Scotland- Not in any order- but still my last stop in the British Isles.
I am in Edinburgh, my last stop in the British Isles, where the music of bagpipes permeates the air from the early morning to late night and history seamlessly blends itself into everyday life. Today I woke up to bagpipes and walked past a man blowing his heart out into his music dressed in Kilt and shirt and kilt matching tie. I passed him twice in the same spot still playing four hours later. Then this evening I walked in a different direction and the same man was still playing, although in a different location. It made me think about what it takes to play something like the bagpipes all day with tourist staring at you and locals just passing you by. What kind of motivation is behind such dedication? Is it money, because it seems that there must be a more lucrative method? Or is it the pure of love of the pipes or of heritage? Edinburgh has not been my favorite stop but it might be my favorite city in the British Isles. And to be honest I can’t tell you why. Maybe it was the feeling I had when I opened my shutters on my eighth floor apartment and saw a view of the city, its monuments, and the water and felt the city settle into my soul. Maybe it’s the fact that the ‘new city’ (vs the ‘old city’- there term not mine), is still older than most of the United States. It qualifies as a major city, with commerce, politics, and loyalties, with rich and poor carving out their sections of life. And yet unlike most cities, there is a relaxed and unhurried feeling in the air. Where people cover the park benches and take off their shoes on the grass to read the paper during their lunch hour, seemingly content to relax and feel the sun instead of worrying about the rest of the day ahead of them. The culture that surrounds this people seems to help them be content and relaxed, people in Glasgow called it pompous and stuck up, I guess if I was from here I would be pompous and stuck up too, having all the comforts of a city, without –what it seems like- the stress. Maybe it is an innate confidence that comes from being here. The person I am renting from calling it ‘the best city in the British isles’ and he is from England. And yes, they seem to be a bit snobby and bit out of touch of reality, as though real life stress and worries don’t bother them as much, but I think it because they don’t let them. Therefore, maybe they deserve to be snobby in all the best ways.
That being said, I found their art museums are only okay, their main tourist attraction- Edinburgh Castle, a pale comparison that which is found in London and its surrounding area, and the beauty and quality of their parks are dismal compared to every other place that I have been in Europe. But again, it is never about what you have to offer, but how to present and react about it. Even in life. It is never how beautiful you are, or qualified, or skilled, but the confidence and presentation that you get you the guy, the job, the opportunity. So if you believe you are beautiful you are and Edinburgh believes it is beautiful and therefore it is and indeed it has me fooled in all the best of ways.
On the flipside of that, Glasgow seems rough in comparison, the people bitter and uncultured, blue collar to the white color of Edinburgh, working class to upper class. Yet, I loved their museums. Their collection of art in the Burrell Collection and Kelvingrove museum were impressive and inspiring. They have received awards for their transportation museum. They seem in every way to be competing with, and surpassing their sister city, and yet seem unable to realize that they are no longer a manufacturing city and release their hold on that title. They have a modern art school that is renowned and are known for their music festivals, but it still lacks that cultured feel. It is a place where passions and accents are strong. Where Edinburgh embraces its past and present, Glasgow fights the present because of the past, refusing to accept what is and dwelling on what was, not realizing it has already changed and still fighting for the change they have already accomplished. One of the gifts that I have been given on this trip is that by traveling alone I have been able to talk to all sorts of people from all walks of life. These are the impressions that they gave me. Kind, wonderful people, all of them, but still a undercurrent of a grudge made centuries past from the British, the people from Edinburgh, and the world. The Burrell collection is almost a perfect example of that. This man made rich from trade, takes the rest of his life to buy and collect art, attempting to make a name for himself and Glasgow, competing with other big names of the time including, Rockefeller, Carnegie, and his true nemesis, Hurst. His need to compete and complete disregard for some ‘social necessities’ are legendary. He simply would not soften his accent for anyone, proudly rubbing it in everyone’s faces that he was Scottish and from Glasgow. I have no problem with this, in fact I love that he refused to change to make others more comfortable, but his story seems to be imbedded in most of the people I met. Talented or successful but unable to embrace it and fighting everything along the way. Still I recommend going to Glasgow. It truly was a wonderful city with many beautiful and wonderful things, and I loved the people and their spirit.
My favorite place in Scotland and possibly on my whole trip so far, has been Inverness. I do not count it as a major city though, despite being the ‘capital of the highlands’. When everything closes at 6 even on the weekends, a city does not exist. No Inverness was my favorite because of the people and my experiences there. As always on the day that I decide that I am not going to do my hair or makeup because I am just running to the store and then I am going to read a book in bed, everything changes. Saturday of last week was one of those days. I went to pick up some small items from the grocery store and ended up having one of the most fun nights of my trip. It started out as a hunt to find pancakes. I really really wanted pancakes, American pancakes, not crepes which they can call pancakes here, but it was already two in the afternoon and everyone told me their breakfast menu had ended- if they even offered pancakes. After stopping in probably 6 or 7 different places I ended up at one of the only American restaurants in Inverness. They likewise only served pancakes in the morning and in frustration I decided to eat their anyway. The server came out and told me that she talked to the chef and because it was slow in the kitchen he was going to whip up some pancakes especially for me. I got my pancakes and that set the course of the rest of the day. I got my watch band fixed for free, I found some adorable souvenirs for my nieces and nephew, I went to a famous and amazing used bookstore, and bought a book I will never read but seemed too apropos to pass up ‘A Cruise Across Europe’. Finally done with the day, it was cold and wet I went to hail a taxi. (In inverness you apparently cannot just wave them down- you have to go to certain location to wait for them). So while waiting I heard music coming from a local pub- it was fun and lively and completely Scottish so I walked across to road to discover it. (On a side note you can always tell a big city from a small city, and tourists to locals, based on it they wait for the light to change or just wait for a moment to cross and jaywalk- I’m a jaywalker) The pub was packed and Scottish flags and patriotism filled the space. This was the place you came if you wanted to break free of Britain- let’s put it that way. The band playing was incredible, filled with soul and passion. After the first song, even though there was standing room only, I wanted to dance. But it didn’t seem to be the thing and 6pm- despite heavy drinking, no one seemed drunk enough yet to start it. However, being who I am, and being a Mormon, I do not need to be drunk to dance, even in crowded places and in foreign countries. So a woman I was talking to- previously from England who now embraces Scotland, and I danced and soon everyone seemed to be dancing despite the crowded space and the fact that we all bumped into each other and stepped on each others toes. My favorite part of the evening was when an old man pulled me out to dance and stuck his plaid hat on his head and took off to dance with other people leaving me circling the room with a random old man’s hat on my head and having a wonderful time because of it. People either assumed I was Scottish and were shocked to find out I was certainly not- or impressed that I was American and didn’t care one whit what they thought of me. I was enjoying embracing the Scottish. Granted at the end of the night an old man made advances toward me, I got kissed by a different random man, and I walked away paying for two Scottish CD’s for my family to hear. It was a wonderful night.
The next day however may have been even better. It was Sunday and sacrament was intense and made me cry. I truly felt the spirit of this small ward and the wonderful people there. Even if, and maybe because, I had to seriously focus on what they were saying to understand them. Accents can be quite strong here. Afterwards I started talking to some of the locals and go a wonderful and beautiful surprise and answer to a fervent prayer. I am now passed the half way point and I have been feeling quite burned out and exhausted from all the change and travel. Knowing I needed to find a way to recharge I asked the Lord for help. In answer to my prayer he sent me the Mackenzie’s. After explaining that I didn’t want to rent a car and therefore had no idea what my plans were, Sister Mary Mackenzie, asked to wait a minute, came back and said “we will take you.” I thought, ‘wait… what?!’ I believe I may have said that out loud for she told me that her and her husband would take me anywhere I wanted to go on Monday. I was stunned. The church has always been amazing and has a strong wonderful community but this couple was offering to drive a complete stranger anywhere she wanted to go in Scotland for a full day. And so we did. And for 12 hours on Monday I got to know two amazing, wonderful, and God sent people, for truly they were an answer to my prayer, just as the Elder and Sister Baxter in England were. I no longer feel depleted, but energized as I knew the Lord was watching out for me and helping me escape some of the loneliness that grows while traveling alone. In fact after finding people who talk just as much as I do, and partaking in a conversation for almost 12 full hours, I was quite satisfied. We went to Eilean Donan Castle, the Isle of Skye, and an adorable little town that I hope they will remind of the name while reading this. I felt very close to both of the when the trip was done and could not have been more grateful or Happy. We ate wonderful food and saw beautiful sights talked religion, politics, nature, and history. Stopping for the day a restaurant right on the tip of Loch Ness with one of the most beautiful views in all of Scotland.
Inverness also provided another friendship with the people that I was renting from. What an adorable couple. I am unsure if they are okay with my naming them in this blog- so I will wait till I gain their permission. But we also chatted for hours and likewise they drove me the Loch Ness on Sunday and to a beautiful castle. But more so it was who they were as people. I hope and pray they gain the life they hope for. She is from Spain and was able to talk about both Scotland and Spain with me and he was from Scotland- and had many life experiences to share. It was a wonderful time and wonderful stay.
I also stayed in Wick. It is beautiful- but do not stay there for an extended time without a purpose. The coast is beautiful and wowzers did I walk. Almost 14 miles in one day to see some ruins because I refused to pay for a taxi. Still it was relaxing and beautiful but too long to be all alone without enough to distract me from my loneliness.
So that is Scotland. Beautiful. Wonderful. A great place to come to vacation. But mainly I love the people here. They are vibrant, passionate, and kind. They are so welcoming just as they were in Ireland. So the British Isles have been a fantastic experience for me and I hope and pray that when I come home I remember their kindness, warmth and hospitality, and I imbue some of that into my own life.
Oh on a side note I only came with one stereotype. That was that the highlanders were this large and big people. Yeah- nope. Sorry ladies this is one stereotype that did not get fulfilled. So not to shatter your romance reading days but coming here for a hot highlander…. Well let’s just say I hope you enjoy the other views Scotland has to offer. 😉 (I would be fascinated to look into their DNA for historically speaking they were very big guys- it’s like the shrunk or stopped eating or something… maybe the breed out the bigness…) I don’t know but it was quite the disappointment.
One more side note: I am writing this in an Indian restaurant in Edinburgh during dinner. I was attempting to remember Andrew Carnegie’s name and could not remember. When it finally came to me in an ‘aha’ moment I shouted out “Carnegie!” much the stunned disbelief of the other diners. Oh well- welcome to an American- or at least welcome to Noelle Temple- everywhere in the world. 🙂