December 30, 2012

A Scottish Christmas

Sarah has been in Scotland for the better part of two years now attending graduate school at the University of Glasgow. As if we needed an excuse to go to Scotland
- Lisa and Sarah hadn't seen each other in a good long while, Christmas was coming, and besides, I had an ulterior Christmas motive. Lisa and I found Sarah waiting for us at a soggy bus depot in Glasgow. We had a refreshing walk in the dark rain to her cold 4th floor apartment. The notion of time was a blurry mess that was bringing sleep quickly, so to escape the wrath of jetlag, Lisa and I walked to a neighborhood pub. The pint of scotch ale was rich, the pub was warm, and the dim light set our travel-weary eyes at ease after nearly 24 hours on the move.

The next day we spent trying to relocate a bag that Delta airlines was kind enough to misplace in Amsterdam. We found our lost bag, and our apartment, in Edinburgh around 8pm. We were astonished to see how well we did in renting this place sight-unseen. It was warm inside and Jack, our landlord for the week, was a super nice guy despite being out later than he wanted to be.
The apartment had everything we needed to prepare a Christmas dinner of turkey, stuffing, sweet potatoes, pumpkin pie, and cocoa with cognac. We took the train a couple stops from Old Town where we found a big grocery store that had everything we would need.

Over the next few days we walked around rainy Old Town Edinburgh. It rained every day but one; Christmas. We took advantage and did a hike up a low butte named Arthurs Seat that overlooks Edinburgh. The geology looked like the Columbia River Basin complete with Columnar Basalt. I bet the Scottish pioneers coming west on the Oregon Trail were surprised to see such similarities to their homelands.

One day we booked a day tour to the Highlands with Rabbies Tours. Michael, our guide, really knew his Scotland. We were gone 10 hours and he knew every inch over which we passed. He even had a key to Kilchurn Castle on appropriately named Loch Awe that no other tours had access to. Kilchurn was the highlight of the day for sure. Thanks for a great day Michael!
I thought the rainy gloom made the spectacle of the centuries, displayed in architecture all the more dramatic. With some imagination we acted like we could hear Roman war horses galloping through the muck, emerging from misty woods.

Months ago when I first contemplated going to Scotland for Christmas I thought to myself - "what the hell is there to do in Scotland, especially during winter?" The first thing that came to mind was the pubs. After-all, Scotland is famous for what else...Scotch....and Ale, of course. So that is what we did, most everyday. We stayed in the grip of jet-lag for days, pathetically, not getting up until 11am most days. It was dark by 3:30 or so...and raining, so we'd walk to a museum, then taking a break to dry out in a crowded pub seemed the natural thing to do. Everything and everyone was festive. The maze of old buildings and ally ways called Close's would mysteriously lead to......usually another pub. Thank goodness for smart phones and google maps or we'd probably still be lost.
On one afternoon the girls went to a tapestry museum so I parted company for some solo exploration of Edinburgh. Before I knew it the dark rain drove me into a pub in Fleshmarket Close. There, I met Gordon, an old Scot, in the pub for the same reason I was; being the damn rain. We drank our ale and talked shit about the Mormons and the god damn English. Pausing now and again for a nip of one of Gordons favorite malt whiskeys. He would educate me why it tasted the way it did, which was very interesting. He was immensely proud of his Scotland and knew his scotch whiskey well. Drinking with Gordon was good fun and one of the trip highlights for me. Thanks Gordon!


Two locals spent hours
Look at the price on a "nip"

Halfway House Pub - Fleshmarket Close

Fleshmarket Close

Gordon and I 

The streets were fun to walk around despite the rain. Everyone was out Christmas shopping and having a good time. We spent a lot of time walking the Royal Mile since our apartment was about 20 steps off of it.
Christmas Eve at St Giles 

St Giles Cathedral

Edinburgh has a festive Christmas Market on Princes Street right next to the Waverly Station. It seems a popular Scottish hot drink is Mulled Wine. Apparently the Germans are responsible for starting the Christmas Market back in the day so they have taken to mixing up their version of Mulled Wine so try it we did on a cold night while walking around and watching the festive revelers.

Most museums in Scotland that we went to were free, and they were the most amazing museums I've seen. I was surprised how close the public is allowed to get to the exhibits. Some of the Roman artifacts, such as those excavated from Antonines Wall, are so amazing and are sitting unprotected within reach of everyone. We visited The Royal Scottish Museum, The Edinburgh Castle Museum, Rosslyn Chapel, and several other smaller museums, and found the same ethic. Hopefully the artifacts remain un-harmed. One nice display (again un-protected by touch) is the cell door of a prisoner of war held in Edinburgh Castle. Carved in the door is an image of Old Glory by an American POW held during the Revolution. My favorite artifacts were the gladiator jousting gear outfits. I can't wait to go to Rome now.

Silenus rockin' a rad beard

Nat'l Museum of Scotland

Gladiator Gear

American Flag

Rosslyn Chapel

It never occurred to me that a trip to Scotland during the darkest days of the season would be much fun, but I'm so glad It all happened the way it did. It opened my eyes to the opportunistic nature of travel and how there is a pleasure to be found in culture and place even when it's not anticipated......just maybe not New Jersey.

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