Sunday, November 27, 2016

God's Country, Scotland , a place to return to.

As we were staring in disbelief at the "TSA guy", who emptied our plastic baggies, when leaving the airport in Edinburgh, while protesting that we came in with the same content in our baggies from Amsterdam, and that we there passed inspection, he simply replied: "they should have done what we are now doing here in God's country. 
Edinburgh a port city
A view of the castle
I will spare you his follow up opinion about the US TSA system. In the end however, he was kind enough to let us choose which bottles we wanted to place in his slightly larger plastic baggies, before confiscating the rest, claiming, that the deodorant and toothpaste were liquids.
Scotland colorful and amazing views
Those words "God's Country", keep resonating in my head, as I review and choose the pictures for this blog.
We never pass up arboretums anywhere
In the two weeks we spent in Scotland, we visited Edinburgh (Scots pronounce it as Edinborough, stressing the latter part of the word) and did the tourist thing, like the hop on hop off, the Royal Mile, the Royal Palace etc etc. 
On the bottom of the Royal Mile hill lies the Royal Castle where Mary Queen of Scots resided
4 nights is not enough to really meld with this city and begin to get to really know and enjoy this 2000 year old place, built on a lava stream, with its densely built old town buildings, featuring numerous closes and wynds. 
Old town views
No Roman remains here, they never were able to conquer these lands. In fact Emperor Hadrian had to build a wall to keep the Scots out of England.
The pub is Stirling where we resided in the left top room
Then followed 3 nights in Stirling with lodging above a pub in the old town, where we had a car to visit the surrounding lowlands.
Stirling's Royal Castle
We travelled this time by Scotsrail to and fro. And last but not least, we feasted 6 nights on a small wooden ship with 6 cabins, departing from Oban on the western coast and during our trip 10 passengers saw the rainy and cloudy Inner Hebrides. So that is the coming story today.
Hebrides views 
For you readers who claim Scottish heritage: you will find on Princess Street a building aptly called the "Register House", where for centuries all "Hatches, Matches and Dispatches" have been recorded.
The newest Majestic line ship, not wooden like ours, but same size
Happy Sandee as she should always be if I can have my way
Let's start this story on the west coast, where we visited last and introduce you to the Majestic Line a small cruising company with 3 small ships. We boarded the Glen Massan and sailed the Inner Hebrides (pronounced for your edification as "Heb bre dees")
Quiet night views in protected lochs
The stormy weather and thus rough seas prevented us from straying away from protected lochs, and views were not too expansive due to the cloud cover. 
Good food Good company
But all in all the crew and passengers made it a relaxing trip, filled with food and drink. I counted 9 stops during the six night trip, several distilleries and picturesque villages. 
Distillery visit - there are many of them all around the country
I tried every evening a glass from a different scotch bottle and came to no absolute winner during my tasting tests. The chef provided 3 times a day wonderful food and the freely served house wine flowed into our glasses, bottle by bottle. 
Our "retired chef" who now provided us 3 times a day food we lauded every time
Wonderful Scottish names were visited, such as Loch Spelvie, Loch Sunart, Sound of Sleat, the villages of Strontian, Craignure, Tobermory, Aird of Sleat etc etc. 
Views one never tires of
At the end of the trip, I for one decided, if we are returning here, I want to stay land-based for awhile during the best possible season, not just sail between them and walking a village for a few hours.
Stirling above and below, one senses history here
One of the heralded kings I never heard about before this trip
Ok let's now fast backwards (Editor's note: Erik's counter to "fast forward") to the city of Stirling, the Royal seat of the Kingdom of Scotland created in 1130 by King David I; the city where King James VI, infant son of Mary, Queen of Scots was coronated as King of Scots, among other noted feats in Stirling. 
The light colored building was added centuries later 
For history buffs, King Robert the Bruce and before him King David I, scheming exploits to become famous are a fascinating read. The castle dominates the town and just below that castle we found the Portcullis tavern, where we lodged and were fed. 
We really enjoyed walking Stirling 
It is in this town that in a small corner grocery store, I found two 2007 Gran Reserva Rioja bottles on a high shelf for the measly price of 8 pound each. I savored those bottles to the last drop, and it will make me remember Stirling to my dying days.
Imagine this to be a block of ice thousands of years ago, while green erupted all around it
Leaving the dock onto Lake Lochmond
A view on the Killin Heritage path walk
Driving Country roads meeting locals
Our little rental car brought us to Loch Lomond & the Trossachs national park over winding tree leaf covered park roads to Loch Katrine, where we had a few hours touring on the Sir Walter Scott, looking below a blanket on its bow at the green slopes rising above the waterline, and after that, an hour driving northwards, we walked a part of the Killin Heritage Path. 
 Mary Queen of Scots 
Many lochs were the deeper troughs cut during the ice age by the hundreds of tons of ice mass, pushing southwards from the North Pole. The changing climate left these deep lochs filled with rock solid ice that took decades to melt, creating lakes and ponds, while the hills surrounding them got lush and green again.
I forgot the names of these places during our day trip, but it represents what we saw a lot of
The second driving day we traversed a 91 mile / 148 km route called "Abbeys, Battlefields and Castles" in a tour guide and drove through towns with names like Dollar, Causewayhead, Perth, Dunblane, Culross, Blackness, Bo'ness, Linithgow and Bannockburn. I list these names not just for the questions some of them raise, but also as a memory aid for my beloved spouse as she one day may peruse this blog.
The landscape was a lovely multicolor green with pastures, forest and streams noisily flowing past our open car windows.
So colorful so rustic
One township was so frozen in time, that one seemed to wander back a few centuries, through the Celtic "stones" as it were. Read Diana Gabaldon's historical time travel novel series Outlander.
And then there was "Edinborough", but about that part of our trip in the next blog.
 For my Dutch Readers: other nations use words we would not use in public


And then there was "Edinborough", the start of our trip. Our Airbnb was perfectly located midway on the Royal Mile. As a regular VRBO traveller it pains me to say, that we now sometimes have to use Airbnb's, just because they are more and more at locations where we want to stay.
Our lodging above the bar smack in the middle of the Royal Mile in Old Town
Allan was a perfect host with welcome goodies and a bottle of wine, coffee and tea and toilet paper as well as all bathroom toiletries for a week. We had to only shop for food. Even hotels don't provide that much service.
We thank Laura and Michael for a wonderful evening and the lesson in scotch sampling
As we were planning the details of our trip to this country we had long desired to visit, we made contact with the minister who married us in Amsterdam in 2011, then an assistant minister at our Amsterdam Scottish Reformed Church in the Begijnenhof. 
Don't think I want to live above this store
  Royal Botanic Gardens
We were the first wedding Michael Mair officiated and he has now his own congregation in a working neighborhood in Edinburgh. That first day in Scotland was a Sunday, so we walked to a park to meet him and his lovely wife Laura during a tent service, held by several local religious institutions, celebrating the start of a children park activities week. 
The famous WWII beer drinking soldier bear, who carried munitions for the soldiers
That evening we had dinner and following that did a whiskey tasting of 10 different distilleries.
It was good to be driven back in a cab that evening.
 View from Princess Street towards Old Town
Edinburgh has a compact city center. Princess street divides old town to the right looking upwards towards the castle from new town, a completely different landscape, laid out on land gradually sloping to the northern waterside of the Firth of Forth, the large loch-like body of water connecting to the North Sea. 
Entrance to the Edinburgh Castle
With traces of human occupation since 8500 BC, this city is an archeologists dream. Earlier mentioned King David I, founded the Royal Burgh in the early 12th century, most likely on the remnants of earlier fortifications on the top of the Royal Mile. 
Not easy to conquer in those medieval times
It is a place full of lore that only Scots can compile or describe, like nick naming it Auld Reekie, best describing the aromas that dominated the old town. 
Visiting the Royal ship Brittanica is a must do when in Edinburgh
Table laid for State Dinners
The "cozy private quarters"
The engine room; we were told it always looked like that during its working life, spotless
It was here in Edinburgh that in 1724 Margaret Dickson was hanged on the Grass Market gallows. However she "woke up" a few hours later and was set free since her punishment had been meted out.
We were there during a week of Jazz Festival and attended a show
Scottish law books had to be amended with the words "until dead", because of her. I wonder if she grew an inch or two from this experience, since she now could keep her head high.
Behind the top left window the jealous husband of Queen Mary snatched her private male secretary 
from her and subsequently killed him
It was in Old Town that the precursor of High Rises was invented, as lack of space on this rock outcrop created houses 11 stories high.
One could even say that democracy was realized here, since in those 11 story highrises, noble, judge, cabbie shopkeeper and mechanic, just to name a few, shared the same staircase.
In front of this 1617 museum we visited, this owl drew a crowd
Pictures of the museum showing 17th century aristocratic living conditions in Old Town
The creation of Great Britain emptied the city of politicians and aristocracy. The void however, leaving the brainies behind without supervision of afore mentioned, led to Edinburgh becoming a hotbed of genius, creating a well lauded Faculty of Medicine, doing autopsy research, being supplied by murdering body snatchers, the most famous one among them, William Burke, ending up himself on the table after being hanged for his misdeeds.
During that same period New Town was developed and we visited an aristocratic home there
Also the Academy of Science and Letters and the Edinburgh Musical Society flourished here.
It is thus no wonder that Edinburgh was the birthplace of famous citizens, worth mentioning, my choices at least, and they are: Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, JK Rowling, Sir Walter Scott, Alexander Graham Bell, Charles Darwin, James Young Simpson (never heard of him, but he found how Chloroform could be used as Anesthesia), John Knox, John Witherspoon (one of the, once here maligned, signers of the American Declaration of Independence), Adam Smith (my hero in college) and Tony Blair, just to name a few. 
Beautiful restaurant setting in Victorian New Town 
New town is a well preserved Victorian neighborhood, build in a period of about 20 years, killing the real estate prices in the old town as the rich left for new large family style housing, away from the smelly 2nd or 3rd floor apartment style living.
                                         Much spacier than a home in Old Town could ever be
We visited a home that Britains National trust owns and has furnished in period style. We had dinner in a restaurant called the Dome that was once the surgeons hall of the city, where students were trained. However it was built way over budget and the college of physicians sold the building to the Bank of Scotland. It is always easier to buy with other people's money as banks have been doing for centuries. But really a beautiful building.
Sir Walter Scott statue so large I couldn't get him and his statue in one picture; the spire above him rivals church spires
Wide streets, statues, parks, plazas all so different from the the old town cozy clutter of alleys.
Couldn't resist showing you another flower from the arboretum
In short it will be a pleasure to return to this city and explore it more.