Saturday, June 5, 2010

All of the Land of the Scots (not Scotch)

Our tour guide, on bus day, reminded the mostly foreign audience, that in Scotland, the people were known as Scots or Scottish, but not Scotch, that was a drink. But before bus day, here is what we did:

Day One: travel, leaving the house at 7:40am, driving to the airport in Bordeaux, first leg of journey to London, stop-over, then on to Edinburgh. We chose the bus option for the trip from airport to hotel (1.90 instead of 22.00, and darn, my keyboard will not do a pound sign, so US-centric of it), so it took a little while to get there. We arrived at the hotel, right in the center of Edinburgh, at 8:30 pm, which was 9:30pm in France.

With my love of different languages, I guess I always unconsciously chose destinations based on hearing a new language; first France, Germany, then Pays Basque in Spain (two languages!), Venice, and so on. Though I dreamed of visiting Ireland and Scotland, I think I felt they would be less exotic because, after all, they only speak English there. Too wrong! They speak Scottish English. When two Scots are speaking together, their secrets are safe from me! I love the language, enjoy the different expressions and ways of turning a phrase that is completely novel after nine years back in the US. Nothing is "small" or "little", it is all "wee". Nobody says "bonny" there anymore, but nobody says "watch out!" either; it is "mind your step" or leaving the train; "mind the gap." I heard one little boy say to his smaller brother (upon hitting the correct button for the elevator), "well done, William!" Ah, what a refreshing change from "good job" and in our family, arguments about who is going to push the button this time up!

So, after a snack in the hotel restaurant (Lily had mashed potatoes and hot chocolate, which the waiter thought was funny) we headed out to explore the neighborhood a wee bit. We went in the direction of the castle, but we seemed to hit a dead end, and everything looked like it might be a castle. There were bigger castles, smaller castles, fancy castles and massive castles. Not having found anything that definitely said "Edinburgh Castle", we thought we would go home and wait for daylight before trying again. We retired to our rooms and set to a little housekeeping.

First attempt to connect to civilization via my computer. After an hour or so of having paid for a connection that wasn't working and calling the help center, I was able to connect, but when I called home Pierre could not hear me, so I typed and he talked. The next day, when I hoped to send the first blog post, I was told all of my minutes had been used up, another $9 for more minutes? No, thank you. So, no posts from Scotland, even the library, when we finally found a minute to stop in, required a library card for wifi access and had a very limited space in which to use a laptop, besides which, the children's section was closed.

Day Two: Despite having finally gone to sleep around 11, we were both up and ready to go around 7:30 or so. Armed with our "stupid map" as it became known; just a very basic, free map of the city, we set out to locate Edinburgh Castle. We got directions, this time, and found it was necessary to go a ways around before an approach was possible. And it is simply massive. You can see it, if you look up, from just about anywhere in the city. We must have been very tired, indeed, to have missed it the night before.

We spotted our first men in kilts and heard our first bagpipes on the way to the castle. Of course, everyone wants to know if we had the occasion to find out what Scottish men wear under their kilts. To tell the truth, we met a number of dashing young Scots with charming accents and a glint in their eye, but none of them were wearing kilts, the other ones were.

It was a good thing we started out early; upon arriving, there was already a line, uh, sorry, a queue, formed, to get in. We queued with the rest of the people from all over the world and watched, amazed and grateful, as hundreds more lined up behind us before the castle even opened. Once it opened for the day, up the cobble-stoned paths we went to discover this famous landmark. The photos can do the rest of the talking.

Afternoon of Day Two: The Royal Botanical Gardens. A long walk across the city and worth every minute of it. Lily's choice, she loves botany and growing all things, the photos will show how spectacular it all was, and still not do it justice.

Day Three: We find our way to a palace we cannot pronounce the name of and that our concierge has never heard of, that does not appear on any train schedule, but Lily says we're to go. Linlithgow Palace, birthplace of Mary, Queen of Scots and of her father, James V.

Lily found out that one could take a train here and that it is only 15 miles away. We got directions and walked to the train station. Since there was a long line at the ticket booth and a self-serve machine without a line, we spent a moment trying to figure out how to buy tickets to Linlithgow by ourselves. We consulted every single train schedule there was, no Linlithgow. Did it really exist? We took a place in line and waited. Our patience was rewarded with a pleasant answer; there was a train every 10 minutes or so and children ride free, just as in London. I LIKE the UK! I knit on my socks as we watched the Scottish scenery roll past and listened to the teenage girls in front of us imitate American accents as they laughed uproariously.

We arrived in a tiny village, in the middle of nowhere, but along a loch. We asked for directions a couple of times and we were soon at the Palace. It is the ruin of a royal palace, built for pleasure as opposed to defense; hunting, fishing, dancing and eating is what would have happened at Linlithgow. The building is in good repair, it is a well-preserved ruin. This notion was explained to us by the guide on duty. Most ruins are almost naught but rubble, not because the elements have destroyed them over the years, but because the stones were stolen in order to build something else. After the departing British army "accidentally" set fire to the palace in the 1700s, a guard was placed on duty day and night to make sure the stones were not removed. Today one can walk the path along the loch below the castle and visit all of the nooks and crannies, both down three floors and up many flights of stairs to the towers, one of them is even open at the very top.

It was a very surreal experience, one could easily imagine oneself back many centuries. You would be near a raging fire to warm up after a long walk out on the shores of the loch in the rain and fog, as we were, or looking anxiously from the tower to see if the hunting party had returned or the ship carrying your husband. This was the most Scottish of days we had here, a close second to the Loch Ness for favorite.

Day Four: the bus tour. Spectacular scenery on our long drive through the Highlands, to Loch Ness and back again. It was really all one could wish for, except for maybe more time to explore everything, a couple of weeks, we were thinking. Time for hiking in the hills, climbing mountains, sailing the Loch, searching for Nessie...

Day Five: sadly and gladly, the return journey, good to be back, good to have gone.

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