick somewhere new. We ended up at The Vic’s.

It turned out they had live music here as well. Just a couple of guys on guitar. They weren’t bad, but Mathias and I were enjoying some good conversation and it was a bit hard to hear over the music. We spent an hour or so at the bar before the evening started to wind down. We were all feeling tired and Mathias had to be up early the next day. Glyn said his goodbye inside and stayed to finish his drink. I walked Mathias to his car and sent him on his way with a hug and an ‘au revoir’ before heading back inside to collect Glyn and make the walk home.

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~Ren

 

This…is…EDINBURGH!

The mood shift between last night and early next morning was drastic. I’d just walked back into the still dark room after getting out of the shower when Peter, still in bed, peeked out from under the covers and said, “They voted ‘no.’” I stopped for a moment, not entirely sure how to feel or react. I don’t live in Scotland, (sadly) and the vote doesn’t really have any affect on my life, but there was still a part of me that was crushed and disappointed, maybe even a little angry. I had been excited at the idea of being part of a turning point in history. Finally, after all these years, Scotland would have its independence! But not this year.

The melancholia had percolated through the whole city. The streets were still busy with people shopping or on their way to work but the general vibe from everyone was subdued and introspective, even brooding. But the three of us tried to have fun in spite of this. The circumstances were unfortunate but it wasn’t everyday that we all got to be in Scotland together. Mom and I attempted to get our phones fixed at Vodafone before digging into the day’s activities, but their system was down and wouldn’t likely be up until the following day. Thank goodness we had Peter!

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We left the Vodafone store and crossed Prince Street to the Scott Monument. As the name suggests, it is a monument to the author Sir Walter Scott, who is most well known for his Waverly novels. It is the single largest monument ever built for an author, which I found inspiring but also rather sad. The designer was George Meikle Kemp and the sculptor of the Scott statue was Sir John Steell. The foundation stone was laid on the 15th of August in 1840 and construction was complete four years later in the autumn of 1844. The finished product is a mighty time-blackened spire stuck in the ground with Sir Walter Scott seated underneath. Charles Dickens had this to say on the monument: “I am sorry to report the Scott Monument a failure. It is like the spire of a Gothic church taken off and stuck in the ground.” An accurate description I’d say, but it’s still a lovely piece of architecture in my opinion. But then, I don’t know much about architecture. The height measuring to the top of the finial is 200 feet and six inches. In total there are 287 steps. And we climbed them all.

Our first obstacle, or I guess I should say my first obstacle, was getting through the right rotating gate. Even these were opposite of what I would’ve found in the States. I slammed my lower gut right into the metal bar, just to be sure that was the wrong way. I’m sure the man in the booth selling tickets was silently laughing at my stupidity, but Peter, mom and I just laughed about it openly and headed up the spiral stairs.

If memory serves, there are three levels to the monument in total. The first leg, and it really was a leg since that’s where the staircase is housed, was short. The passage was not exceedingly narrow and there was even the occasional handrail provided. We came to the first and largest of all the landings on our climb. It was a bit of a tight fit but you could at least pass each other rather than one person having to turn back and go the long way round to where you were (Ooo, foreshadowing).

At the center of this level there was a room lined with posters and pictures of historical facts about the monument’s history and creation. There were audio stations where you could listen to readings of Scott’s work. I listened to a sonnet. It was no Shakespeare but I guess it was alright.

Walking around the perimeter, I noticed all of the initials and messages carved into the walls of the monument. One set of initials caught my attention and I couldn’t help but snap a photo of it. The trio of letters was RAB. Every pillar, window frame and corner of the place was adorned with some sort of carving. There were the heads of dogs, there faces starkly divided in color, a clear illustration of what the building looked like when it was built and how it had been affected by time and the elements. The windows were rimmed with leaf carvings and the distorted, demented faces of men flanked some.

When we were all ready, we found the stairs again and began the longest section of our journey up the tower. Both the passageway and the steps were starting to get pinched. I slowed my pace so I didn’t slip off any steps, though I can’t imagine I would’ve fallen too far in such a slender gap. In front of me, Mom’s backpack would occasional brush the slanting roof that separated us from the stairs above. We reached the second landing. The difference in height from the level below was significant. The fog was thicker here, and despite our position above the city, we could not see any further than we had down below.

Finally, we quite literally squeezed ourselves back into the stairwell and reached the peak of the monument. The top level was so small that, had there been two other people with us, we probably could’ve formed a circle of linked hands around the spire. Up here there was no getting by each other. You had to turn around and go the long way if you wanted to get past. To get through the doorway to the stairs I had to angle sideways to fit. We enjoyed what we could of the fog-obscured view from the top, taking pictures of the slowly vanishing clock tower beside the North Bridge and the drizzled streets below. Another group came up after us and we quickly left to give them, and us, some room.

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We made the whole trek without anyone of us slipping on the stairs. Hooray! Back down on the street, with all the room in the world, we took our last couple of photos of the Scott statue, most of them photo-bombed by Peter and me, then headed back towards the Royal Mile. I didn’t realize until looking back at the pictures, but the statue of Scott seated beneath the monument is clean and white, unlike the dark dingy stones of the monument. This, too, demonstrated clearly to me how differently the tower would have looked all those years ago. (Also, there was a random bagpiper…there were actually a lot around the city.)

Our next activity of the days was going to be the Writers’ Museum. My friend, Rebecca, told me I had to go during my visit, but I certainly didn’t need her to twist my arm about it. Before that, though, we found a café to stop in and get something to eat. The Saint Giles Café and Bar will always have a dear place in my heart for this was the first place in Scotland where I found chai. You may call it an addiction, and that’s probably pretty accurate so I won’t bother arguing with you. Mom and I had eaten more than Peter had before we left Maya’s so this stop was really for him. It was purely serendipitous that this was where I found my first chai of Scotland. But enough about my beverage desires. We finished up there and walked the short distance to Lady Stair’s close. By the way, if you don’t know what a close is (and that’s pronounced close as in, “Back up you are way too close to me.”) it is just a narrow alleyway.

The museum is in the former house of historic Lady Stair Elizabeth, Dowager Countess of Stair in the early 18th century. The house was actually built for her grandfather Sir Walter Gray of Pittendrum but was renamed after she purchased the place in 1719. Then, in 1907, it was gifted to the city and became the Writers’ Museum. The museum is specifically dedicated to three of Scotland’s most well loved authors: Robert Burns, Sir Walter Scott, and Robert Louis Stevenson.

Before we entered, I stopped to read a sandwich board outside advertising The Edinburgh Book Lovers’ Tour. It’s a guided walking tour that visits unmarked, and for the most part unknown, sites and former stomping grounds of Edinburgh’s literary legends. It’s like the tour was made for me. Any of my friends or family will tell you I am obsessed with any kind of behind the scenes, little-known-fact kinds of things regarding my big interests. Books are definitely a big interest. The tour covered such greats as Arthur Conan Doyle, J.M. Barrie, Alexander McCall Smith, Ian Rankin and J.K. Rowling, as well as the three authors featured in the museum. Many of the writers I had never read before but I was familiar with their work and that fact didn’t really matter to me anyway.

The tour didn’t leave for another hour and a half. We couldn’t have unintentionally planned anything better. This gave us plenty of time to see the museum before leaving on the tour. The front door opened onto a single long room. A desk displaying various trinkets and holding a cash register sat to the right, with spinners of postcards to the left and bookshelves straight across from the door. The far side of the room was dedicated to an exhibit recreating a scene between Sir Walter Scott and his printer, complete with animatronics.

A flight of stairs covered in vibrant red carpet went off up to the left and the landing hugged the upper part of the wall of the main room. The museum was pretty small compared to what most people would think when hear the word “museum” but it was quiet and nearly empty so I was happy. I started up stairs first. There were three rooms here, each filled with glass cases of artifacts, furniture that belonged to the authors, and portraits or old photographs. Locks of hair, pipes, canes, old manuscripts, chairs, and a range of other personal effects (not all of them as creepy as locks of your wife’s hair) had been preserved in the museum. Downstairs was the display for Robert Louis Stevenson. Black and white photography lined the walls, creating a rough timeline of Stevenson’s persistently adventurous life. The museum also housed the printing press that Scott’s Waverly novels had been printed on.

Mom joked that if her ancestors had been famous, more of their things would’ve been saved and it would be much easier to learn about them. But alas, our family was poor then and we’re certainly not famous now. I purchased a few small things from the gift shop before we left the museum and waited around in the courtyard for the tour to start. I amused myself with reading all of the quotes etched into various stones around the building. They ranged much farther than I realized, taking me all the way down some stairs to the street parallel to the Royal Mile. I took pictures of all my favorites.

Soon a round-shouldered, older chap in a newsy cap entered the courtyard and positioned himself by the sandwich board. This was our guide. He had a goatee and white hair sticking out under his hat, a warm wool scarf wrapped around his neck and a worn messenger bag over his shoulder. More and more people arrived in the courtyard and joined the gathering around the sign. When everyone seemed to have arrived, our guide went around to each person and collected the fee for the tour. He introduced himself as Allan Foster then told us a bit about the literary history of Edinburgh, what we could expect from the tour, and roughly how long we would be gone.

Allan led the group back up Lady Stair’s close and onto the Royal Mile. Most of the tour would be taking place in Edinburgh’s Southside. According to Allan, the Southside was a much quieter area compared to the Royal Mile. It wasn’t far away from the popular tourist area but the atmosphere and crowd it attracted was just different enough to be attractive to writers looking for a quiet place to sit and write. The Southside is home to the University of Edinburgh, and the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh is not far away.

We saw where Sir Arthur Conan Doyle found inspiration for the most famous of consulting detectives, Sherlock Holmes. We saw where Stevenson’s Long John Silver was born and discovered how a young girl who hadn’t yet learned her Rs gave life to the name and character Wendy. And at long last I got to see the café where J.K. Rowling sat and penned pages of the story of my favorite boy wizard. It’s a place called Spoon on Nicolson Street, if you’re ever in Edinburgh and a huge Harry Potter fan.

It was a fantastic tour that took us to a part of the city we would never have discovered on our own.

We ended the tour at Greyfriar’s Bobby pub. It’s a rather interesting name for a pub and there’s a rather interesting story behind it. Greyfriar’s Kirk is located just behind the pub. It is said that John Gray is buried here, the former owner of a Skye Terrier named Bobby. Man and dog were nearly inseparable for two years before John died. After his death, it is said that Bobby never left his master’s grave except for food until he passed away at the age of 16. Allan assured us, however, that the whole thing was a fiction story and that the only thing buried in Bobby’s grave is a child’s goldfish.

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It worked out in our favor that we ended our tour at the pub. Mom and I had planned to visit even before we left home. We thanked Allan for a wonderful time then parted ways and entered the pub. We were seated at a large round table by the front window. I was glad to see the menu had a vegetarian option and something that could easily be made vegan for Mom. Edinburgh very quickly dismissed my fears of it being less than veggie friendly. Many places had at least one or two things that I could eat. Peter did the honors of having the first and only meal of Fish n’ Chips during our time in Scotland.

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When we had finished eating, we left the pub and crossed the street to the statue of Bobby. Mom and I knew from a post on the Edinburgh Facebook page that rubbing the nose of Bobby’s statue was frowned upon. The constant rubbing eventually wore away the outer gray layer of the statue and left it a bright shiny gold. The story is if you rub the nose you’ll get good luck. I’m often amazed by the things people will do because they think it will bring luck. The last one I encountered was kissing the Blarney Stone. I think I would have to be paid substantially to kiss that thing.P1030633

With our bellies full of lunch and having done a good deal of bad mouthing tourists who went up to rub Bobby’s nose, we walked the several blocks back to the Royal Mile to see St. Giles Cathedral. Mom and I don’t usually plan to go see things like cathedrals. They are sort of a ‘you’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all’ kind of thing. But Mom had expressed an interest and we were all about being fair on this trip so we paid a visit. This cathedral visit was a bit different because you could go up on the roof if you wanted to, and I’d been in lots of cathedrals but never been on the roof of one.

St. Giles certainly didn’t disappoint. I’ve been in cathedrals before but this one left many of them behind. I walked in and thought, ‘holy gorgeous’ with the pun definitely intended. It was really the ceiling. It was high and domed and painted a radiant sky blue. Below the high vaulted ceilings were rows of stained glass windows, depicting saints and other important people in religious history. The scene outside was still gray and cloudy but enough light filtered thorough the windows to make them gleam. There were little nooks off the main body of the cathedral that held shrines and statues honoring other famous and noteworthy people.

Near the back was the entrance to a chapel area, which we didn’t bother venturing into. A pallet of candles flickered in the corner below a cluster of old tattered flags. I don’t know why but the flags are always my favorite things in churches or cathedrals like these. They are so old and still it seems they’ve never once been buffeted by the breeze. And maybe some never were. Some looked new and were possibly just decorative pieces protruding from the stone walls of the cathedral. Others, their history was splattered and torn right on their faces. Every rip and stain was a story of where it had been in years passed.

The circumference of the pulpit was intricately carved with various scenes and figures from the bible (or so I assume. I’m not the slightest bit religious so I’m woefully ignorant on these matters). There was a desk to the right of the entrance where you could pay for the rooftop tour. We wandered over. The man behind the desk took our money and had us read the safety and health notices for the climb. After climbing the Scott Monument, I felt more than able to climb the steps of St. Giles. It was a large building to be sure but just by looking it was clear it was not quite as tall as the Scott Monument. A younger, much cuter, man came over just as we were finishing up signing our respective waivers. He would be taking us up to the roof. Nice.

It’s terrible to write about these things. You always get a good deal of history and information dumped on you, and it’s all very interesting at the time, but I don’t remember a bloody thing usually. The most I remember is a bit of history of the building itself. Much of the cathedral as it was originally built is gone. Most of it is new, or at least new compared to when it was first made. The very first record of the church before it became the cathedral it is today was back in 854. What was once the parish church of Edinburgh was formally dedicated by the bishop of St. Andrews on October 6th 1243, reconstructed and named in honor of the patron saint of the town, St. Giles. There were signs of course that told you certain parts of the building weren’t as old as others, but you had to know where to look and know what you were looking for. It didn’t matter much to me. I just marveled at how, after so much time and decay, things still came together to create one cohesive building. I’m sure there’s a metaphor in there somewhere.

We left the main area and went down a few short steps to a side room where the winding stairs began. I have a bit of a love-hate relationship with spiral stairways. I like them very much from an aesthetic viewpoint, but boy are they a bitch to climb. Especially these old, narrow, uneven ones from hundreds of years ago. But we were all pros by now, so it wasn’t too much bother. We left the narrow stairs for a narrow metal walkway, perched crookedly between the door to the stairs and the door to the clock tower. Add to that it was misting, so the metal was wet and more slippery. We stopped here for a moment while our guide continued our history lesson (thank god there wasn’t a test) and pointed out features of the cathedrals roof. Naturally there was gargoyle ornamentation, though the guide called them something else that I can’t remember.

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Then we walked up roughly hewn steps into the clock tower. High above were three different bells. To our left were the mechanisms that kept the clock ticking on time. There were so many moving pieces. My eyes darted from one to the other, captivated briefly by the constant, repetitive motions before moving onto the next bit. The bells were going to sound in just a few minutes so we decided to hang around until they did. Even being right inside the tower, the sound was not as much of a blast as you might have expected.

The bells’ ringing faded away, lingering only in my ear canal, and we left the tower behind and descended the stairs. We said our thank yous to our guide before moving on.

From St. Giles we meandered up the Royal Mile towards the castle. We had thought to check out a place called Camera Obscura but upon entering and getting a sense of the atmosphere and seeing the rather pricey entry fee, we decided we ‘d rather go get a beer.

We worked our way back to the Southside to a place called the Captain’s Bar, which Allan had pointed out on our tour. Right as we walked in the bartender told us they would be closing a bit early as there was a birthday going on. That wasn’t a problem for us. We still had about an hour to sit and drink, and we did so without needing to rush. The three of us took up seats by the front window, away from the other patrons at the bar who were all having a chat.

Once our glasses were empty we set them on the bar and moved on to find a place to eat. We’d been so busy with climbing stairs and sightseeing we hadn’t given much time to eating. My belly was just beginning to grumble when we got back to the High Street. Beer only keeps you feeling full for so long before the hunger starts to gnaw at you again. We scanned Maya’s list of restaurant suggestions for some ideas of where to go but nothing jumped out at us. The bartender at Captain’s Bar had recommended the Royal Oak as an alternative drinking spot, so we decided to give that a shot for dinner.

The place was bursting with people. A waitress came over and told us the wait would be upwards of 20 minutes to a half hour. About two minutes into the wait we decided to move on and try our luck elsewhere, so I snaked through the crowd to let someone know and then returned to the street. We stopped by World’s End, which was also full to the rafters, and I wasn’t sure they served food anyway. All of us were starting to get tired and irritable, and Mom’s feet were starting to ache badly. I could relate. Finally, we came across No. 1 High Street. This place was packed too, but the wait was only 15 minutes max and we were all done with searching. I stole a stool from someone’s table for Mom to sit on and we settled in to wait.

The hostess seated us at a booth, which I for one was extra grateful for. Mom took a bench for herself and Peter and I scooched into the other side. It took a minute or two for us to get our menus but I think we were happy enough just to be at the table. I wasted no time picking out my meal and some Scotch to go with it.

Spirits and energy definitely began to increase with every bite of dinner we took, and with every sip of our drinks. We stayed long enough for some live music to start in the other room. The singer/songwriter and her guitar floated to us around the corner and we continued to drink and talk. The evening had been saved just in the nick of time.

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The sun had set completely by the time we left the restaurant. We caught a bus from the same stop as the night before and were glad of be able to sit again. One last set of stairs stood between our beds and us, but we climbed them like champions and took our fluffy down prize. I don’t even want to think about the total number of stairs we climbed that day.

~Ren

Review: Sirius by Jonathan Crown

0,,18603915_404,00This was a book I picked up as an impulse buy. I was in Nelson last week and stopped into Page and Blackmore, primarily to grovel for a job, but I knew, against my better judgement, I’d be walking out of there with a book.

Sirius was the first book I spotted. Probably because the title triggered by Harry Potter reflex. But when I picked it up to read the back my interest was piqued. I was going to try to be good and just write down the title for later but clearly that didn’t end up happening.

I tend to steer clear of WW2 books. Not because I find them boring or overdone, but because they shine a light on the darkest side of humanity and that brings me down.

Sirius brought me down a bit, but it was mostly uplifting, a bit silly and quite cute. I view it as a book primarily about family and making the best of what you have. We see Sirius’ family go from being very well off with a nice house and all the luxuries of life, then slowly that’s all taken away as Hitler rises to power. They are relocated to Hollywood, where Sirius comes to the rescue and helps turn life around. But it only lasts for a while before life changes again.

Through all the ups and downs the family sticks together and keeps moving forward no matter what happens. And at the heart of it all is Sirius. This was a quick, fun read and I would recommend it to anyone who loves a good animal book and doesn’t want to read a totally depressing WW2 book.

~Ren

 

Nelson: Pre and Post Welshman

Here is a very brief rundown of the things I did in Nelson before my friend Glyn (who is Welsh, if you hadn’t figured that out) arrived.

1.

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Had my first proper cup of chai while editing Scotland blogs.

2.

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Basically had my own private screening of Whiskey Tango Foxtrot.

3.

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Ate more tasty vegan food. The bean balls were amazing.

4.

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Read in the shadow of a cathedral…

5.

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…then got some lunch and read in the shadow of a bridge.

6.

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Had some fancy tea at the Melrose House with my host.

7.

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Creeped on this musician. He was pretty good…and pretty cute. 

When a wild Welshman appeared!!!

My friend Glyn showed up half way through the trip, and that’s when the real fun began!

The first thing we did was…roll clothes…yeah.

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We had to hang out a bit before checking into our AirBNB, so we walked down to the coast and somehow the topic of rolling clothes came up. We killed some time repacking Glyn’s bag.

We also stopped by Jens Hansen so Glyn could see the One Big Ring. Someone was a happy Hobbit.

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(Better know as the ring Boromir picks up while the Fellowship is climbing Caradhras.)

After we got checked into our AirBNB, we left to wander around town for a bit. It turned out another friend of ours from Hobbiton was also in Nelson, so we decided to meet up with him a bit later. Until then, however, we had no idea what to do. Some time was spent just wandering the town, grabbing a bite to eat, then we decided to see a movie.

Unfortunately we chose Kung Fu Panda 3, so we only killed about an hour and a half. After that we stumbled around, passing the next few hours with whatever we could find to do, until finally it was time to head to Sprig and Fern. There we spent time catching up with Mathias over a beer. Glyn wouldn’t stop raving about their Scotch Ale.

The first night in Nelson post Welshman was pretty low key. To change gears a bit, travelers, I am currently in full blown travel mode. That is basically a nice way of saying I’m jobless and homeless. I’m very behind in blogging my adventures for you, but slowly but surely I will catch up! Entries might be a bit short just so I can keep making progress consistently.

Until next time, travelers.

~Ren

At World’s End with Friends

It was an early morning for us (I’m noticing a trend) even though our train didn’t leave until ten. We had a bit of tidying up to do in the cottage. We cleaned up last night’s dishes, checked that all of our food was out of the fridge, and straightened up the large stack of brochures and magazines on the coffee table. We did a final idiot check in the rooms and bathroom before sitting down to a cup of tea before we left. After a quick stop at the dumpster at the end of the drive, we left our quiet little cottage behind.

We pulled into the Morrison’s before swinging over to the train station so we could drop our recycling and a few other things we didn’t just want to bin. Then it was back to the station. We managed a parking spot in front of the building, which we hoped would be an acceptable place to leave the car for pick-up. We grabbed breakfast at the café across from the platform. By this point I was beginning to wake up fully and the anticipation of seeing Peter was growing steadily.

(We grabbed a few more photos of the train before we left. Didn’t really consider the steam until it started pulling away.)

For some background, Peter is an old friend of the family and a former roommate who moved to Germany almost two years ago. We were all very excited and happy for him, if not a bit jealous of his new fancy job with its free beverages and cozy relaxation rooms in a new and exciting country, but we also missed him tons. He’d come home for Christmas last year and we saw him then, but getting to see him on his new home turf was infinitely more exciting. I’ve lived in Fort Collins almost my whole life but I’ve never been to Germany, let alone mainland Europe. (It might need clarifying at this point that Peter came to see us in Scotland and then later we went to see him in Berlin. I’ll get to that later.)

The Harry Potter cards got broken in more on the train trip to Edinburgh. Mom and I played Crazy Eights most of the way. At one point we found ourselves locked in a fierce battle of Spades vs. Clubs. There seemed to be no end in sight! But eventually mom beat me. Yes, I’ll admit it. The trip took us through what mom called the Moors of Scotland. I can only assume she was correct. The sky was gray and the fog was hanging low to the ground. The greens and browns of the surrounding vegetation were the shades I imagine a marsh to have. There was a touch of gloom about the whole scene.

Five minutes from Waverly I got a call. It was Peter! He had arrived and was trying to figure out what platform our train would be pulling into. I spent the last minutes on the train bouncing up and down like an excitable baby. I resisted pushing people out of my way on the platform to get to the exit faster. We each walked through the barricade with our eyes scanning the crowd for that tall gangly goofball we loved so much. I caught sight of him just as two people passed in front of him going opposite directions, like a play curtain being pulled back to reveal our Peterface.

We both rushed over and into individual hugs, which then morphed into one big group hug. Walking out of the station was a bit of a struggle. We were trying to maintain a conversation while simultaneously navigating the loads of people moving this way and that through the station. Up the elevator and onto the street, we piled us and all of our luggage into a cab and were off to meet our new host. Maya was her name. I had been messaging with her a fair bit before we left and I was already sure that I was going to like her a lot.

The flat was a 20-minute bus ride from the city centre, which I for one was glad of. Rebecca’s place had been a bit close to the hustle and bustle, so it was nice to have a place to come back to that wasn’t right in the middle of it all. We paid our driver and walked around the back of the building to find a metal staircase that took us up to Maya’s door. It was painted a bright-but-not-too-bright shade of orange and there were potted plants on the landing and front windowsill. The door opened to reveal a brown-haired woman with a lively look to her eyes. We clumsily shook hands as I fumbled luggage over the threshold into a narrow hall.

She directed us down the hall to the room at the very end. The walls were a brilliant pink, but besides that the room was wonderful. The beds were comfortable with plenty of pillows. There were an ample amount of hooks on the wall and a bowl of snacks in the corner. A large ‘Yes’ flag flapped just outside the window in the breeze. Maya showed us the bathroom and kitchen. Each room had signs indicating where certain utensils or cookware were housed, what breakfast foods were available, how to use the washer and where you could stow your shower things. Maya provided everything you could ever want and made sure you knew exactly where it was. Sorry, I’ll try to keep this from becoming a review of Maya’s fantastic hospitality. Anyway, after she had showed us around and introduced us to her partner Malc, we chatted a bit about our travels and plans in the city.

It was thanks to Maya we had such an enjoyable first night in Edinburgh together. We had asked if she knew any good vegetarian or vegan places in town and she gave us a whole list of places to try. Once we were settled in a bit, we left the flat and caught a bus over to the Royal Mile. Per Maya’s recommendation, we were headed to a restaurant called David Bann, a licensed vegetarian restaurant so you know it has to be good. And boy was it.

Not only was the food amazing but we each got a fantastic beer as well. The only thing I could complain about, and I wouldn’t really even do that as it makes for a sort of funny story, is that the bathrooms there do an exquisite job of making you first feel like you’ve been pranked and then like you’re an idiot. You have to go through two doors to get into the actual bathroom. The first door you enter leads into a tiny space no bigger than a closet, and the door matches the wall so well I thought I had actually walked into a closet at first and someone had just put the ‘Ladies’ sign on the door as a joke.

(Mmm, beer.)

After we left David Bann, full of good food and drink, we walked back down the street and around the corner to the World’s End. That’s right. There is an actual bar called the World’s End, just like in that Simon Pegg movie. The place was nearly full when we walked in but we managed to slip past a table and into a corner booth. It was in the bar that the energy of Election Day was really palpable. Sorry if I forgot to mention that earlier. We had come back to Edinburgh on the day Scotland would be voting for independence!

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(I guess it’s a cash bar. Haha! Y—you get it?)

People were out drinking, celebrating, wearing Scottish flags as capes and singing Loch Lomond, albeit a little out of tune. Mom and I joined in with the singers but Peter couldn’t be convinced. Mom soon struck up a conversation about politics and the election with the couple sitting next to us. Peter and I drank our beer and made idle talk while taking in the bar and its patrons. Everyone was there with a group of friends, laughing and telling stories. The whole place hummed with exuberance and hopes of a ‘yes’ win the following morning.

Mom’s newly made friends left a while later and we followed shortly after when we had finished our drinks. It was still early, especially for a country that was on the brink of independence. The streets were filled with people walking or stumbling from one bar to another. Music blared from restaurants and pubs as we passed. The elation was contagious and I found myself smiling for no real reason. Peter caught a few measures from I’m Gonna Be (better known as the “I would walk 500 miles” song) and we broke into shrill renditions of the bridge at least five or six times on the walk to the bus stop.

We were back at the flat by eleven and decided to Skype dad since we had added Peter to the ranks. The three of us squeezed onto the bed in front of my tiny phone and waited for the bearded face of my Old Man to show up. After we got dad’s obligatory German Nazi jokes out of the way, we let Peter do most of the talking about how he’d been and what he’d been up to since dad had last seen him. We got roughly half an hour of talking in before Skype acted up and froze. It wasn’t a big deal. We had run out of things to say for the most part, and for us at least it was getting late. With what we had planned for tomorrow we were going to need our rest.

~Ren

The Real Platform 9 3/4

Diehard Potterheads will surely know, but for those of you who don’t, Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry is actually in Scotland. The real life Hogwarts Express leaves from Fort William, not Kings Cross Station. Have you figured out what train we were catching?

It’s actually called The Jacobite Steam Train and it runs from Fort William to Mallaig. And I got to ride it! Not only did it feed my nerdy obsession, it also appealed to my newfound love of trains, as you might recall. We showed up early so we could get some photos and learned quickly we weren’t the only ones. We struck up a conversation with a gentleman on the platform and he informed us that many of the people there didn’t even have tickets. They were there just to take photos. It wasn’t just at the station either. During the whole trip we saw people out with their cameras on hillsides and street corners and at other stops. Photographing the train was a regular event for some people.

After waiting patiently for a bunch of annoying tourists to get the hell out of the way, we got our pictures and boarded the train. The interior was nice but you could still feel the age of the car. The upholstery was worn and not as bright as it’d once been. The woodwork didn’t have the same sheen to it. The train has been in operation since 1984 so it’s been well loved. One of our seatmates was already present when we arrived. They stood so we could scoot into our seats, and then we waited for the train to leave.

Train rides, to me, are the epitome of the “It’s not about the destination but the journey” idea. The trip to Mallaig was the second train ride I had taken to a place that didn’t really hold much in the way of interest to me, but I went anyway. Being on a train is quite therapeutic I think, and it didn’t hurt that it was also the freaking Hogwarts Express. The horn sounded a long drawn out wail and the train lurched into motion. We were off.

The first twenty minutes of the journey took us out of Fort William, past outlying homes and large warehouses and work fields. There were several tunnels we passed through early in the trip. They plunged us into darkness for a brief moment, their stone walls reverberating the sounds of the train and sending them back at us in a full on grumbling roar. Then light erupted through the windows again to reveal a thick white fog obscuring the view before the wind and motion of the train whisked it away.

Before long we were in the countryside with nothing but the shrubs and brush of the Highlands spread out all around us over valleys and hills. Our car was relatively quiet. Groups of people had soft-spoken conversations amongst themselves as the scenery swept by. I was in my usually position: body angled towards the wall, arm resting against the windowsill, either leaning forward in my seat or my head against the glass. I was perfectly content to sit in silence the whole trip and watch the world go by.

(For my fellow Whovians: There were a few Doctor Who goodies on the train. I had to take a photo.)

The train only made a few stops before the long non-stop trek up to Mallaig. Mom and I got off at one of these just long enough for her to try and use the bathroom. But the line was too long and our stop only lasted a few minutes. There was only time for a quick look around the platform and then it was back on the train. Just after our last stop till Mallaig, we passed over the Glenfinnan Viaduct. It is a large, cement structure with 21 arches. It’s quite a feat of engineering and a beautiful sight to see from the train. I didn’t manage to get a picture on our way out but I did manage to get some great shots on the way back, no thanks to the other incredibly slow picture takers on the train.

We left the viaduct behind and I sunk deep into my own head and was consumed by my thoughts. My eyes were still fixed out the window at the land but my ears were paying close attention to the train. Every time the whistle sounded, its raspy wheezing voice made me think of an old accordion that was gasping for breath. The constant cloud of billowing steam hung just above the roof of the car, fluttering and swirling just out of reach as we chugged away down the tracks. There was an occasional crackle of branches against the windows when we passed by long-fingered trees too close to the tracks.

The wheels or the engine, maybe both, I’m not sure, kept a stiff beat like maracas or a cabasa, but the sound was more like shifting sand over metal trash can lids. The tempo quickened or slowed with the speed of the train but the beat was always steady and even. The clatter of the wheels over grooves or breaks in the tracks had a rhythm of their own. A short-long pattern of “thud-thud” created a waltz in my head like slow rock ballad. Other times the train was fairly quiet, its music reduced to no more than vibrations in your feet, quivering up your legs and into your chest. Sometimes it was stronger, other times subtle, almost secretive. For longs chunks of time I was mesmerized. The train was alive and I was listening to it breath.

The landscape changed and became wilder. Rocky crags overran the sides of hills, scattered about like clumps of ash. The trees thickened into forests and we caught our first and only glimpse of heather on the ever-present hills in small bunches barely noticeable if you weren’t looking closely. The lakes were still, some of their waters dark, others so clear and bright they were like mirrors, almost perfectly reflecting their surroundings and the sky above.

The returned presence of man-made structures told me we must be close to Mallaig, and sure enough we were soon pulling into the station. Mom and I stayed put as the rest of the passengers filed off the train. The platform was still full of people when we finally alighted. We broke away from the crowd and exited the station. The staff had provided us with a map that had a list of shops and restaurants to visit in town. There were two bookstores on that list so mom and I at least knew two places we were going to. And yes, we did buy some books.

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Arrr, matey.

In addition to the bookstores we stopped in a few gift shops and picked up some souvenirs. Mom got her Highland cow calendar and a cute Puffin statue and I got a postcard with a red deer buck, since I was pretty sure I wasn’t going to be seeing one in person. When we’d done all the shopping we wanted, we walked down to a café near the water to have a bite to eat before the journey back. We lunched on homemade tomato soup and bread and took a few minutes to enjoy the wifi before heading back to the train. Most of the trip back was spent playing with my newly acquired Harry Potter playing cards. The perfect accessory for any nerd.

Once we had returned to Fort William we only stayed in town long enough to get some whisky, in liquid form this time, and accost our waiter from the other day, which I mentioned earlier. We stopped in the aptly named Whisky Shop and picked up a dram of special whisky only available there in Fort William. Pretty hoity-toity, eh? Whisky in hand, we drove home ready for another meal.

That’s when we realized we had bought too much food for our stay. That, or we just didn’t eat enough. Regardless, we had a lot to shove down our gullets that night. We used up pretty much everything by putting it all together into a wrap that was actually pretty darn delicious if I do say so myself. We ate on the couch while watching Top Gear before switching the channel over to a showing of Marley and Me. This was our first bad decision of the day, but to be fair it was also our only bad decision.

If you’re not familiar with Marley and Me the only thing you really need to know is that it’s a story where the animal dies. I was sniffing before the credits started rolling. An exciting and fun-filled day ended on a somber, melancholy note. I let the sadness slip out of me as I got ready for bed and packed up everything that I wouldn’t need to get ready the next morning. Tomorrow we were headed back to Edinburgh. Tomorrow we would get to see Peter.

~Ren

Never Stop Finding Magic

I’ve just left my job at Hobbiton, a very magical place, so it seems an appropriate time to write this blog.

Let’s be frank here: there are a lot of shitty things in life. I’m not going to make a list of examples because I’m pretty sure your brain will come up with a plethora just by reading that sentence. Often people will tote that whole “You can’t appreciate the good without the bad” ideology. Which I would agree is true to an extent, but is also used as a coping mechanism. And I don’t say that negatively.

Something I think we all tend to forget as we grow older is that there are plenty of good things that are just good. Good on their own, without any scrutiny or comparison needed for us to see it. But somehow we do manage to miss it. We lose sight of those good things and they become unimportant.

So often we grow up and find ourselves in a place where the world is no longer a wonderful thing. It is a predictable, repressive, monotonous chore. We are burdened by responsibilities that keep us from doing the things we actually want to do. They keep us from seeing beauty, being inspired, feeling elated.

When really…it doesn’t have to be that way.

I’m not even just talking about the wonderment of life on earth. The complex web of species and biomes that create the world as we know it. I’m also talking about the wonderment of your own life. Where you’ve been, where you’re going. The things you remember and things you’ve kept with you. Things that you’re hoping for and striving for in the future.

I hope you never stop seeing things as beautiful and amazing. See things as more than just the sum of their parts. Even the tiniest objects can hold the greatest joy, unlock the most beautiful memories of people and places and past times in your life.

Let momentos transport you in time. Times when you were younger, stupider; times things felt hopeless or times you were bursting with ecstatic joy. Because these things, all of these things, make up the person you are today, and in some way will shape the person you become.

Admire things. Things smaller than you and simpler than you. Things that are bigger than you and far more complex than you. Don’t elevate yourself over that which you think is lesser. Bring yourself to the same level and then you might begin to understand things you didn’t before.

~Ren