Side note on travel & dinner:
There is a time of day I’ve started to call “The weeping hour.” This is the time directly before any meal, when the boy is at his nadir of exhaustion and apex of emotion, and will begin to sob uncontrollably over some slight offense. Once, it was because I started to play a game of “we went to the zoo and saw…” and then each subsequent person adds on an animal. He simply couldn’t tolerate even an imaginary trip to the zoo, which he sees to be gulags full of creatures who live in desperation at their captive state. No amount of pointing out that we were not, in fact, going to a zoo and instead simply waiting for dinner would mollify him, and we had to change the game to “On our travels around the world, we saw…” and continue with the animals. After food has been processed by his digestive system and the subsequent glucose molecules have transported across the blood-brain barrier into his cerebral cortex, good humor is restored and he can usually laugh at his prior foolishness, though he maintains his views on real zoos.
As a last quick trip before leaving Ireland permanently, we hopped over to Edinburgh for four days in which we had no visitors. Friends, I wasn’t expecting much from Scotland. How different can it be than Ireland? I surmised. Greenery, gaelic, and gloomy weather I expected, and was entirely surprised by how much I loved it.
After learning that the tours we would have wanted to take were booked, we decided to rent a car instead. Saving some money by renting a midsize manual car, we showed up to find that we had a free “upgrade” to a large passenger van! Still manual, but now that I’ve had plenty of driving experience in Ireland I was comfortable with it. I wish I could say that the garbage cans put out for collection in the narrow-streeted villages were as comfortable with my side view mirror, but I digress.
Our first evening we wandered around the city, stopping by the Elephant Cafe where JK Rowling first wrote “Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone,” which is, well, a cafe. We walked on. Behind it, however, is Greyfriars Kirk with a picturesque cemetary and where Rowling was inspired for some of the character names in her novel. There’s also a tribute to Bobby, a loyal dog who came to the cemetery every day to sit on his master’s grave for 12 years, eventually becoming something of a mascot and garnering a burial spot of his own, though alas, as the cemetery is consecrated ground he could not be buried alongside his master. Short shrift for the dog, eh?
The next day was a driving one, and off we went to see the Falkirk Kelpies, a massive outdoor art sculpture. I’d seen photos before, as you will below, but nothing really prepared me for how enormous they are. The Kelpies are mythical beasts, who lure people to ride them due to their beauty, and once they’re astride, dive into the water to drown them. The sculpture rises out of the horizon, far overhead, and is a dramatic example of when large scale public art really words. We were entranced by the statues and nearly hopped on ourselves. One of the horses is getting a little work done, and we chatted with the workers who told us that this was the first day since 2013 that they had needed any maintenance. They reached over onto the scaffolding and handed the kids a set of nuts and bolts from the original statue, to wide eyed thanks.
More importantly, the Kelpies sit on a large complex of parkland and as we had driven in, the kids had espied a playground off to the left. Back we went to check out the structures. A super high slide, speedy merry go round, spider web structure kept us all in play mode for a good half hour. The kids say it’s one of their top five world playgrounds, among the ones at Sydney Harbor, Timisoara’s Parcul Copilor, New Zealand’s Raglan Beach, and London’s Hyde Park. That is some high praise from these two.
Onto to Stirling castle after this, a Renaissance castle about an hour away. While the initial castle was built during Norman times (12th c.), due to various occupants and occupations had been torn down and rebuilt such that the current structures date from the 16th century onwards. The king responsible for most of the changes was highly influenced by Renaissance ideals, and the palace is filled with and surrounded by artworks carved from wood and stone. A large restorative effort has gone into the castle to regain its former splendor, down to a ten years long project in which seven large scale tapestries depicting the hunt of the unicorn were woven by master weavers, using the ancient techniques. The original tapestries currently hang at the Cloisters in NYC, and to see them brought back to full life was stunning. There was also a restored painted ceiling of carved wooden figures, repainted as they would have been during the time of the kings. I loved seeing the restoration, to get an idea of how the castle would have actually looked, not just in the semi-ruined state you usually see.
At lunch yesterday we’d stopped off at a little bar/restaurant called the Mockinbird, and it was here we returned for quiz night this evening, run by a convivial host named Anna, who is a fellow American. We all had a blast and WON, if you can believe it, getting pounds 30 knocked off our bill!
Friday was our Edinburgh day, and we started off by a visit to the National Museum. This place is incredible. The building architecture itself is spacious and full of light, and the museum is arranged in four parts from east to west and then vertically so that if you were interested in, say, Scottish history, you’d start at the ground floor of the East hall and then go upwards to stay within a topic. Alternatively, you could wander across a floor and get a cross section of Science, Paleontology, Fashion/Design, and History. Filled with interactive exhibits, you could easily spend a few days here and not run out of things to see. We also popped into the St. Giles, where there was a display of a Scottish diaspora embroidery project, some of them pictured above, though my favorite has to be the one from India showing a lassi on the left, whiskey on the right. On the plaza outside was a motley crew of characters, including a blue-mohawked woman spinning yarn, “singing” Scottish ballads loudly. For a fee, you could take a picture of her, however I chose to abstain.
Our last full day in Scotland we headed to Doune Castle, a true Medieval castle just an hour out of town. While not on the radar as one of the most important castles in Scotland, it had a high importance to us as the filming site of “Monty Python and the Holy Grail.” We spent the time wandering about and chatting about the average wingspeed of unladen European swallows, as they kept flitting about overhead and into the castle through the open windows. Both children farted in my general direction quite often as well. The audio tour walks you through the scenes where it was filmed, and adds in its own bits of humor. Oh, I suppose it also talks about the history of the castle and how it was used in Medevial times, but pish tosh. (For Outlander fans, it’s also Castle Leoch so you may recognize it from that, the gift shop certainly does.)
After a delicious lunch at the Buttercup cafe in Doune, we headed over to Loch Lomond. While Loch Ness is the famous highland lake, we didn’t want to spend five hours in the car to get there and back, and instead headed west to the far more accessible Loch. At the first stop in the excellent visitor center, the Ranger gave us tips on hikes and we set out. First a short hike around the visitor center, where a soft path leads through a forest and to a waterfall. The path is surrounded by bluebells in high flower, the trees coated in fuzzy moss, and with the constant chirping of songbirds around us, it felt as if we had passed through the veil and into fairieland. At a wildlife hide we sat and watched red squirrels feed and scamper head first down trees, crossbeaks and great tits vie for birdseed at the feeders.
Westward to Loch Lomond, we headed off for a hike up a nearby hill for panoramic views of the lake and the islands. It is possible that on the way up this hill, there was a slight tiff in the family due to fatigue, interrupting words and a bit of the weeping hour setting upon us, but by the way down all was well. This is where I should start to sing the “You take the high road and I’ll take the low road” song, or Loch Lomond as it’s properly known. Apparently, the high road is meant to represent death, as the rebels heads would be displayed along pikes on the high road, and hence why the singer will never meet his true love again “On the bonnie banks of Loch Lomond.” What else do you need but pictures here?