The guy at the car rental counter gave us his parting encouragement: “It doesn’t matter if you ding it, dent it, crash it, whatever…you’re covered.” And with that peace of mind, we were off! Look right, drive left. Whoa.
Driving in Edinburgh is *crazy*. Ancient streets mean narrow streets, and if you’re not careful a huge double decker bus can run you right over. We found our Bed and Breakfast without killing anyone or ourselves, which really was an accomplishment (thanks to the Garmin, which I highly recommend). Since there was no parking, Stan dropped me off at the door to check in and confidently stated that he would “drive around the block” to look for a parking space. A half hour later, my husband still had not returned, and panic began to set in. No way to call him, no GPS to track him down…this was like living back in the 20th century!! (Side note: get this all set up before you leave…there are devices you can purchase ahead of time to be ready to go when you arrive in another country. I’ll be writing more about this in the “Tech toys” section of the website.)
Fifteen minutes after that, while I was pacing back and forth in front of the house where we were staying and assuredly worrying the owners that I was some kind of crazy woman they had reserved for the night, my husband eventually wandered up the street with a weary look and no car. As it turns out, he found a place to park…somewhere…and managed to get lost. He did find his way back to the B&B (without the car) but the challenge was going to be to find the car again. After resting for a few hours, we ventured out into Edinburgh to look for the missing vehicle. An hour and many frustrated words later, we found it…with a parking ticket for 60 pounds! However, that was better than the alternative of going back to the guy at the rental agency and saying, “Well, we didn’t ding it, dent it, or crash it, but we did manage to lose it. Can we have another?”
By 5 p.m. we made it over to Edinburgh Castle. The events of the day(s) must have
caught up with me, because as I entered the old stone castle (circa 1200s) I found myself somewhat overcome. The woman at the ticket booth smiled and asked where I was from, and all of a sudden I got a lump in my throat responded with a warbly, “Florida”. Standing there amidst history from 800 years ago, I felt very insignificant. Stan looked at me and shook his head, and then took my hand and led me through the castle (he seemed to remember it from when he visited as a teen).
Edinburgh Castle is beautiful with parts added centuries after other parts to make the grand whole. Looking out over Edinburgh and the Firth of Forth, I tried to imagine the struggle and sacrifice and also the classism and rank and privilege and the savagery of centuries before. Standing before the Stone of Destiny, the sword used by William Wallace, and the scepter, used by every Scottish King including Robert the Bruce, this Political Science teacher found herself thinking that the Constitution seemed like a modern document.
We left the castle to walk down the Royal Mile, full of kilt shops and lots and lots of Scottish crrrap (as Mike Myers would have said it on Saturday Night Live.) Toward the end, we stopped at a pub with an empty table outside. As Stan went inside to get our beer, I sat at the table to save it. Moments later, several 30-somethings came to the table and began to sit down. I informed them that my husband was sitting there, but that didn’t seem to matter. They just shrugged and said they’d move when he got back. More and more friends joined the group until I was literally surrounded by people drinking beer and smoking and laughing in a dialect I could barely understand. This was seriously pushing my limits of comfort. I pretended to play around on my non-connected iPhone (disconnecting your mobile service from home is a necessity to avoid HUGE international data and cellular fees) and counted using Lamaze techniques I learned when I was pregnant. Stan returned and of course (because he’s Mr. Gregarious) proceeded to make friends with all of them. We ended up talking and laughing with them for an hour, learning some words as well as some “interesting” Scottish hand gestures.
That evening we returned to our little B&B, and I logged into my online classes. Throughout this trip I had located accommodations that had wifi and ensuite bathrooms (two of my minimum requirements!) I uploaded the graded papers to my students, spent some time on the discussion boards, answered some emails, checked into my PhD class, and really started feeling the effects of international travel. At about 2 a.m. Scotland time, I decided to call it a night. I was tired, and dealing with some culture shock (a normal phenomenon, I think, even if you’re just going to visit the cousins across the Atlantic.) It was time to get a some sleep to prepare for our travels the next day. (One thing you don’t get on vacations like this is a lot of sleep.) With the diminished city sounds coming in through our open upstairs window, I entered the Land of Nod.
The following morning we left for Stirling, home of Stirling Castle, site of the Battle of Bannockburn (where the small but mighty Scottish force defeated a much larger British army in 1314), and the Wallace Memorial. I had already become jaded, though. As we walked through Stirling Castle, I noted buildings that had been added as late as the 1800s and thought, “Pshhh…that’s nothing! That’s recent history!” Stirling Castle was another beautiful fortress with closes (courtyards) and cobble stone walkways, and large banquet halls. Mary Queen of Scots even had a whole church built just for her son’s baptism.
We concluded our visit to Stirling with a pub visit and a pint of Scottish brew. I am noticing a tendency to serve Scottish ale warm. Bleh. I also received an education on pronunciations. When a man in the pub asked if I had used a “gade” at the castle, I didn’t know what he meant. How could I use a gate? The bartender laughed and said, “He means a guide. Did you use a guide?” So, ‘ui’ sounds like ‘ay’.
That same day we ventured deeper into the Scottish highlands. The drive to Glencoe was astounding, breathtaking, and all of those other descriptive words one uses to describe scenery that the eyes can’t grasp. Rounded, ancient mountains jutting out of the glens with sheep below and a misty sky…isn’t that exactly what you think of when you envision the Scottish highlands? We arrived at our B&B, the Camus House, whereupon we had no trouble parking thanks to the rural setting overlooking a loch. The hosts, Alastair and Louise, greeted us as if we were family.
We spent an hour talking with them about things to do the following day and learning some new pronunciations. When Alistair said we could take a boat on the “bee”, I really didn’t understand. I asked him what a bee was, whereupon he looked at me funny and said, “You know…you have them in Florida…a bee.” Comprehension dawned…a bay! “I can see you’re going to learn quick,” he tells me with a smile.
Tomorrow – a boat ride in a bee with a gade. Yippee! The backpacks are doing great and I think I’ll travel like this from now on. Stan continues to drive on the left and I catch him at odd moments when he thinks I’m not looking, and he’s smiling. I think he’s happy to be here.