goodness, manfolk

Oban: Day 2

This morning I ordered way too much breakfast. The B&B where I was staying had a menu with lots of delicious sounding breakfast options: sausage, fried/poached egg, bacon, tomato, mushroom, porridge, toast, tea, cereal, etc. The rule of serving size in the US is thus: the nicer the establishment, the smaller the portion. Since the B&B was so nice, I figured I should just check the box next to just about everything to ensure that I got enough to eat. Not my best idea ever.

While I ate, I heard a loud “mow!” emanate from the kitchen, with a quick “How did you get in here?” in reply.  That conversation went back and forth as I smiled to myself, quietly enjoying the universal ridiculousness of cats, alone in the small dining room in the Highlands of Scotland.

the clouds fled

Back in my room, I grabbed my coat, purse, and camera, and started out down the hill toward the town.  The day was glorious.  No one could have asked for a more perfect balance of sunshine, offshore breeze and drifting, puffy clouds.  I passed an older man with a small dog, who said (with a fabulous accent), “Lovely mornin’ isn’t it?”  I agreed heartily, and he continued up the hill, singing softly to himself.

I walked to the dock, and wandered around until I got up the nerve to ask a local where I could find the ferry to Kerrera.  The man said, “That’s the one,” and pointed out a very small boat that was just pulling away.  I would have to wait another hour until the next one.  I meandered around town, did some window shopping for souvenirs for friends and family, bought a ticket for the Oban whiskey distillery tour, and sat in the sun until the 11am ferry arrived.

As we neared the island, the man sitting next to me on the boat pointed out a house with grass on the roof.  “Women’s work, ” he said.  His rather overweight friend looked down at him and said, “Such cheuvanism!”  The seated man joked, “The man trims the lawn, the woman trims the roof.”  I said, “That’s because the men are so fat, they’d break the roof.”  He indicated toward his friend as an example and laughed.  His largish friend gave his body a glance, and said with a straight face, “Specimen. Perfect specimen.”

next time i’ll have to walk to the castle

At Kerrera we were left to ourselves. I hiked for about an hour and a half, first to the monument (a small obelisk on a high spot on the northeastern end of the island), along a low cliff, down and then up a short steep rise to the top of the hill.  There I rested on the roof of a run down brick and mortar shack until I got my breath back, and cooled off a bit.  I couldn’t find where the seals are said to be, so I went down the other side of the hill, along a path peppered on both sides by little yellow wild flowers. I stepped off the path to step over a barbed wire fence to get back to the dock.  I waited about a half hour for the Nessie Hunter to arrive. There were only two of us on the ride back. I bet everyone else was hiking or at the cafe.

I arrived Back in town just in time to catch the beginning of a very small parade of bag pipers in traditional regalia playing the tune we all think of when we hear bag pipes in our heads. That was quite a treat.  Their outfits (costumes? uniforms?) included a kilt with a pin designating their clan, and a small knife tucked into their right socks.  My favorite member of the parade was a very old man, hunched over but still marching in time, and playing his pipes.

I went back to the seafood shack for more oysters (delicious), and a rather bland prawn sandwich.  I had spotted a striking tartan pin in the window of a jewelry shop, and headed back to see how much it was.  Blah, 88 Pounds!  I told the lady I’d have to think about it, and went to find some ice cream.  It was a beautiful summer day in Oban, and there was a little street fair of some kind at the round-about in front of the train station.  All the kids had painted faces and very tempting ice cream; I couldn’t resist.

Cappuccino gelato cooled me off some more (a boy with a Spiderman painted face stood behind me in line and was very proud when I complimented him), and I realized that a tartan pin was something I had been looking for the whole trip.  So I decided to get it (it’s the only souvenir I’ve bought for myself) and wear it on my coat when I got home.

The whiskey distillery had some of the best smelling hand soap I’ve ever used in a semi-public bathroom, but their whiskey tastes like rust and sand. And it’s pretty expensive, so I’ll just count myself lucky that I’ve dodged a costly indulgence. At least it came with a free glass, which I plan on giving to Scottish Friend when I visit her after I leave Oban.

whitefish bait is apparently small, and highly judgmental. it watched me.

Dinner was more fish and chips at the same place, seated indoors at the restaurant this time, then it was back home to relax for a couple of hours until around 830, at which point I forced myself to get my shoes and coat on, and head back out to a bar that hosts live traditional Scottish music and dancing for the whole group (I wasn’t in the mood to go out dancing without a partner, and I’m still missing Boyfriend a lot, but when am I going to be in Scotland again?). I got there a little before halfway through the show, and volunteered for the first group dance I heard mention of. It was fun; the women run around the line of men and vice versa, then the first couple facing each other joins hands and prances down the middle of the isle (picture a traditional Scottish version of Soul Train) to rest at the end, at which point the woman go running hand in hand round the men again and it all starts over with everyone clapping and smiling.  A good time to be had by all (except that I was the only American- everyone else was German or French, so I couldn’t follow conversations, it I felt surprisingly isolated in a room full of people).  I drank a Strongbow while the music and dancing continued, and immediately came to the conclusion that the Irish Uilleann pipes are better than bagpipes; sweeter to listen to, and not so ear piercingly loud.

I passed a bar on my way back home that was loud a packed, and seemingly the only place open past 10 in the whole town.  I was a little hungry (for food and human interaction), but walked by without going in (the ladies were very stylish, and I was in day-old clothes, jeans and sneakers), and headed up the road toward the B&B, admiring the first view I’ve had of he bay in the darkening twilight.

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Edinburgh to Oban

Full disclosure: Once Boyfriend left with his laptop, I didn’t have anything to upload my blog from every night, so I kept notes on what happened each day on my iPhone to ensure that my memory didn’t fail me or start making stuff up.  Thus, the following posts are written at the end of each day in Oban.  After that I stopped taking notes, and must pull from my still-fresh memories.

I woke up when Boyfriend did, a little earlier than my alarm for the bus so he could make it to the airport on time to head back home while I made my way west across the country to Oban on the opposite shore.  I didn’t cry when he left (I cried a little after), but we were sad to part.  I didn’t have an appetite for the croissants and honey we bought for breakfast.  The tea we had previously enjoyed so much tasted bland and dirty; I poured it out.  I brushed my teeth, dressed, packed up my things and left without a backwards glance.

The 29 bus took me to the city center, as usual, and I walked to the train Waverly station.  A very nice woman helped me buy a train ticket to Glasgow, and a return ticket from there to Oban.  the Dublin airport and Glasgow train station both have a little restaurant called The Upper Crust that features delicious sandwiches on baguettes.  I got one with bacon, spinach, cranberry and brie.  I wish we had these in the U.S.  I made plans to eat there when I flew out of Ireland at the end of my trip.

i want to go to there

On the train, I sat at a table with an older woman who read a newspaper with an enormous photo of a topless woman with startling nonchalance.  I was duly impressed.  The train to Glasgow was a quiet, steady, and quick.  I couldn’t believe how much countryside we passed on our way.  The woman at my table glanced up whenever I whipped out my phone to take a photo of yet another unremarkable field.

The trip to Oban was three hours plus, and full of beauty.  I was astonished at the greenery, the seemingly endless lakes with houses peppered around the shores (or not), the fly fisher, the two men on a row boat that I saw in both directions, the sheep (!), the eternal hills capped with mist and mystery.  This was my first taste of the Scottish highlands.

I arrived at the end of the line at a very small (and totally unmanned) train station in Oban, and was directed by a woman working her a newsstand in the station to the tourist office across the bay.  As I walked the gentle arc around the pebbled shore below, I couldn’t stop staring at the water, the islands off shore that looked so close I lifted my hand to gauge the distance, just in case I really could touch them.   Happy people, families and (mostly German with a few French) tourists, chatted as they passed; a few benches looking out toward the islands were quietly occupied by silent, gazing groups of two or three people.  I looked to my right, saw a blue and white sign for fish and chips, and made a note to settle into my bed and breakfast, then head straight back to town, get some fish, and find one of those lovely benches to stare into the distance, relax my bones, and taunt the seagulls with my catch.

The Tourist Information (TI) shop was surprisingly busy.  Apparently Oban is known by local tourists (that is, those visiting from Ireland or the UK) as a good vacation spot for the older generation.  Let me say that again: the older generation.  Everywhere I went, every tour I participated in, every shop I visited, I was the youngest person there by a couple of decades (at least, usually more).  This surprising age gap made me feel especially lonely and out of place, especially without Boyfriend.  Everything was so beautiful, I wanted so badly to share it with him.

bright, soft, and welcoming

A rather handsome boy at the TI (he couldn’t have been more than 18, I’m just terrible) said that he lived right in the neighborhood of my B&B, which shouldn’t have surprised me at all since the town is so small.  I took a cab for just a few pounds with captivating views of the bay to my right on the way up the hill, and was shown to my room by the mother of the woman with whom I had corresponded via email to book the room.  A large window on one wall let in plenty of light, and gave me a view of the backyard (clotheslines mostly).  There was a stack of mail-order DVDs on the sill, out of which I pulled an episode of Hercule Poirot (Four and Twenty Blackbirds), and the second half of the Pride & Prejudice with Colin Firth (the first half was nowhere to be found).  My evening entertainment was shaping right up.  The tea caddy had a set of real china: one cup, one pot, and a different little package of cookies each day.  I dumped my stuff unceremoniously on the bed, changed into the stylish and very comfortable blue sneakers I had bought just for the trip, and headed back to town via the one and only road down the hill (featuring more gorgeous views of the town on the water).

on my appropriately decorated iphone case

I got my fish and chips, and sat down next to a solitary woman on a bench facing the water, just like I’d planned, and fought to keep a particularly brave seagull away from my dinner.  I signed up for a ferry to the Isle of Mull, a bus ride across the island narrated in both directions by a very friendly and funny driver, ferry to Iona, self-guided tour of the ruined abbey and still-standing monastery on Iona, and then all in reverse.  I decided I should wear myself out after sitting all day, and had a long walk around town, exploring a couple of blocks inland from the water to find some cafes and churches (all closed), except for the church at the end of the bay, which was plain inside and out, and had a lesson for children going on when I stepped in.  I took a few steps down from the sidewalk onto the rocky shore for a short way, and picked up some shells (where did I put those?).

I walked back up the hill to the B&B around 8, took of my shoes, read my Kindle, showered, popped Pride & Prejudice into the DVD player and crawled into bed to relax and hate Mr. Wickam.  Boyfriend called via Skype about midway through; it was nice to see his face.

The bed was the softest, warmest I had slept in during the whole trip, and I slept soundly in the quiet B&B near the top of the hill overlooking the bay in Oban.

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Edinburgh: Day 3

some nice lady was giving these candies away to the people waiting in line to buy tickets

We had such high hopes for today, but we couldn’t make it to the Palace at Holyrood.  We spent the majority of the day at the Britannia, a yacht for the royals that’s actually considered a palace on the water.

We wandered through just a few portions of each level of the ship, but it felt enormous.  The engine room was pretty amazing (a visiting German engineer, while on a tour of the engine room, is said to have declared, “These museum pieces are very nice, but I would like to see the engine room, please.”), lots of shiny copper pipes and glass covered pressure gauges.  The whole thing is lovely, if a bit cramped, but then I’m not used to maritime accommodations.

We took a break to have lunch at the only restaurant on the ship, The Royal Tea Room.  The wait was about 20 minutes and well worth it.  We had Famous Edinburgh and Assam teas, salmon sandwiches and Mull cheddar sandwiches, mushroom and truffle oil soup with giant french fries with seasoned salt on the side, and a scone with jam and clotted cream.  Too much food but super delicious!  We jumped back on the tour bus that brought us out, and listened to an informative, occasionally silly dialog between two fantastic accents (man and a woman) regarding the points of interest we passed on the way back to Edinburgh city center.

tea time at the palace on the water

We booked it to Edinburgh Castle, which is almost a thousand years old, and has never been taken in battle.  Recently, archaeologists found evidence of settlements on that very site as far back as 900 BC.  The castle itself has been rebuilt in various places, and purposefully changed by the Victorians in the late 1800s to look more “appealing,” and fulfill their romanticized idea of what the middle ages would have looked like (not super accurate, FYI, but kinda pretty if you’re not a stickler for accuracy, which I am, so fuck you very much, Victorians).  Needless to say, I loved the castle.  It also has the best view in the city, even on a rainy day like today.  You can see the clouds rolling across distant green hills, cold and wet, lush and fertile, secret and inviting.

impregnable door!

I’ve been craving fish and chips since that delicious bunch I got in Dublin, so we poked around until we found some (we checked out The Last Drop, a pub named in reference to the drop of a body on a noose rather than a drink, but they didn’t serve fish and chips).  But the fish was so boring!  I was so disappointed.  My last real meal in Edinburgh, and it was dull.  At least I had some really excellent fish last night at The Witchery.

The bus ride home was drama-free after yesterday’s slight panic about how we’d find our stop (which is not named on the list of stops in town).  Luckily, I’m awesome, and recognized our neighborhood by a shop name that was similar to a pub we went to on the first night, and the small clock tower that houses the pizza place of all things.

We’ve been home at the B&B for a couple hours, packing and getting ready to leave tomorrow.  Boyfriend has extra room in his bag (which has wheels, unlike mine), so he’s offered to take some of my stuff home with him: gifts for friends and family, and some of my dirty clothes.  What a sweetie.

I’m really gonna miss Boyfriend, but it’ll be nice to be on my own.  I’m so used to having someone to point things out to, share experiences with, hold hands with when it’s cold.  That part is going to be hard.  But I’ll enjoy having no one to double check with when I have an impulse.  That’s always fun.  I still have to make some solid plans for Oban.  I’m thinking of doing a day trip to Iona and Mull, and going horseback riding.  We’ll see.  If I can find a beautiful spot to sit, I’ll be happy.

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Ireland: Day 3

I cannot believe an illustration for Mr. Trout already exitst

We had another traditional Irish breakfast today, along with a dish of scrambled eggs with smoked trout, which Boyfriend immediately took to calling “Mr. Trout,” and continued with a little song, and, as the day wore on, full character description (he’s a detective who wears a fedora, has a family, and travels all over the world).  According to Boyfriend, “He’s on the case.”

After breakfast I went back to bed for a nap (my clock is still on Los Angeles time).  Boyfriend woke me up with stories of Mr. Trout.

We wandered around the city looking for Dublin Castle for a bit, and heard some enormous noise coming from the city center.  A formula 1 race was going on, so we went to check it out.  So loud!  We didn’t get to see any formula 1 cars, but we did see two very fast cars pull donuts right next to each other.

We got some fish and chips from a chain called Leo Burdock, super delicious, best fish and chips I’ve ever had.  And it looked like I got a whole fish!  Way too much food.  It was takeout only, so we popped into a hotel lobby and pretended to be guests while we ate and made use of their facilities.

We finally found Dublin Castle, bought tickets for the 4:40 tour, and visited Dublinia, the viking museum!  There were all kinds of dioramas with far too realistic-looking people (one of which is looking right at you as you turn a corner, super creepy), and a place to try on Viking clothes and helmets (which we did, with a fearsome pose).

Dublin Castle’s front door knobs were shiny lions, raaargh!

We rushed back to catch our tour of Dublin Castle, which I pictured in varying degrees of ruin, but it’s actually a fully functioning government building in most parts, and it’s just beautiful.  It lacks the gaudy, gold-plated look of older palaces of Europe, and instead has a quiet sense of cohesion and historical class that other, more ostentatious European buildings seem to be dripping with. We got to see what’s left of the Powder Tower (where the kept the gunpowder until it all blew up and burned the castle for two straight days), which was super cool.  The tour went too quickly.

We were signed up for a traditional music pub crawl at 7ish that starts at Gogarty’s Pub, so we found the place, then relaxed at an inn by the river to get tea and recharge before the crawl.  At Gogarty’s we had a cup of Guiness and a half-dozen oysters (delicious!) before we started out on the crawl.  There was a guitarist with a lovely voice, and an Uilleann piper (what he described as similar to Scottish bagpipes, “The only difference is Uilleann pipes sound good”), both of whom were very friendly and funny.  The Uilleann pipes really do produce a gorgeous sound, a deeper and more broadly ranging tone that, once it gets going, is impossible to resist stomping your foot on the floor to keep the beat.  The crawl was my favorite part of the trip so far for sure.  Afterward we grabbed more fish and chips (from the same chain, different location, since it was the only place open at 11pm on a Sunday) and wandered over to The Duke, where the piper recommended that we go to hear more live music (on our way in a woman almost ran us over on her way out.  The guy following her said to us, with a laugh, “Quick one, in’t she?  FOKKIN’ ‘ell!”).  The bar tender filled us in on the intricacies of Guiness, which tastes totally different and delicious here.  Apparently there’s a bar in Spain where the owner meticulously cleans the pipes once per week, which makes the Guiness taste “gorgeous.”  He said that Guiness is “like a baby” (very sensitive) and on a cold day the head will be smaller.

Anyway, the piper pointed out that good traditional music is played not for an audience, but in more of a jam session among the musicians, and that if you approach them to ask them to sing your favorite song, “the most polite answer you’ll get is something along the lines of ‘Well sing it yourself, then.'”

A few things I learned at the pub crawl:
-When an Irish person says ‘Irish’ it sounds like ‘Arsh’
-The Irish are “very hard to pin down” and are “notorious for never quite giving a straight answer.”  A man once asked for directions in Cork, and was told, “Well I wouldn’t start from here.”
-When drinking the two phrases commonly used are “Just the one,” and “Never again.”
-When playing that hollow drum they hold with the left arm and play with a short stick with the right, a good way to keep the beat is to say one of a few phrases in your head, like ‘Black and Decker, Black and Decker, Black and Decker,’ or for a different beat, ‘rachers and sausages, rachers and sausages.’  The piper said, “You can’t tell a child learning to play this instrument to play in four-four time with an upbeat every other measure.  The response you’ll get is, “I’m bored,” and my response is of course, “Me too, let’s go to a pub,” at which point they’ll say, “We can’t go to a pub, I’m just a child.”  So to avoid saying things that will get me fired from teaching positions, we stick with things like ‘Black and Decker’ instead.  I don’t know what we did before power tools.”
-A singalong is called a sing-song.
-The guitarist said, “If you were to kill someone with an Irish flute, you’d never get away with it because everyone plays it differently so you’d be recognized instantly.”
-One hilarious song they sang was about an Irishman who went to California during the gold rush, and was hoodwinked by a man dressed as a woman.  “She” got him drunk, took him to bed where he fell asleep, and when he awoke, he found a woman’s clothes, wig, and a shaving kit. So he puts it on, and goes outside and a man gives him a wink.  He sees how much money this man has, and offers him a drink in turn.  The chorus was something like “Her lips were red, here eyes were blue, her hair was as yellow as the gold she stole from me.”

nicer than our room by a lot

We crashed in bed and played Draw Something for a little while.  I’m actually writing this in the lobby the following morning (day 4), with some Italian tourists in the couch nearby since we have trouble getting a wireless connection in our room on the lower level.  Yesterday started with rain so we went out to look for ponchos.  I asked a couple of guys who were wearing some cheap ones where they got them, and they took them off and gave them to us.  So nice, such generosity.

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