I realized this afternoon that this is one of those vacations that where I’m so interested in experiencing the area I’m visiting and seeing the sights that I haven’t slept in once. I reminded myself today that I was in a land of mystery and faeries, a land I’ve dreamed of visiting since I was little, and that I should worry less about when the ferry would be leaving, and whether I would miss the next bus (or catch it in time and be sick during the long ride), etc., and try to relax and enjoy myself a little.
My first day here, I booked a day trip out through the Isle of Mull to Iona, where I tried in vain to find a place to stay the night. In the end it was better this way; all the moving around every other night to sleep in a different bed would hardly allow me to relax.
I woke up early around 730, got dressed and sat down for breakfast by 8: bacon, mushrooms and a poached egg with tea. I packed up everything I might need into my ugly green bag (umbrella, mittens, Kindle, purse, camera), and headed down the hill toward the dock, enjoying the view of the bay and the moss and flower covered stone walls on either side of the road. This day trip really solidified how out of place I feel here. Everyone else on the ferry was at least twenty years my senior with the exception of one Asian tourist. How did all of the info I read about this fail to mention that I would be surrounded by a bunch of what my dad used to teasingly call “blue-hairs?” It was a little depressing. I felt like there was someplace else I should be, where all the other young people were spending their vacation.
The ferry to Mull looked like a small yacht on the outside, but had a modest interior with large windows for watching misty islands glide until we arrived at our bus on the Isle of Mull. About 80 minutes of funny and informative bus driving later, we arrived at the port where we boarded a ferry to Iona.
The only stuff to see on this very small, but enchanted island was the ruins of the nunnery, which are beautifully kept in a state between overgrown and manicured. It gave the sense of something abandoned but still loved, like parents while their kids are at college.
The monk’s abbey, while obviously very old, was decidedly not in ruins, and something to behold. You can feel its age as you enter the too-small front door into its dark grey interior. A few of the stones in the floor had crosses carved into them to mark where restorers had discovered the graves of previous monks. There’s a strange little face on an arch that appears to be howling in pain, which people call the face of punishment, or something like that, and is said to possibly a self-portrait of the architect. There are some of the earliest depictions of Adam and Eve (both before and after their expulsion) at the top of some pilasters. Quite unexpectedly, there are also two sarcophagi covered with supine burial sculptures of the Duke and Duchess of Argyle, who did a great deal to help restore the church, and paid people in food to build walls along the only road in Iona to help keep people from starving to death during the potato blight of 1846-7. For their generosity they are, to this day, very well-loved across the country. I was shocked to find that their sculptures are carved out of Carrara marble, the most sought-after sculpture marble in the world, both ancient and present. Both sculptures are expertly carved, with fine detail on the clothing; the Duke’s collar is so thin that it’s translucent. The art historian in me was desperate to get a closer look, but keeping people out of arms reach had perfectly preserved them thus far; I had to be satisfied with their pristine condition, and hope to find a book on the sarcophagi with lots of pictures.
The adjoining courtyard had secured to its inner walls the tombstone coverings of various old “Mc” families, all decorated with a relief carving of an intricate pattern in the Gaelic style. My favorite ones had swords.
The gift shop held nothing of interest except a few books and post cards with local wildlife on them. I’m pretty bummed I didn’t get to see an otter today, but we did get to see a white tipped (tailed?) eagle circling way above us, and a red deer stopped in a field not far away, listening for something in the opposite direction, expertly ignoring us. On the way back to the ferry from Iona to Mull, I saw a woman talking to a sheep and petting it through a fence while her husband chuckled and her son looked mortified. I said, “Making friends?” She told me about her love for sheep, while her teenage son chimed in here and there: “Yeah, she’s got a thing for sheep. It’s weird.” I asked if she wanted a photo with one, since it was so friendly, and instead she got her son to take a photo of me with the sheep. Score!
On the ferry back home, I intentionally sat next to a couple with a very cute dog with a fondness for potato chips, who played with me by pretending to attack my hand, then made a real effort of jumping up onto the seat next to me and promptly fell asleep.
Finally back home, I forced myself to walk past the fish and chip place that I’d eaten at both days before, and went to a neighboring pub for dinner instead. I nearly choked on the steak pie, mashed potatoes and peas; they were so tasty and I was starved (I’d only nibbled on half a scone on Iona for fear it would come right back up on the bus). I washed it all down with an unremarkable half-pint of the local amber, and started a leisurely walk around the bay and up the hill towards home.
And here I sit, exhausted and full of meat and potatoes with a half-eaten cheese scone and a pair of sadly unused mittens in my bag. I’ve put in another DVD, this time it’s Hercule Poirot, a favorite of Boyfriend’s and mine, and something I used to watch with my mom all the time. I can’t wait to finish writing this and start watching, then go to sleep in my soft, warm bed.
I can already feel myself starting to pointlessly stress about tomorrow’s travel arrangements. But I have my train ticket to Glasgow, and it doesn’t leave until 1215, which gives me plenty of time to grab some oysters at that little green shack, enjoy the view for the last time, and grab a good seat next to a window. I can’t believe I’m going to see Scottish Friend tomorrow! So exciting! And then I’m back to Dublin for a day (maybe I’ll go visit that castle in Swords), sleep at the hotel near the airport, and then home. I’m getting excited to go home, to see my roommates, to sleep in on the weekend, to stop worrying about how I’ll get from here to there. Traveling is fun but mentally and physically exhausting. And then grad school starts Monday! Gah!