The Borders

The following day got started later than it should have. We had plans to travel down to the Borders that day so Mom could do some more research. After a quick shower we took the bus down Prince Street to the North Bridge and had a tasty breakfast of porridge before walking to the stop for the bus to Galashiels. The drive would take roughly an hour and a half. Are you beginning to see why we should’ve gotten an early start?

At least the bus to Galashiels was a slightly more cushy bus than the ones that took you around town. I passed the bus ride as I usually do, with music, reading and staring out the window. The city disappeared and was replaced with rural landscapes and little farmhouses. There were some stops people got off at along the way that seemed to be in the middle of nowhere. It was easy to tell when we had arrived because the concentration of buildings increased exponentially.

We found the Borders Family History Society building down a small side street in a corner building that we walked right by at first. We had to stand and turn on the spot (in the middle of the street, mind) to finally see what we were looking for. The two older ladies inside were both in the middle of helping someone so we decided to go off for some lunch and come back. We found a nice café just up the street to lunch in. On our way we passed a body jewelry shop and I was tempted to check it out while Mom did her research. I decided against it however; the place looked a little intimidating.

When we finished eating we plodded back down the hill, full of what I’m pretty sure had been a meal of soup and bread. As we rounded the corner to the History Society, though, a locked door greeted us with a sign promising some ambiguous return time. Mom was rather dismayed. I calmed her down, saying I was sure they’d be back, that they had just popped out for lunch or something. There was nothing we could really do except stand around and wait, until Mom announced she had to go to the bathroom.

We walked back up to the street we’d been dropped at and Mom went over to the library to see if they would let her use their bathroom while I got us some more cash from a nearby ATM. I pocketed my wallet, now stuffed with cash again, then crossed the street to a little greenbelt with several benches. I did some people watching until I saw Mom coming back down the lane.

We walked back down the road to find that the History Society was open again. Mom went with the ladies into the back room while I sat on a bench in the lobby and made notes about the last few days of our trip. I was being smart this time around and taking notes, which I definitely did not do when we went to New Zealand. That made it rather troublesome to write about after the fact, especially since it took me roughly two years to finish. I’m not the best with deadlines it seems.

Mom came away from The Borders Family History Society with less than she had had when she arrived. Turns out a lot of the things she thought she had right were actually wrong. Though she did manage to come away having discovered a birth certificate. So that was something! From there we were off to Hawick, which should really be spelled like ‘Hoick’ because that’s how it’s pronounced and we felt silly because we hadn’t figured out that nothing in Scotland is pronounced the way it is spelled.

The drive down cost us another half an hour on the bus and it was already pushing five o’clock. We were as lucky here as we were in Galashiels with our drop off location. From the bus stop it was just a short jaunt down the road to the Heritage Hub. Though we did have to cross one of the trickiest roads we had come across on our travels. Eventually we made it without getting squished. We entered the building thinking we had another two hours to do some research, but when we walked in the woman behind the desk informed us that they would be closing in five minutes and that the 7:30 time listed on the website was only for special appointments.

We were a little let down to say the least; we had just spent 30 minutes on a bus to get there. But the woman was nice enough to find what she could for us in the time left to us. Let me just say that it was not a fruitless effort. The women at the Heritage Hub were named Kathy and Zilla. They began by checking a few indexes containing records with the dates Mom had given them. I was sitting quietly at the table while Mom continued to tell them what she could. Kathy was glancing over a page in a binder, talking quietly to herself when she said, “There might be something in there,” and asked Zilla to go and fetch a book. When Mom and I heard, “fetch a book,” we were thinking it would be another binder filled with photocopied pages or something like that.

That was definitely not what Kathy meant.

She meant the book.

The actually book.

The book that they used for recording keeping all those years ago.

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Mom was off in the corner talking with Kathy and looking over more binders full of indexes so I was the first to see Zilla bring out something large wrapped in yellow paper and tied shut with twine. My interest and curiosity were piqued instantly, and I watched with wide eyes as she began to unwrap the package. She spread back the flaps of paper to reveal a thick, leather bound book. It was larger than your average laptop and several inches thick.

The cover, which I imagined to have once been handsome brown leather, was now faded and tinged yellow. There were two patches of style along the spine, almost like hinges. The outer layer of the cover was peeling back from its base and flopped over in a large flap when the cover was opened. At last Mom walked over with Kathy, and when she saw the book she gasped. She said, “Wow,” and my only response was, “I know, right?”

Mom and Kathy took a seat at the table next to me, and very carefully, Kathy pulled back the cover. The white pages had lost much of their brightness over the years, but you could still make out the horizontal blues lines and the red vertical one to mark the margin. It intrigued me how similar it looked to the notebook paper we use today. The pages were covered in black ink. The words were thin and very neat. Whoever had been the scribe had a very steady hand.

Kathy began her search in the logical place: the front index. She located a page that might yield some results and began to flip through the many pages. It was a slow progression through the book, and she continued to talk with Mom as she flipped large chunks of pages from one side to the other. Her eyes scanned distractedly over pages as she spoke until suddenly she stopped and Mom uttered a soft exclamation.

There, on a page just over halfway filled with text, right at the bottom of the paragraph, was a name. It read, “Edith Bell or Soutor.”

It was here. That’s who we had been looking for. Mom’s great-great-great grandmother (maybe one more great, a lot of greats though). It was a complete fluke Kathy had even turned to that page, and it was even better luck that she and Mom had spotted it or else it may have been lost forever in the frail, off-white pages of the poorhouse ledger. Of course, we took pictures. Our stop at the Heritage Hub, though brief, was not a waste of time.

We thanked both Kathy and Zilla profusely as we departed. Mom said that if we had time when we got back from Germany that we would try and stop by again and see if there was anything else to be found. Though, I doubted anything could’ve matched that first visit. Mom calls the whole experience her “Who do you think you are?” moment.

From the Heritage Hub, we followed Kathy’s directions to the Sainsbury where we could catch the bus back to Edinburgh. On the walk I started to realize how tired I was becoming, and the chill that began to creep into the air wasn’t helping things either. Luckily, the Sainsbury had a café, and that café had chai. My savior! Mom and I each ordered one then sat down to rest our feet and warm up after our walk.

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Mmmm.

When we had finished our drinks, we wandered through the Sainsbury to pick up some things for dinner and a snack for the drive back. We walked out to the bus stand much too early, but I’m always paranoid about things like that, especially because we couldn’t really make a mad dash out of the Sainsbury to the stop. It was across the car park and there’s no way we could’ve made it in a hurry. So we sat under the dirty plastic roof of the bus stand and entertained ourselves by watching spiders and fearing that they may drop down on us at any moment.

We opened up a bag of popcorn we had got at the store. They sort of frown upon eating on the bus so we figured we’d better eat it now or we would be staying hungry for the ride home. Bus X95 finally arrived and we stepped on to a nearly empty bus. It was dark when we finally got home to a wet and drizzling Edinburgh. This was the closest thing we had gotten to a good Scottish rain, and the closet we would ever get on that trip. Hell, we got more rain in Berlin.

We shivered in the cold, without our rain jackets of course, until the bus came to take us the rest of the way home. Once we were inside, we started dinner, which turned out to be a bland and tasteless thing. Mom didn’t even finish hers. Before we climbed into bed, we spent a bit of time making sure everything was in order for tomorrow. We would be leaving for Glasgow that morning and then to Berlin the next day. Maya and Malc were kind enough to offer to store our luggage while we were gone so we only had to take one small bag instead of two.

~Ren

 

Snowcapped Volcanoes

Despite a rather unfortunate series of events, my friends and I had a good time hanging around National Park. Allow me to tell you the tale, dear travelers.

After the fiasco with the car, we decided to try and go through with at least part of our original plan for the day. It was too late to do any serious hiking, but we all at least wanted to have a good look at Mt. Ngauruhoe, otherwise known as Mt. Doom. So after we waited around for Panelbeaters to open so we could pull some stuff out of the car, we drove back down the highway and up a different highway to the southern trailhead of the Tongariro Crossing.

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Rest in piece, Harry the Honda.

My fully-loaded (and I don’t mean that in the cool way) C-rolla bounced and shuddered its way down the dirt access road until at last we made it to the narrow car park. The first spot was open so I turned in, made sure the handbrake was on, and we all climbed out into the chilly air. The sun was low in the sky, but there was just enough light left to walk a short way up the path to see the mountain.

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Typically, the Tongariro Crossing is an all-day trek. When we arrived, most people were just returning, and we were quite sure they were all quietly wondering what the heck we were doing starting out so late in the day. We didn’t care. We had a mountain to see. I hadn’t realized how much I missed mountains, especially snowcapped ones, until the drive down from Taupo (those first few photos). There at the base of that mighty peak, it suddenly felt like I had never left home, and my mountains, behind.

It took maybe 20 minutes for us to finally pass fully beyond a large rock outcropping and see the mountain in its entirety. From there the photos commenced. We posed with rings and wolf hats and took photos of brilliant and dramatic color contrast. It was safe to say the day was saved. Yes, it still sucked Luke and Hannah were carless, but with the help of friends, the journey continues.

I drove us back to the hostel and we all enjoyed a brew before I drove back to Ohakune. The three of us were stuck in the area for another few days. It was the Queen’s birthday weekend, which made Monday a holiday, so we couldn’t get back to unload the car completely until Tuesday. To save myself some driving, I bunked with Hannah and Luke in National Park for our last couple of nights there.

But I still had one night on my booking to fulfill. Most of Sunday was dedicated to getting organized, for both me as well as Hannah and Luke. I returned to the OCR Cafe, a place I had frequented back in March when I was in town for the Writers’ Festival. I was there long enough to fill out most of my tax paper work and finish a blog post before I made plans to meet up with my travel buds a bit later to discuss logistics for the next couple of days.

That took all of 10 minutes, and after that we walked down the road to play mini golf. There isn’t much in National Park Village, but they do have a bar, and that bar has a mini golf course. As the three of us crossed the parking lot, putters and balls in hand, I shared the fact that this trip to New Zealand had me seeing more movies and playing more mini golf than I had done in several years. Oh well. I will say though, I’ve played mini golf in some pretty cool places here.

I’m not afraid to admit it was an annoyingly difficult mini golf course. I didn’t do so hot, but I also could’ve sucked more. Either way, we all went into the pub after the game to enjoy a nice victory drink. We spent quite a while inside the pub, enjoying the fire place and the music. They were playing some pretty good tunes, along with some not so good ones. It was dark when we finally left to walk back to the hostel. All three of us were shivering and chattering our teeth the whole way.

I didn’t stick around too long. We were all tired and cold and I still had to drive back for my last night in Ohakune. The next morning, though, saw me right back where I had been. Almost. The first place Hannah and Luke stayed in National Park didn’t have a kitchen, oddly enough. So they moved over to a place just next door that had a very nice kitchen. And goodness me, we made some beautiful things in that kitchen.

Just a quick side story to the actual adventures. Each of us, Hannah and Luke and myself, had gone through the struggle of packing up our whole lives into cars, and when you’ve been living somewhere for a while that’s likely to mean you have a lot of foodstuffs to deal with too. In the interest of traveling light, we tried to maximize the amount of food we ate at every meal so we could get rid of as much as we could. And we did a damn good job. We had huge spreads for breakfast, with some very un-breakfast like items on the menu, and massive spreads for tea. Surprisingly enough, we usually managed to get through all of it. I even had my first taste of beans on toast. So British.

So we ate lots of food. Yay. Now, once I was in National Park with Hannah and Luke, I whisked them down to Ohakune, ironically enough. There were a couple set locations down there Hannah hadn’t seen, so I took them both for a look around. Our first stop was Mangawhero Falls. This is where we see Gollum slide down some river rocks in an attempt to catch a fish. We spent some time picking our way around the frosty and ice-covered rocks taking photos. I think the best one we took was the one where we look like a really lame 90s band posing for their album cover art.

From there we walked the rest of the way up to one of the Turoa Ski Field car parks to see the hidden door to Erebor (insert jokes about seeing a hidden door here). Yes, we could’ve driven, but I wasn’t sure my car was going to handle it very well. So we drove up a bit further then hoofed it the rest of the way. About halfway to the carpark, I ditched my hoodie and jacket and finished the walk in my t-shirt (you know you’re from Colorado when…). Sweaty and out of breath, we finally made it. Everywhere you looked there were gorgeous views, so we stuck around for a while and got some pretty kickass photos. We even got a glimpse of Mt. Taranaki all the way on the west coast.

Our last day in National Park was fairly uneventful. We made another huge breakfast before driving up to Taumarunui to retrieve the rest of Hannah and Luke’s things from the car. It went pretty smoothly actually. Even sorting through everything afterwards wasn’t too bad. I kept them both going with my glorious tea. And then just like that our time in National Park Village was at an end. The next morning I hung around with Hannah and Luke for a while before leaving for my accommodation down the coast. They were catching a bus to Wellington that afternoon. It was a weird goodbye because I would be seeing them the next day.

I left them and a hefty amount of bags in the lounge of the Plateau Lodge and set off with my own heavily loaded car for Paraparaumu and the Barnacles Seaside Inn.

~Ren

 

On an Island in the Pacific there was an Old Man…

Alright, we are going back a ways, travelers. Back to the middle of May, when my father was here! It was a very exciting time. This move to New Zealand has been the longest I’ve ever gone without seeing my family. I mean, we’ve FaceTimed lots but it’s not the same as being in the same room with them. Plus I was really looking forward to having someone to travel with! So, two weeks worth of adventures with Dad starts now!

As with most flights into New Zealand from the States, Dad landed nice and early in Auckland then caught a bus from the airport into Hamilton. I had avoided driving in Auckland for this long, and I wasn’t about to start when there was a perfectly good bus that could do it for me. Instead I made the familiar drive up to Hamilton and picked Dad up at the Transport Center.

He had managed to get an earlier bus from the airport so he was already there waiting when I arrived. I walked into the building and saw him on the far side, standing by one of the tables drinking a Coke. I tried to resist doing the cliché long-parted-then-reunited run (that’s a thing, right?) but gave up halfway across the room and ran in for a big hug from my Old Man. Six months! That’s a long time not to see your father.

We chatted for a bit, and looked over a map he had grabbed. I traced out for him the route we would be taking around the North Island over the next couple of weeks. From there we walked out to the car and loaded his luggage into the back. We had to kill a few more minutes because I was waiting for someone to come and pick up my bookshelf. The woman was there within five minutes and the sale was complete. Afterwards we drove down the block to have a proper breakfast.

On an earlier excursion into Hamilton, I had chanced across a place called Coffee of Philosophy. It advertised vegetarian eating, which I’m always on the hunt for. So Dad and I stopped in there and both had excellent meals and a cup of tea. The tea was a bit burnt and not the best, but it served us well enough. We took our tea for takeaway and headed down for a walk along the river. On our way, we stopped in a square where a statue dedicated to Riff Raff had been erected. They also had a plaque with instructions for the Time Warp.

Dad and I traversed the steps and ramps down to the water’s edge and strolled along sipping our tea. After a bit we came to a small gazebo and sat down to talk. Though it was the middle of May, winter hadn’t quite set in in earnest (man, that feels weird to type). The sun was out and the breeze was soft and cool. It wasn’t long though before the tea got too bitter to drink. So we dumped it over the railing and headed back to the car.

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The first day was pretty low key. Dad had just spent 13 hours on a plane. Sleep was the most important thing for him to do that day, but first we had a tour to take. And lucky for me, I wasn’t giving it! Dad is by no means a LOTR/Hobbit fan like I am, but he is familiar with the Hobbit and even played Gandalf in his high school’s production of the well-loved classic. Plus I knew he would want to check out the place I’d been working for the last five months.

I won’t say too much about the tour. We were fortunate with both the driver and the guide. Mr. Mike Rophone took us to and from set and the lovely Debbie guided us around Hobbiton. I made Dad pose for a few pictures, and even smile in a couple of them. I took advantage of my non-work time in Hobbiton, of course, and got a few photos of my own. And when we got to the Green Dragon, I managed to get a bonnet on Dad. Fantastic. It might not have been the most enthusiastic group ever to walk through set, but Dad and I had a good time.

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The wizard enters Hobbiton.

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Samwise Ham Gamgee’s house!

With our tour finished, and after I had said some hellos and goodbyes to former co-workers, Dad and I drove back into Matamata. We would be spending the night at my soon-to-be former flat. My landlady had been good enough to make up the bed for Dad, and when we got home we spent a nice bit of time chatting with them before calling it an early night and turning in for bed. Tomorrow, the real adventure would begin.

~Ren

Review: Wild Pork and Watercress by Barry Crump

9780143573746While living in New Zealand I’ve tried to become familiar with some Kiwi literature. I would say I’ve done a pretty good job with Wild Pork and Watercress. This book was first published back in 1986 but has come back into the limelight since the movie adaptation, titled Hunt for the Wilderpeople, was released earlier this year. It is very much a Kiwi book, and a Kiwi film (directed by Taika Waititi). I’m not sure the film has made it to the States yet.

Crump’s book tells the story of Ricky Baker and his Uncle Hec. After being bounced from foster family to foster family, Ricky finally comes to live with his aunt and uncle. But both his life and his Uncle Hec’s are changed when Ricky’s Aunty Bella suddenly dies. The two become fugitives hiding out in the New Zealand bush.

This is very much a coming of age tale as well as a heart-warming story of two outcasts finally finding somewhere, and someone, that accepts them just the way they are. Crump’s writing style reminds me a bit of Neil Gaiman and Hemingway (not that I’ve read much of him). It’s short and to the point but still evokes all the right emotions.

The story is written from Ricky’s point of view and Crump does a great job capturing his voice. The language is very casual and feels like the reader is hearing the story right from Ricky’s mouth instead of reading a book about it. It’s a tale that captures the struggles and dangers of living in the New Zealand bush, and shows how even terrible tragedies can bring about good things.

That’s enough cheese. It’s a quick and enjoyable read. Get you some Kiwi lit!

~Ren

Ren the Nomad

Well, my fellow travelers, right now I really am your fellow traveler. I’ve been traveling for the whole month of May, actually. It started with the trip to Nelson and right after that I traveled for two weeks with my dad (which I will be catching you up on soon). But for now I thought I would give everyone a more current rundown of what’s been going on with me.

As the title suggests, I am quite nomadic at the moment. “Flying by the seat of my pants” is a phrase I’ve been using a lot as well. For the first few days after dad left I had what you could roughly call a plan. I spent a few days crashing at a mate’s in Matamata. It was nice to have a few days in a familiar place to mentally prepare myself for what was ahead. After that I moved south down to Taupo to stay with another friend.

If you’re wondering what I’ve been up to in all these places, a fair amount of time is spent relaxing at wherever I happen to be staying (AirBNB, friend’s place, etc.), reading, writing blogs and figuring out where the heck I’m going next. That last one usually takes place the day before I’m leaving. I’m still trying to adjust to this new way of living. I’m reminding myself there is no need to feel guilty for just hanging out and doing whatever I feel like, even if what I feel like is watching Netflix for hours in a row.

That being said, I have explored. I was in Napier for the first time a couple of days ago. It’s a cool little town with lots of nice art deco buildings and a beautiful walkway along the beach. From Napier I made my way back north to Whakatane in hopes of seeing a friend and staying with her a few days. Sadly that didn’t work out. The time came again to close my eyes and jab my finger at a map to see where I’d be off to next. Just kidding. My next stop was Ohakune. I had some business there.

Ticking off unseen set location is the only thing really giving me any direction. Ohakune is just south of Mt. Ruapehu, which is where they shot many scenes of Mordor in the LOTR films. So I was headed down there to check that out with a few friends. Sadly, our plans were disrupted by an unfortunate car accident. Everyone is fine, but my friends car is totaled. So we’ve had to adjust plans a bit. I’m still hanging around in Ohakune to give them a hand getting all their stuff. After that I’m down the coast to The Barnacles Seaside Inn, a place I’ve been once before.

Traveling alone is interesting. It’s not un-fun but it’s not always that fun either. It’s not always as fun as it could be, let’s say. I think it is an experience everyone should have (especially if you travel a lot) because it does give you the chance to learn more about yourself as well as grow from your experiences. But right now, two weeks into solo travel with no real direction, I would opt for a companion over continuing alone.

It’s been good to meet up with my friends, even though some rather shitty things happened. We’re trying to make the most of it, but I’ll be sad when they go off their separate way. Our time together will keep me going though, until I can settle down again and make some new friends. And in a few short months I’ll be reunited with my best travel companion. I’m looking forward to September 18th.

Here’s some pictures of things I’ve seen on my travels.

I went back to Hobbiton while I was in Matamata (how could I not?). I took a few more pictures, as if I don’t already have enough. I also got to see my hobbits one more time. And yes, I was crashing on the couch.

I think I saw at least three rainbows and lots of pretty hills on my drive to Taupo. I also enjoyed a nice walk along the Waikato River.

Napier was nice. Lots of art deco buildings and statues. The Centennial Gardens were a bit pitiful with it being winter and all. The estuary walk was nice though, as was the beach. Though pebbles might be worse to walk on than sand. I also learned that my friends and family have very dirty minds…like I didn’t already know that.

Didn’t see too much of Whakatane, but got a bit of reading done down by the estuary.

I’ll update you on Ohakune soon. Until then…

~Ren

Kelpies in the Helix

The following morning we allowed ourselves a much-needed lie-in after the last few crazy days. We decided to visit Spoon for breakfast but by the time we left the flat and got there I wasn’t sure if it was more brunch or lunch. Spoon, you may recall, is the café where J.K. Rowling wrote sections of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. It has since changed name and ownership but it is still the same building Rowling went to day after day to write.

Before we even made it to the café, however, we were sidetracked by, you guessed it, a bookstore. It was a bookstore that was right next to another bookstore we had stopped in when Peter was still with us, but on that day we had decided to move on without stopping in Blackwell’s. Today, however, we had all the time in the world to ignore our rumbling bellies and look at books instead. I would say it was a very successful shopping trip. We each walked away with two books: Mom with two new mystery novels, one of which she had been searching for, and me with two new Tolkien novels to add to my extensive collection. After that we went to Spoon.

It’s a sizable café filled with mismatched tables and chairs and vaguely sectioned off by segments of thin white curtains with spindly flowers embroidered on them near the bottom hem. We were seated near a window overlooking Nicolson Street. No, it wasn’t the table J.K. Rowling sat at. I mean, obviously, it’s a completely new café! But what I know from specials about Rowling’s life and the pictures I looked up on Google, Rowling sat in the corner of the café that faced the intersection of Nicolson and Drummond.

I waited to geek out until after we’d eaten. All the food was delicious but what I really want to rave about is the homemade ginger lemon tea I got. It is possibly the most luscious blend of flavors I have ever had the pleasure of putting in my mouth. It was sweet without being over bearing. The lemon helped cut the impact of the sugar and the ginger was present without being overwhelming. It was warm and delicious and so nice to sip. I didn’t want it to end! It was just an added bonus that it was served to me in an adorable orange teapot and white cup and saucer with a delicate floral design. I’ve since tried to recreate the concoction at home but have yet to perfect my own recipe.

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When our plates were empty, and the tea most regrettably gone, I somewhat reluctantly went over with Mom to the corner of the room. I’m sure most everyone there was either unaware of the café’s history or just didn’t care, so it felt rather silly to sit at some seemingly nondescript table next to the window and take poorly lit pictures. But I quickly got over it by telling myself what I always do when I find myself in a situation like this: I’ll never see these people again, so who the hell cares?

After doing our best to get a decent picture, which still wasn’t really that decent, we descended the stairs back to the street and headed up Nicolson towards a shop called Scayles. It’s an interesting spelling, but it’s referring to scales like musical scales not reptile scales. My brother, David, is a prolific musician and he had asked us to try and bring him back an instrument representative of the Scottish musical culture. We decided a pennywhistle would be just the thing. It was small, easy to pack, and a very prominent figure in traditional Scottish music, or so all of us Americans have been led to believe (but it is actually true).

We walked into the shop having a vague idea of what we wanted, which we relayed to the man behind the counter. He walked us over to a glass display case and began showing us several different variations of whistle. We took four different kinds, one in a different key, a couple made of different metals, and one made of wood into a small room at the back of the shop to try them out. I should say I got to try them out since of the two of us I was the musician.

They each had more or less the same tonal qualities. The change in timbre was subtle between materials with the wood whistle having the biggest difference. The small flat mouthpiece felt odd between my lips and the whistle’s lack of a thumbhole was unnerving. In the end we chose a nickel bodied whistle in the key of D with an adjustable head joint. We took all the contaminated whistles to the front counter and presented our selected whistle to the young man at the register.

I went over to a display of music books and picked out a beginner level book for the tin whistle and added that to our purchase. We had a bit of pleasant conversation with the clerks before thanking them and leaving the store. Back on the street, Mom commented that the total seemed lower than expected. I pulled the receipt out of the bag and inspected it. They had given us a 10% discount. Now I don’t mean to sound like I’m bashing the States, even though I kind of am, but what are the chances that something like that would’ve happened in the States? I mean, maaaybe. Of course I don’t know why they gave us a discount. Because we were friendly, because they were friendly (which they were) or because we were newbies to penny whistles and they were taking pity on us, who knows. But I thought it was very sweet. So if you are ever in need of a musical instrument in Edinburgh, go to Scayles because they are awesome there.

With musical needs filled we went on to fill book needs. We found our way back to the Writer’s Museum after crossing through the University of Edinburgh’s campus. The walk made me realize that a college campus is pretty much the same anywhere you go. The plaza is always covered in chalk, the buildings are big and imposing, and the students are undoubtedly students; you can just tell by looking at them. We were going back to the Writer’s Museum so I could pick up a copy of Allan’s book. You know, because I hadn’t bought enough books already. I think at this point in the trip I was up to four. I resisted buying any other books while I was there, successfully capping the day’s book purchases at three.

We hurried back to the flat before we passed another bookstore and bought even more books! It was early afternoon when we got home. There were still some hours before we had to catch the train out to Falkirk. And this time we would make the train. You wouldn’t have thought it would be that hard with the station just a couple of miles away from the flat, but regardless we left with plenty of time to spare. In the meantime, we cooked a late lunch of pasta and lounged around reading and watching YouTube videos (or I did anyway).

We had decided to take the 5:15 bus down to Haymarket, feeling it would get us there early but not so early that it would find us sitting around pulling our hair out with boredom. Thinking back on it now, I can’t remember if we took such a late train because it was the only one available or because we thought we would have more to do that day. It must have been the former, as we really had no other plans except to go see the Kelpies. Either way, this time we got on the train no problem.

Falkirk is roughly halfway between Edinburgh and Glasgow, so about a 30-minute train ride. I passed most of it leaning against the window like I always do. Energy levels were low. Neither of us perked up much until we were stepping onto the platform in Falkirk and realizing we now had to find a way to get to The Helix. I checked bus times and routes on my phone and began to lead us in what I thought was the direction to the stop. I didn’t quite get us there; it was taking me a bit to get my bearings in a new place. But fate seemed to be on our side that afternoon.

Our search for the bus stop took us past a car park where a gentleman was getting into his car after what looked like a yoga session. Mom went over to him to ask directions to a bus that would take us to The Helix. He said he wasn’t familiar with the bus system then offered us a lift, explaining that he was going that direction. I think Mom and I both had the same thought cross our minds for a second. That thought was something like, “Are we really about to get in a car with a strange man who may or may not be a serial killer?”

We threw caution to the wind though and graciously accepted the man’s kind offer. We’ve since talked about that decision and decided that we had felt a bit more confident about the situation since we were together and not flying solo. Together our odds were a little better at taking him out if things got hairy. But really, he was a very nice guy. I don’t want to give anyone the wrong idea. He took us right to the entrance of the park and gave us directions to a stop where we could get a bus back to the train station. He was very helpful. Once we were in the park it was a simple matter of following the posted signs to the Kelpies.

The sun was hovering just above the horizon as we moved deeper into the park. We passed a large group of kids on these bizarre tricycle contraptions and behind them trailed the several adults that were watching them all. Soon we spotted the Kelpies in the distance. They looked miniscule from that distance. As we moved closer, they grew and grew in size, great silver steeds against the backdrop of smoky sky.

The true vastness of the beasts didn’t strike until we stood across from them. One of the horse heads was bent in a graceful arc, its ears were pitched back and to the side slightly and it looked down on us with blank gray eyes. The other had its head thrown back, its ears up and alert, and mouth open in a silent scream. I imagined the rest of the body up in a panicked rear, hooves flailing madly. Its companion, in comparison, looked timid or ashamed.

Mom and I moved around them, taking pictures from nearly every possible angle as the world around us grew darker and darker. When we were satisfied with our extensive collection, we sat on a cement step and had a snack of cookies and lemonade that we had bought at Haymarket Station. It was a very peaceful evening. Nearly everyone else in the park had gone home so it was just us and the giant glowing horses. I was glad we hadn’t missed the train a second time or we might not have had the time to see them at all.

We drank the last of the lemonade but saved a few cookies for the train ride home. It was now fully night and we still had to find our way back out of the park and to the bus stop. Most of the path out was well lit. There was only one dicey part where we had to scale a steep dirt slope up to the paved path (we had decided to mix it up and go back a different way). Had my balance been the tiniest bit off, we would have slipped backwards down the hill and then we would’ve been in a world of hurt.

Back on the street, we followed the man’s direction to the bus stop. It couldn’t have been any easier. A straight walk down to the roundabout and take a right. It was a bit longer of a walk than we had anticipated but we made it in time to grab the bus back to the station. We were the only ones on the bus as we drove through the empty streets of Falkirk. Our driver was rocking out to some pop music, which made me smile, and when we reached our stop he was nice enough to check that we knew the way to the station from there. Our timing was impeccable. The next train to Edinburgh was arriving in five minutes. We waited patiently in the waiting area with one other girl. Tiredness was starting to make my eyes itch and I was enjoying the waiting area seat a little too much for how stiff it was.

The train arrived and whisked us away back to Edinburgh. We had another quiet bus ride back to the flat and actually managed to stop at the right stop! Almost every other time that week we had gotten the bus to stop at the stand before ours so we had to walk the rest of the way. By the end of our trip we were pros though. Go figure. We crawled into bed as soon as we had walked through the door and I ended the night by finishing my book.

~Ren

Parks and Planes

Our last two days in Nelson were very chill. Saturday was our laziest day. We took our time getting up that morning, and then made our way down to Montgomery Square for one of Nelson’s weekend markets. Things like this aren’t really the best to attend if you are traveling. Most of the things people are selling are in the home décor and goods category, which don’t do backpackers much good. But Glyn scored a kickass pair of slippers that made him look very much like a Kokiri, and we both enjoyed some treats from the food trucks present.

From there we walked the few blocks to Queens Garden. I’d gotten a quick view of the park a few days earlier when I passed through on my way to a shop. It was a good size so I planned to take Glyn there so I could finish my exploring, and of course so he could see how awesome it was. We wandered down a few paths, past flowerbeds and over a bridge into what I can only call the Asian Garden section. Glyn took a sunny bench and began to work on his elaborate Studio Ghibli tattoo design while I took a more shaded spot to get some reading done.

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I suppose this is NZ’s version of the Duke of Wellington.

We passed quite a while in the park, each working on our own things. When we felt the need to move, we wandered to another part of the park. There was an open picnic table by the river I snagged and Glyn grabbed a patch of grass just beside it. Roughly another hour went by before we both agreed it was lunchtime. Nelson has a vast array of restaurants and cafes to dine at. All we had to do was pick one. So we picked going back to Sprig and Fern.

They don’t have the largest of menus. It is primarily a bar after all. But they were running a special that day. One pizza, two beers, $30. We each got our own. I thought it was going to be a bad idea at first. I was having flashbacks to how my stomach felt the last time I was at Sprig and Fern. I wasn’t keen to recreate the feeling, but I actually managed two beers and a whole pizza pretty well.

We took our time sipping our second beers. Later that evening Glyn and I were catching a showing of Captain America: Civil War, and we still had plenty of time to kill. When our glasses were finally empty, we walked back to the flat and lounged until it was movie time. I don’t keep up with all the superhero movies coming out lately like some people do. However, that doesn’t mean I won’t say yes to an invite if I get it.

It was a pretty full showing. A lot of New Zealand theaters give assigned seats, which is very weird to me, and with it so full Glyn and ended up in the front row. Certainly not the best seats in the house but we enjoyed ourselves anyway. Like I said, I was missing a few films in the Marvel canon, but the film did a good job of filling you in, and for the rest of it I had Glyn. Two and a half hours of drama, fighting, and explosions later we were back on the street. It had gone dark. I flipped up the collar on my coat and we made the short walk home.

After our day of relaxation, Glyn and I decided it was time to get back to it and see some shit! So we started the day off by climbing to the Center of New Zealand. Since I know you’re wondering, no it’s not the actual center of New Zealand. It’s called that because it was a central survey point back in the 1800s. It would be pretty cool to go to the actual center though, wherever that might be. Somehow I get the feeling it would be in the Cook Strait somewhere.

The start of the walk isn’t far outside the city centre, and the walk itself isn’t very long. But it is quite steep, so be warned if you decide to do this yourself. There are a couple different paths you can take to the top, and as far as I can recall they are mostly all paved. So not a bad or difficult walk, just steep. The view was totally worth it. On one side of the hill you see practically the entire city of Nelson, and on the other you have lovely rolling hills covered in greenery. At least most of it was green. It was turning into fall when we were there.

After a bit of time on the summit, we were ready to leave the views and the heat of the sun behind. Today we were off to a different kind of park. A little ways north of town is Founders Heritage Park. It’s a place dedicated to the heritage of Nelson and also showcases many local artisans and businesses. The buildings are styled to look like they would’ve years ago. It’s a bit weird walking around out of date buildings while modern people walkthe streets.

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Glyn and I first passed some time sitting at a picnic table just inside the entrance, him getting some more work done on his tattoo, and me getting through more pages of David Foster Wallace. A half hour went by. A family with young kids wandered over and sat and the table next to ours. Their talking began to distract me so not long after they had showed up I suggested we move on to explore more of the park.

We started off by taking the most random train trip I’ve ever taken. An announcement went out saying the train was about to depart just after we started walking. Being the fan of trains that I am, I thought, what the hell. Let’s give it a try. While it wasn’t much of a train trip, it was Glyn’s first train ride in New Zealand. So that’s something I guess.

Back in the park, we walked the streets and checked out the different displays they had. First stop was the hops museum. There were old machines they used for labeling and filling bottles, notices from the prohibition era, and a small section of a much larger barrel used in the brewing process. A few TV screens around the building played movies of hops farmers and showed clips of the beer brewing process. We decided to stop by Founders Brewery before we left.

There was small shed with a display of old bikes at the far end of the park. Quite a few of the models made me wonder how people actually managed to ride them. Outside was a very, very long bike Glyn and I posed with. We poked around inside an old cargo plane that was parked on a large field beside the train station, walked by the bookbinders, and I took a quick peek in the old fire station while Glyn was off looking at something else.

The creepiest and most interesting display was the doctor’s office. These sorts of displays remind me how lucky I am to be living in this century. I could’ve been born in a time where a bad leg injury meant you wound up with your leg amputated. The exam tables are comfier, the instruments more accurate, and the technology oh so sophisticated. Like I said, interesting to see where we’ve come from, but creepy as to think about those instruments being used on me.

When we’d seen all we wanted to see, we stopped by the brewery for a quick drink before our walk back home. The weather had been cooperating for the most part during our trip, giving us warm days and cold nights. We still had the sun on our walk back but it was sinking lower in the sky and the difference in temperature between the sun and the shade was noticeable. By the halfway point, the walking had warmed me up just fine though.

Back at the flat, Glyn popped his head into the house to see if our hosts were home. One of them was a hairdresser and she had offered to give Glyn a quick trim. She sat him down in the kitchen and I stood leaning over the counter watching. This was the second time I’d seen Glyn get a haircut. We enjoyed a short chat with our hosts and asked them if they had any places to recommend for dinner.

We took their recommendation for an Indian restaurant just down the street. Neither of us felt like staying out to eat, so we ordered ahead and picked it up. There was a brief second where we almost walked into another Indian place in an orange building, but luckily we realized the mix up before we made total fools of ourselves. With food taken care of, we went back home, watched Zoolander, and went to sleep.

That was the end of our trip. The next morning, we packed up our things (Glyn got to practice rolling his clothes again) and had a nice breakfast before catching a cab to the airport. It had been just what I needed after finishing work. Getting out of town to somewhere new, taking some time to explore and relax, and this time I was lucky enough to do some of that with a friend. Also, there’s only one place you can fly and see Mt. Doom from your window.

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~Ren