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Oban: Day 3

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.

miles and miles of this stuff

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.

fluffy, friendly, filthy

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!

he looked like a sleepy little fox

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.

my favorite one-pound coin, and my favorite French detective

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!

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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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The good kind of pressure

I haven’t had time to write recently.  Planning this trip to Ireland (and Scotland) has been eating up all my spare time.  I’m leaving May 31st, and returning June 13th.  I have to be ready for school (which starts on the 18th) by the time I get back, but I’m not sure if I’m eligible for the tuition breaks I thought I’d get when I applied for the graduate program.  I still need the reading materials, and I need to finish the online orientation.

I’ve been reading Rick Steve’s guidebooks about Ireland and Scotland, and I’m totally wiped out on research mode.  I’ll be spending five days in Dublin, three days in Edinburgh, three days on Oban, and one day in Ayr near Irvine with a friend I made during my time in Romania.  Then it’s one night near the Dublin airport somewhere so I can leave around 11am the next day.

Boyfriend will be in that part of the world on work, so he’ll be with me in Dublin and Edinburgh, then I’m on my own.  I’m excited to spend time in the Highlands.  I’m staying in a bed and breakfast in the little coastal town of Oban.  Apparently they make great whisky (one B&B I found offered a shot of whiskey every evening upon returning to retire).  I’ll day-trip out to the Isle of Mull, then to Iona.  I can’t wait to relax among some beautiful scenery.  Also, horseback riding!  I’m excited about doing this stuff on my own; taking it slow after spending the majority of the trip in cities (with Boyfriend).  I’m really looking forward to spending time abroad with Boyfriend.  We’re going to have so much fun.

Meanwhile, my room is a disaster area, I’m nervous about starting school again (plus the online aspect of it), I haven’t traveled in a long time so I’m worried about keeping my itinerary straight… frankly I’m a little overwhelmed.  I just keep reminding myself that everything loading me down is stuff I’m also excited about.  I guess that’s a sign that I’m pushing myself out of my comfort zone.  I wonder if this is what progress feels like.

It kinda sucks.  hahaha

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