Posts Tagged With: Scotland

H is for home.

Today, on my birthday, I am reflecting. Looking back at a blog post from this time last year, it’s hard to believe all that has happened. In that post, we had just sold our house, we had a month to vacate, and we had no idea where we were going to go. I remember that angst, and I’m happy I’m not there this year. We had nothing booked – anywhere. That was not our wisest hour.
To be faced with moving out of a house you have lived in for ten years, storing most of your stuff, but making sure you keep out the stuff you will need for the next ten months is an arduous enough task. But planning a ten month trip while you’re at it? That’s just insanity. No wonder I was having anxiety issues. And to think I had known about this trip for four years…there’s a psychological diagnosis in there somewhere, I’m sure.
Anyway, the point is, if you are planning to take your family travelling for an extended period of time, I would recommend booking everything in advance. Or at least most things. Or even some things. Or one thing. But definitely not no things.
Miraculously, though, on this particular occasion, it all worked out ok. It would, in retrospect, have been a much more enjoyable experience for me if things had been better planned beforehand, but there you go. Hindsight is a wonderful thing. And with hindsight, I might have realized how much easier the trip would have been for the kids if it had been well-planned. However, it is what it is, and they experienced the whole process, angst included.
In asking us about our trip, people often say “the kids must have loved it”, but in all fairness, they did not always love it. I’m sure I have said before that there were many times when they just wanted to go home. And sometimes, as we settle back into the routines of school and soccer and birthday parties, we wonder what, if anything, they gained from our “year out”. Of course, we know they did, really, and we know their appreciation for the experience will increase as they get older, but it’s funny how quickly it has disappeared in some ways…
For example, a week after they started back at school, the little one had to do a writing assessment on which they were asked to write about something that happened in the past. When I asked her what she wrote about (thinking smugly about all the fabulous experiences we provided for her to choose from), she told me she wrote about that time we went to Halifax two years ago when she bought a teddy for her sister. I said, “Oh. I thought you might have written something about our trip”, to which she replied, “Oh yeah, I forgot about that”! You have to laugh, really, but comments like that don’t come without a tiny little sting. Shortly after that, she redeemed herself by compiling a pretty amusing A to Z of Travels which summed up her experience, though, so all was not lost.
In actual fact, we are starting to see the experience of our travels permeate lots of things the kids do and say quite often now, and every time we see that, those little stings are replaced with another feeling. I don’t quite know how to describe it, but I know it’s a very warm and glowy feeling. Like pride and satisfaction – and maybe a little relief. When I read Mairi’s speech for school and it’s all about European foods – which are good, and which should be avoided. Or when they point out places in library books that they recognize and have been to. Or when their stories have settings they would never have had a year ago. Or even when I can see their appreciation for home. It’s a good feeling.

Here is a collection of tidbits that give me that feeling:

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My birthday card

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This one was accompanied by the caption: X is for exit. Where is the exit in this airport?! It is a very accurate rendition of us wondering where the heck that exit is, right down to the sour expressions on our faces!

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Shakespeare’s Globe

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You know, we never did get to London’s Globe Theatre, even though it had been on my original list. Nor did we go to Stratford-Upon-Avon to see his birthplace, or the pretty little cottage that was Anne Hathaway’s. And yet, I felt the presence of Shakespeare in so many other places, none more so than Italy. I sometimes forget how many of his plays are set in Italy, but driving around the country and seeing run-of-the-mill road signs for Mantua, Padua, and Verona makes Romeo and Juliet seem so much more real. I found myself wondering why he chose these particular cities, and how he had such intimate knowledge of them. And they actually still exist, and I was driving right by them! So weird. We even saw a sign for Aleppo, the place Macbeth‘s witches mention during one of their many nasty curses. As we drove, I imagined Romeo banished from his true love, only now I actually knew how far away he was banished! The literature geek in me even posted “Banished” as my facebook status as we drove through Padua, because I knew the location tagline would say -in Padua. Apparently I was the only one of my several hundred facebook friends who thought that was cute. Even my English teacher friends didn’t bite. Moving on.
Our travel book said you can even go see Juliet’s house in the fair city of Verona. I pointed out facetiously that this would be tricky since she was a fictional character. But I wasn’t quite so facetious when Dev reminded me where we actually live…and the fact that millions of tourists come every year to see Anne of Green Gable’s house. Right.

And then there’s Venice. Having walked through the Rialto Bridge, and seen the dozens of tiny shops still selling all manner of things, I can now imagine Shylock there counting his ducats, and Antonio trading goods in Merchant of Venice. Before that, it was difficult to visualize how a bridge could be a market place.

Another place that constantly evoked Shakespearean images and quotes in my head was Scotland. Driving from Edinburgh northward to Loch Ness, we saw signs for Cawdor, Scone, Fife, Forres, Inverness, and even saw Glamis Castle and Dunsinane Hill on the map. Having driven almost as far as Inverness, and knowing how long it took us in our Citroen Picasso, I realize what a mammoth journey it must have been for Macbeth and his cronies to get to Scone on horseback, or on foot, for the coronation – quite a hike! But then again, that’s fiction too…although we did see a huge mural at Edinburgh Castle that traced the line of the monarchy in Scotland, and Macbeth and Duncan are both there; we even saw the Stone of Destiny, on which they were supposedly crowned.

I guess the point is that even though we didn’t do any of the more direct Shakespeare touristy things, we still experienced, and talked about, Shakespeare. His influence is everywhere, not just in our language and our literature. And seeing some of these places, even fleetingly, makes his plays so much more real and relevant.

I hope that when our girls start studying them in school, they will take a little bit of that experience with them as well.

The Rialto

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Edinburgh Castle

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Highland Legends

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There are lots of reasons to visit the Scottish Highlands: the beautiful and plentiful lochs, the stunning mountain scenery, the climbing and hiking opportunities, the cliff-top castles, and just the magic in general. There’s something about it…
And we had our own special reasons for wanting to come up here, specifically to Fort William. Partly nostalgia – Dev and I came up here this time of year back in 1996, before we got married. Before we were even engaged, in fact. We brought some Canadian friends up here because it was one of Dev’s favourite places to climb, and we ended up climbing Ben Nevis. In sneakers. In the snow. No gear. A bit of leftover Christmas cake and some orange juice in a rucksack. -20 degrees. And we actually made it to the top. That alone has to be some sort of miracle.
We have spent the last couple of days telling the kids all about this adventure, the fact that it was dark and very cold on the way down, that one of our friends fell and broke her arm, that we spent the night in a cold hostel without even a cup of tea to warm us. I told them how I insisted on a hotel the next day, despite the fact that we had very little money, because I needed a hot bath so badly. And how I could barely even get down the steps to the pub at Nevis Sport because my legs were so sore. I showed them the sticker we bought to stick on Janet’s cast that said I Climbed Ben Nevis. They loved all these tales, but to be fair, the most surprising part for them was that their mother actually got up the mountain at all. And they laughed their heads off when Dev told them he wouldn’t have married me if I hadn’t made it to the top, because he would have known I was a dud! We have had a great time sharing our reminiscing with the kids.
Another reason we came up here is for Mairi. This is where her name came from, and we have always told her about how we saw a shop in Fort William called Mairi MacGregors, and liked the name so much that we decided to give it to her when she was born. We couldn’t find that shop, but there was still one with her name on it, so she got her picture taken under the sign.
And it wasn’t just her name that made her want to visit this place – as an added bonus, there’s also a pretty significant Harry Potter connection, and so, naturally, we had to explore that too! The train journey to Hogwarts in the movies is actually filmed on the Jacobite steam train between Fort William and Mallaig, over the Glenfinnan Viaduct, and other scenes were also filmed in and around the Glen Nevis area. Obviously, the movie-makers recognized the magical quality of the location, too, and used it to help create new legends.
And speaking of legends, another of the reasons for our visit was Nessie. I’ve never been, but I remember being fascinated as a child by the legend of Loch Ness, and it’s something I’ve always wanted to see. We went today, and I’m glad we did, but it wasn’t quite what I imagined. First of all, the loch is so huge! We drove along it for a good twenty minutes and I don’t even think we were half way. We had decided to go to the Loch Ness Exhibition Centre, which also was not what I expected. We got a discount, thank goodness, because it was over-priced, dated, and a bit boring, to be honest. And it’s not even on the Loch. It would have been far better to learn about Nessie on youtube, and use the money we saved to go into the grounds of Urquhart Castle, and get a really good look at the loch from there. Or even take a boat tour. The whole thing was a bit of a non-event really, but it was fun to find Nessie in every ripple of the water as we drove along. It’s not hard to imagine seeing something monster-like in there…
Oh, and our other reason for visiting the Highlands is because that’s where Merida is from, and she and her clan add just a little bit more magic to the area for the younger kids. If you don’t know, Merida is Pixar’s latest heroine from the movie Brave, which is packed full of Highland magic – stone circles, witches and spells, will-o-the-wisps, and even a castle based on the real life Dunnotar Castle. Merida is Liah’s favourite girl, so that further motivated us to make the trek up here.
Not that we needed any further motivation. It really is stunning. And as Darragh pointed out yesterday after snapping a quick picture of the sun setting over Glenfinnan Loch, “Up until this year, I would have only ever seen a picture like this on a calendar, and I just took this one on my iPod”.
An excellent point, Darragh.

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Glenfinnan Viaduct

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Nevis Sport

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I forgot to even mention these amazing Highland Cattle!

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Urquhart Castle

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Edinburgh Myths Debunked

This is our third night in Edinburgh, and despite the chilly temperatures and the driving winds, we have clocked a fair number of miles walking around this beautiful old city. We started off on our first afternoon with The Potter Trail, a ninety minute magical walking tour of the city featuring locations which inspired scenes and characters in JK Rowling’s books. We met outside Greyfriar’s Bobby’s Inn, and before we even started the tour, our robed guide, Will, started the debunking of local myths by telling us that the tale of Greyfriar’s Bobby was not actually true. It was made up to attract tourists. It worked, and obviously still is working judging by the number of people taking photos of Bobby’s statue, and the flowers and little doggie figurines that are still being placed on Greyfriar’s grave. The story is that the little dog sat on his master’s grave for years after he died. Until he himself died, in fact. Very touching. But completely fabricated.
Anyway, the tour was a great introduction to the city as well as a great way to engage the Harry Potter mad people in my family. We saw lots of cool things, including JK Rowling’s handprints in the sidewalk, and the cafe where she wrote the first book. And the cafe that claims to be where she wrote the first book. Second myth debunked. Despite the signs outside The Elephant House claiming it as “the birthplace of Harry Potter”, it is, in fact, a place where she wrote bits of the second and third books, but not the first. We did have to return there the following day, though, for an expensive coffee, because of the bathroom. The bathroom walls are covered in what might normally be called graffiti and scrubbed off, but this is special graffiti. This is Dumbledore’s Army. Almost every inch of wall and door space is covered in names of people from all corners of the earth who have been mesmerized by Rowling’s tales of witches and wizards. But there was still room for our three to squeeze their names on there!
The magical and mythical are what Scotland is all about, really, and the theme continued as we toured the magnificent castle. One of the highlights there was seeing the Honours of Scotland (the Crown Jewels), and the Stone of Destiny. Which is another one of those tales that may or may not be true…but don’t we just love to believe them?
Today we visited The Camera Obscura, the first purpose-built tourist attraction in Edinburgh. It’s amazing that this place is 150 years old and it can still draw a crowd! The kids loved the fact that they could spy on unsuspecting castle visitors from five floors up – and from inside a building! And then we grown-ups almost threw up from the mirror maze and the freaky tunnel thingy.
We’ve had busy days, but it has been great to walk back to Brooks Hotel, knowing our cosy room and comfy beds await us. There’s something so special about staying in a nice hotel that makes all that tramping around in the cold worthwhile. It’s like your reward at the end of the day! And we leave tomorrow – looking forward to that last Scottish breakfast in the morning. Maybe I’ll actually have the haggis this time!
But probably, I won’t.

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