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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goodness, manfolk

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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