There’s no place like home

Our last day in Scotland was a literary one.

We started the day with breakfast and delicious coffee at the cafe where JK Rowling wrote Harry Potter.  They’re not shy about it, but it’s also clear why she went there every day.  Good food, good atmosphere, good coffee.  It was a wonderful last breakfast.

After that, we went in search of Chris’s ancestor, William Blackwood.  Research had shown us that Blackwood Publishing was formerly at 45 George Street, and we walked over to the building to check it out.  It’s now a women’s clothing store, but they haven’t changed the architecture at all and we were amazed to see that William’s writing room in the back had a gorgeous domed skylight.  Really ostentatious, and you would never have guessed by looking at the very front.

Then, we wanted to find copies of Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine.  It ran for 150 years, so we figured we’d be able to find some in a used bookstore or thrift store.  We traipsed all over old and new towns (New Town Edinburgh is also full of stone buildings and cobblestone streets and was built in the 1800s) visiting used book stores. Oh, what a burden.  (that’s sarcasm)

We ended up in one book store that on later reading had originally belonged to William Blackwood in the 1800s.  So, there’s basically been a used book store on that site for 150 years.  The lady working behind the counter was clearly just there for the paycheck, had never heard of the magazine, and didn’t care to even point us to where periodicals or local publishing might be.  We browsed around and I found a gem of a book about dying with scottish plants, then we wandered on our way.

Feeling defeated, we decided to venture to Holyrood, where there’s a lovely park and a big palace with a clothing museum inside.  I was really eager for that clothing museum.  However, when we got there the place was shut down with ridonkulous security, and we were informed by a delighted security guard that Her Majesty was present, and was throwing a garden party with some 5K guests.  I mentioned that our invitation must have gotten lost in the mail but he was having none of it.  We decided to go find a tea shoppe and collect some flowers for pressing.

Now, let me let you in on something: every place in scotland serves tea.  And they don’t do it like America either, where you get a cup of hot water and some packaged tea bags.  No, they bring you a pot of hot water with leaves in it, you wait for a bit for it to steep, and then you drink the whole durn pot.  OMG heaven.

However, I had come to expect that there would be Lisa’s Tea Treasures on every corner, peppering the city like frilly british starbuckses.  I was so wrong.

Google search for tea:  two tea manufacturers and five restaurants.

Google search for tea room:  nothing

Google search for high tea:  one hotel

Google search for afternoon tea:  same results as just tea.

WTF.  We decided that the plethora of tea rooms surrounding us on every side must just all be so quaint and adorable that they didn’t have websites, or web listings.  I know, we were deranged.  But we were hungry and I had put off my Tea demands until the last day.  I know, I know.

We got in the car and drove to the coast.  Cute adorable towns on the coast who get tourists coming through were bound to have tea rooms scattered amongst the bed and breakfasts.  WRONG.

In four or five coastal villages we found one bistro with afternoon tea.  Thinking we’d finally hit the jackpot we went in and their “afternoon tea” menu consisted of ONE Tea meal, with NOTHING I could eat because everything was meat except for the actual tea itself.  And no scones.  What is Tea without scones?  How could Scotland let me down so badly?

In the end, we decided to venture back to the tiny cute tea room by Holyrood park, since it was the only one we’d seen.  Surely they’d have Tea, and we’d just deal with the traffic and broohaha.

We were so wrong.  We parked a mile away, because that was the closest we could get.

And let me just talk about parking for a minute.

The Scots are freakin’ maniacs behind the wheel.  They’re aggressive and they drive fast and they don’t seem to notice that their roads are two inches wide.  Also, with those roads that are barely able to fit one car, they will just pull over and park wherever they feel like it – on either side of the road they want – and you’ll be driving along on the wrong left side of the road and suddenly here’s a car facing you taking up your entire lane!  SCARY.

So to go to the tea shoppe, which was closing at 4:45, I parked at 4pm a mile away on the wrong side of the street.

Let me just talk about the scottish work ethic for a minute.

If a shop says it opens at 10, you should check at 10:15 to see if it’s maybe open.  Don’t even think of having breakfast or coffee before then, let alone a book store or a clothing store.  Scotland does not do mornings. Your store may not be open at 10, because the owner/shopkeeper may still be sleeping off the previous night.  Just keep checking back and if you’re lucky it’ll open eventually.

If a shop says it closes at 5:30, at 5 they will shut and lock the doors.  At 5:05 they will turn off the music.  At 5:10 they will start vacuuming, and as you move around the store they will follow you with the vacuum.  At 5:15 they will turn the lights off.  At 5:20 they will start tapping their keys on the counter.  The scots who work in retail have PERFECTED the art of passive aggression.  They’re MASTERS.  I was never able to stay in any shop until its actual closing time, so I have no idea if they beat you over the head with brooms – but I wouldn’t be surprised.

So when it was 4pm and I wanted Tea and the tea shoppe closed at 4:45, hangry Krys was in a panic.

Luckily, we got there and got seated in time.  However, a quick read-through of the menu, and then another read through, and then a careful examination revealed that they did not have a Tea menu.  That’s right, folks, this tea shoppe sold pots of tea and scones and sandwiches and did not offer afternoon Tea.

Let me just talk about afternoon Tea for a moment.

This is the most civilized and relaxing experience a human being can have.  You arrive at an adorable quaint business and you’re seated by a sweet lady who may or may not be wearing a doily on her head.  You peruse a menu of Teas while eating yummy little ginger cookies with lemon curd on them.  Then you ring a bell and the doily lady appears with a solicitous smile and takes your order.  Within moments, she brings you your meal in courses – scones with cream and jam, then tiny sandwiches with the crust cut off and strange combinations of ingredients that you’d never think would work but somehow deliciously do.  Then you get your main course, something warm like a quiche or a soup or whatever.  During all this, you’re sipping on your perfectly steeped, personally prepared pot of tea.  And then, when you’re ready, a dessert tray magically appears in front of you and you choose the decadent way you’re going to end your meal.  This is Tea. It’s not a meal, it’s a process.

We ordered sandwiches and tea and scones.  I never got my scones, but the sandwiches were delicious.  Except they came each on their own plate, full sized pieces of bread with the CRUST ON and potato chips and two kinds of salad on the side.  Like at a diner.  We left, full but not delighted.

And that’s when Edinburgh and I had our lover’s quarrel.

You see, I had parked like a Scot.  And when we got back to our car (a mile’s walk after not having Tea and drinking a whole pot of tea) there was a Scottish Parking Enforcement officer putting a Scottish Parking ticket on our Scottish rental car.

For a good two hours Edinburgh and I were very angry with each other.  We ended up working it out, and we’re good now, but it’s never going to be the same.  And Edinburgh is going to have to accept that I’m going to be seeing other cities.

Edinburgh made it up to me by giving me the best book shop in the entire world.  It was just around the corner from where we were staying, and it was hidden in the basement of a row of businesses. This place was totally the inspiration for Ollivander’s wand shop in Harry Potter.

Speaking of which, it’s very clear how much Edinburgh and Scotland in general influenced the Potter books.  Hogwarts is totally a combination of Glasgow University and Edinburgh Castle.  Diagon alley is any of the closes in old town, which are narrow streets surrounded by stone buildings and tiny shops. They even have a Night Bus.  And the bus drivers drive like that, all the time. If you want to know what it’s like in Scotland, read those books.

In the end, we found an amazing book called House of Blackwood, all about Chris’s family, and we found some stuff published by Blackwood and Sons.  So cool!We finished up our day with a fantastic dinner (the food in Scotland really did rock) and a walk in the park across the street from where we were staying.

And now, we’re home.  While I already miss the highlands, it’s really good to be home.  We’re enjoying fully cooked eggs and coffee that doesn’t drink us.  More pictures are forthcoming, be warned.

Nearing the end

Here we are, on the downslide, and the homesickness has set in.  We love Scotland, but we’re ready to come home to our kitties and our friends and our tv and our bed.  😀

The last several days have been full of adventures.  It turns out when I mess up, I mess up royally.

We stayed in Warthill Castle Friday night and then drove 3 hours south to Broomhall Castle, where they couldn’t find our reservations.  After a short time the manager came out and explained to me that our reservations had actually been for the previous night, and right about that time I got an email from Candy at Warthill saying she was sorry she hadn’t been there to greet us, but she’d had us in for the next night.

Basically, I had switched nights and we were not only NOT going to get to stay in a second castle, where I’d made plans for a fancy romantic dinner, we were completely homeless for the night because every hotel within 20 miles was fully booked.

Yeah.  Not the high point in our lives. When I finished sobbing we found a crappy hotel far away that had one room.  It called itself a luxury golf resort but it really was wretched.  Or maybe golfers have really low standards.  We couldn’t find anything open to eat so we resorted to a pizza hut, which I have to say was a really interesting experience.  Pizza Hut is a sit-down restaurant here, and it’s really quite good.

Two days ago, we visited Stirling Castle, which was touristy but beautiful.

Yesterday, we visited the Wallace Monument, which really left a powerful impression on both of us.  It’s a beautiful building on a mountain at eye-level with Stirling Castle.  From the top, you can see all the way to Edinburgh.  It’s 256 twisty stone steps to the top, in case you were wondering.

On our way back to Edinburgh, we happened upon an amazing modern sculpture park called The Kelpies.  There is a big green, concrete and pool area from which rise two gorgeous iron horse heads, one bent down and one lifted to the sky.  These are the height of a four story building. I had read about them when they opened, but they were much more beautiful in person.

We will finish up our wonderful time here in Edinburgh.  Our final guest house is kind of craptastic, but it’s got character and it’s clean, so we’re not complaining too much.  😀  Last night, we walked down to a pub called the Conan Doyle for dinner, which is just a few houses from where Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was born and overlooks a lovely Sherlock Holmes statue.  The Doyle had amazing food, fantastic atmosphere, and we were completely won over.

Today, we wandered around the city some more and went to Edinburgh Castle.  There were throngs of people, but they were much nicer than the people at Urquhart.  Edinburgh Castle is giant, like a city of its own, and it’s really beautiful.  We got to see the Scottish Crown Jewels and the Stone of Destiny, and we were really impressed by the Great Hall.  Shortly we got too touristed out, and we needed to escape, so we went in search of some more of Chris’s ancestry and food.

We found the site where Blackwood publishing used to be, and explored used book stores in search of old copies of the magazine.  In the end, we were so tired that we actually decided to come back to the guest house instead of celebrating our anniversary out on the town.

Here we are, in our jammies, down in the reception area of the guest house because that’s the only place wifi works.  My sweet husband has his nose in his phone and I’m editing more photos.  That might not sound like romance to you, but to me it’s feeling quiet, intimate and perfect.

The island that time forgot`

Title shamelessly bastardized from Edgar Rice Burroughs.  Rightly so.

The Hebrides islands are sort of a hat on top of Scotland. They wrap around it from west to north and Lewis is sort of the feather in the cap. It’s way up there. It’s way windy. It’s as different from Scotland as California is from Antarctica. But I’m getting ahead of myself, because it’s been three days since I had a chance to sit down and write.

It’s been busy.  Tuesday, we ventured up into the hills and saw the Glenfinnan Viaduct, the famous bridge you see in the Harry Potter movies. While we were there, we got lucky and the train passed through – twice!  We attempted to book a ticket but it turned out to be something we needed to do well in advance, so we just enjoyed the scenery and put up with the midges.

We also got to see Old Inverlocky Castle, which is a completely unattended ruin.  You just walk up, open the gate and climb around.  They trust you not to fall off the walls and break your neck, or maybe they just figure that’s one less stupid person they have to put up with.

Wednesday, we got to visit the Glencoe Museum (it was awesome!) and took a very long drive to Loch Ness, where we toured Urquhart Castle.  I found the visitor center to be awesome, we loved the trebuchet, but the crowds there were rude, pushy and numerous.  It was the first bad experience we had in Scotland, though it’s not the castle’s fault.  The castle was awesome.

From there, we went northwest to Eilean Donan, the castle pictured in my facebook cover photo.  It’s every bit as beautiful as you’d think, and inside they have period furnishings, artifacts, and art work.  There was even a period re-enactor who was very charming!  We were there around closing time so we were the last people out of the castle and we got to photograph it without the crowds.

Thursday, we got up SO early in the morning and said goodbye to Glencoe.  We drove three hours north to Ullapool and boarded a ferry to the Island of Lewis, northernmost and windiest of the Hebrides.

I want to talk a minute about the ferry.

Neither one of us had ever been on the kind of ferry that you can drive a car onto before. They queue you up in long lines and you wait forever, then they OPEN UP THE FRONT of a giant boat and you drive in through the nose. We were on an upper deck, so they raised us up after we drove in like a big elevator, then put more cars underneath us.

We were tired, and we didn’t know how these things work and nobody told us, so we stayed in the car.  Chris went to sleep.  I knitted for a while, then I got tired of the smell down there (think car exhaust and make it more acrid) so I tried to go on deck.

And got locked in a stairwell.

After about an hour I startled a poor employee when she came out into the stairwell, and she released me from my confinement.  It turns out no one is supposed to be in the cars or anything while the ferry is moving, and that’s why all the doors were locked.  We had to get a crewman to go rescue Chris.  Much amusement was had.

Lewis. Lewis is the island that time forgot.  The port city, Stornoway, is much like any other port city you’ve ever been to.  But as soon as you get out of the port city, it changes.

Lewis hasn’t changed in a couple of hundred years.  You think I’m kidding but people are living in blackhouses.  Their roofs are not thatched with heather any more – they’re now corrugated metal.  Beyond that, they’re still crofting the land, burning peat to keep warm, and making do with whatever they can get.  Just like they have for the last thousand years.  It was amazing, to walk around and hear people speaking gaelic – to go in the single store on the island which is also the cafe and the laundromat and the butcher and the post office and the bank.

Beside Lewis itself, we were there for two pieces of history – a blackhouse museum which is maintained very carefully and that you can go in, and the Callanish Standing Stones.

I’ll talk about the stones in a minute, but first I want to mention the pictish tower.  We discovered it on our way to Callanish, saw a sign and turned off.  It works that way here.  “Oh, such and such ancient monument, this way please”.  The tower is remarkably well preserved – it even still has its steps.  It was a residence for about a thousand years and now it rises on its hilltop like a stubborn old warrior who refuses to give up.  MacDonalds or MacGregors once climbed it to attack the inhabitants. Now it’s half-fallen, having outlived them all.

If you’ve seen Brave, you’ve seen the stones.  The artists at Pixar were so inspired that they made Merida’s stone circle in the image of Callanish. If you have seen pictures of them, you know how impressive they are.

Pictures can not even begin to do them justice. They’re HUGE. They’re ancient – 5,000 years old.  They take up a very large space on the top of a hlll overlooking the ocean.  I don’t care what religion or lack of religion you practice; they just feel sacred.  It’s hard not to respect the fact that they’ve seen civilizations rise and fall, watched major world conflicts and tiny personal dramas unfold.  I have never felt quite as moved as I did standing there amongst them.

We watched a sunset there and cuddled, and eventually tore ourselves away as it started to get dark.  We got back to our B&B at midnight and it was still a little light.

So far, Callanish, and sharing them with Chris, is the high point of this amazing adventure.  It’s the pinnacle of a thrilling climb.

This morning was another early rise, and a race back to Stornoway.  Lewis, at least northeastern Lewis, is wide, flat, brown.  You can see peat bogs everywhere to the left and right of you, and occasionally they’re broken by the spiky little teeth of stacks of peat which have been cut out and formed into pointy rows to dry for burning. There are ruins of blackhouses EVERYWHERE – ranging from a thousand years to fifty years old.  There are white houses, which was basically a black house with plaster over the rocks.  And there are the modern or modernized Lewis houses, which are still stone but now they’re covered with a plaster made from tiny pebbles.  They’re all grey, bleak, utilitarian.  Lewis is a strange bird.

Today, we were so tired we decided to take it easy.  When we got off the ferry we drove straight to where we’re saying, stopping only at Benromach Distillery to pick up some gifties.

That brings me to right now, and the delightful experience I’m currently having.

I am sitting in The Library of a 900 year old castle, one of its oldest rooms.  Chris is next to me, and there’s a scruffy sweet terrier dog curled up on his lap.  A fire crackles in front of us, beneath a portrait of a beautiful woman which is surrounded by original artwork from the renaissance, a letter from Winston Churchil, and countless other treasures.  Our host is Sebastian Leslie, clan chief of Lewis, and delightful character. He brought us a bottle of white wine and his dog after making this fire, and left us to enjoy his home.

I can not even begin to explain what this is like.

The bed we’re sleeping in tonight is 500 years old and was taken to the vatican at one point.  WHAT.

I don’t know how tomorrow can beat this, but it’s sure going to try.  Now I’m going to edit a couple of the 2,184 pictures I’ve taken so far, to share with you.

Prehistory Onwards

We were too tired to write yesterday, so you get a double post today.

Yesterday we started the day by trekking to Rob Roy’s grave in Balquhidder.  You get there by driving up into the highlands, turning right, going past seven million non-highland cows and seventy million sheep, then turning left at the big mountain and driving the one lane road for approximately six years.  Then you find yourself in a wee village that hasn’t changed in 700 years, literally, and you go under the bridge, up the windy road and boom, there’s a tiny church next to the ruins of a tinier church.  And there’s Rob Roy’s grave.

Even now, people take flowers to it.  It’s strewn with coins and trinkets.  Hopefully the little church benefits from that, because I’m sure they’re tired of people trampling all over their grass.  It’s lovely, it’s quiet, peaceful and serene.

Like everywhere else in Scotland.  Seriously, this country is so beautiful it’s almost abusive.  I mean really, can’t we just look at something boring for a moment?  I kid, Scotland, keep it real, totes.

After that, we headed far west to Kilmartin Glen, a valley with 800 prehistoric sites.  There are cairns, which look like big piles of stones but you can climb in some of them.  There are petroglyphs, mostly of concentric circles and dips in the rock that they call cups.  And there are standing stones.  We saw all of the above, but not all 800.  We saw standing stones in a line, standing stones in circles, cairns you could climb into, cairns you could stand on top of, and hedges, which are concentric circles of stones with grass on top.  Note the circles theme?

The cool thing is, you can walk right up to these and touch them.  They’re in the public trust.  They know that these things have been standing for 5,000 years and you’re not going to hurt them.  And somehow, mostly they’re untouched by scumbags.  I will say there was some modern scratched graffiti inside the Nether Large Cairn, by Temple Wood.  That made me sad.  But other than that, no spray paint, no markings, no mess.  These are places too remote for hooligans I guess.

On the way back, we saw a pine marten run across the road.  Apparently they’re elusive. We think they’re cute.  I’m pretty sure it wants to come home and cuddle with us, but Chris says that “Sherlock’s belly is soft, and Pine Marten’s belly bites”. Also, while looking for food, we turned down a tiny dirt one lane road to a brewery and finally saw HIGHLAND COWS!  We had seen so many regular cows, that we’d started wondering if the Scots had shorn their cows for the summer or something.  There was shrieking and car-stopping and picture taking and I’m sure the cows thought we were completely nuts.

Today, we said goodbye to the kind folks at Ben Bheula and trekked to Glencoe, via Dunans Castle.  Dunans is a 19th century castle home (as opposed to a military castle.  Craigmillar, which we saw on Th or F was a military castle and much older) and it’s being saved.  You can buy a lairdship there and own one square foot of land on the property, and of course I gave that to Chris for Christmas two or three years ago.  So, we went to tour the land and see the castle and hear about the progress.  It’s beautiful, and like everything else there are pictures.

After Dunans, we wandered through tiny village after tiny village until we finally reached Glencoe.  It took us a really long time to reach Glencoe because the highlands are really, really beautiful.

Let me put it to you this way.  Imagine fairyland in your head.  Now, make everything an impossible color of green.  No, greener.  Five or six shades of greener.  Add yellow, purple and orange wildflowers, and this tall, purple grass that bursts into feathery grains at the top.  That’s Scotland.  Now, imagine something that makes that seem plain and boring.  Mountains that rise out of nothing, scooped on one side by glaciers and striped by rivers that have eroded their way down to the valley.  Wide, wide boglands with dots of lochs and ponds reflecting black.  Layers of misty mountains as far as the eye can see, in every single direction. It’s mind-numbing. Nothing can do it justice but standing here.  I think it’s possible that this valley is the most beautiful place on earth.

Mind.  Numbing.

From Hogwarts to Heaven

It’s almost 11pm here in the highlands, and it is almost dark.  Yes, you heard me right.  The sun rises bright and cheery at 4am, and sets at 11 here in the height of summer.  But today is the longest day, so from here it’s all downhill.

Literally, because the highlands are just that – high.  We are in a mountain village near Loch Lomond, looking out at the shores of Loch Long.  We’ll be here in this charming little B&B for two nights before moving north to Glencoe.

This morning we started in Glasgow, and headed straight to Kristen’s alma mater, the University of Glasgow.  It’s this amazing gothic monstrosity of turrets and stained glass and cloisters and rich beauty.  I called it the Church of the Brain because you really do feel, walking around there, like you WANT to learn – just to be worthy of those halls.

The university has two museums, which are free to the public.  The first is a science museum, with fossils and instruments donated by some really amazing people including Lord Kelvin, Charles Darwin and Nikola Tesla.  SO BEAUTIFUL.  There are pictures.  The other was an art museum, which had a rembrandt, a Rodin, tons of Whistler and some stunning renaissance dutch pieces.  We spent WAY too much time there, so we rushed out of Glasgow to get to Loch Lomond.

The Loch is beautiful.  I guess it’s because all glacial valleys necessarily look similar, but this area and this lake really reminds me of Tahoe.  Except there are a LOT more wildflowers here, including Foxglove and a neat orchid called the common spotted orchid that doesn’t look common at all to me.

We skipped dinner and instead decided to go hiking at 9:30pm.  Because you can do that here in the summer.  We traipsed out a path looking for a bridge named Honeymoon Bridge (we felt it was appropriate) but the path was washed out and we were not enjoying the midges.

Let me just devote a paragraph to midges here.

Midges are wee tiny little bugs that swarm in the thousands and bite in the millions.  Or it feels like it. Their bites sting and itch and they LOVE Chris.  Which is in some ways a joy for me because back home, skeeters eat me like candy and leave Chris alone.  However, Chris doesn’t deserve to be bug-nommed on our honeymoon so we’re developing strategies for midgie combat.  It’s war, and war might involve a flamethrower.

Thus far on our honeymoon, we have seen ten million sheep, five million cows, one thousand horses, two clydesdales in clydesdale, and zero highland cows.

ZERO. Highland. Cows.

We hope to rectify this tomorrow.

Days 2 & 3: Edinburgh, and the road to Glasgow

There really is too much to tell you about the last two days.

Yesterday, we got to Edinburgh.  The Dublin airport is super pretty, but it’s officially my least favorite airport, and the Irish are really mean and rude in the airport, let me tell you.  Great anywhere else – but the airport brings out the nasty bigtime.

After we checked into our hotel, a quirky B&B without the second B called Ivy Guest House, we went walking in search of food and eventually found ourselves on the Royal Mile.  Every way we turned – and we wandered aimlessly for about 12 hours – there was another amazing sight to see, another gorgeous church, another stunning sculpture. The most used phrases of the day were “Wow” and “Oh my god” and “Honey you have to see this” and “I can’t even.” We did a lot of “can’t even”.  Edinburgh’s old city is straight out of a fairytale.

Highlights of the day include Greyfriar’s Kirkyard and Kirk, Giles Cathedral, and the Fiddler’s Arms, a pub where we had dinner.  Apparently Burke and Hare killed one of their victims right where we sat, a young man named Ludivico.  I told Ludivico’s ghost that my vegetarian haggis was delicious.

This morning, we headed straight to Dryburgh Abbey, but on the way saw a castle called Craigmillar and stopped to wander around the ruins for a while.  Gorgeous, needless to say.  Then, when we were almost to Dryburgh, we saw a sign that said Wallace Statue.  My response was “OK” and a sudden right turn took us to a path which we hiked up and saw a gorgeous stone statue of William Wallace.

When we finally got to Dryburgh we were both awestruck.  I took a million pictures, but they can’t really evoke the momentous beauty of the place.  While exploring those ruins we met a sweet couple in their 70s who were celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary.  We talked with them for a good hour, then spent another half hour or so chatting with the caretakers of the site.  The scots are a very friendly lot.

After Dryburgh, we went to Melrose Abbey.  These are buildings that were built 900 years ago, and they are engineering marvels.  Not only is it amazing that parts of them are still standing, but the detail and love with which they’re crafted is almost a religious experience in and of itself.

From Melrose, we wound our way through quaint adorable scottish villages and rolly green countryside punctuated by sheep and cows.  Quote of the day:  “Those are definitely cows. Or bushes.”  We took a ton of wrong turns but never regretted a single one.  Eventually we made it to Blackwood, a small town in Kirkmuilhall where Chris’s ancestors may have lived.

It was time for dinner.  We were both hangry and tired, so we found a cute little pub called The Poachers and went in.  While eating, we asked the waitress if there was a graveyard nearby, and got directions to one in Lesmahagow, just up the road.

The table next to us struck up a conversation with us, and it turns out that one of them was a Blackwood!  James lives in Coulburn, which he says we should avoid because they have the “six fingered sort” there.  He had to explain to us that meant inbred – hillbilly types.  We were highly amused.  We chatted with Jelly, David and James and Ayl for about an hour, and then we headed out in search of Blackwood graves.

The Lesmahagow (they call it The Gow) churchyard is much more run down and messy than the churchyards we’d seen previously.  It’s clearly a smalltown relic, now mostly used by drunken twentysomethings as the many discarded beer cans showed.  However, we did find two Blackwood graves, mostly intact and beautiful next to the ruins of a very tiny chapel.  On the other side of the churchyard wall were the foundation ruins of a 12th century church, the original building on the site.

Now we’re at our Glasgow hotel, exhausted but happy.  I’m pulling pictures off of my camera because, having taken 950 of them so far, I’ve filled up my cards.  I’ll try to post some soon – I know a lot of them will be throwaway because that’s how I shoot, yo.

We have decided that the Scots are the nicest people on the planet.  We might never come back.  Feel free to come visit us in the middle of our green fields and fluffy white sheep.

Day 1: San Jose to Dublin

First of all, thank you to Bryan Reed for giving us a ride from home to the airport!  He got us there in perfect time and we sailed through security – until I set off the metal detector like Christmas.

Turns out, FitBit registers a lot like a weapon of mass destruction to those things.  I got the full pat down and sweep for bomb residue, apologetically, before they let us go on their way.

After being highly unimpressed with SFO, we hopped on a plane and commenced our first leg – to Toronto.  We had a really fantastic canadien sitting next to us, who chatted with us the whole way.  He’s travelled all over the world and had some great tips for us.

Toronto’s airport is freakin’ gorgeous.  The art and the architecture of it put SFO to shame, big time.  However, it’s not nearly as well organized.  There was lots of stopping and starting and “only ten people can walk down that hallway at a time” and customs officials wearing very obvious bullet proof vests.  I really did wonder if we were going to come out the other end as soylent green.

Our plane was delayed almost an hour, but we never found out why.  Before takeoff, we were delayed even longer when one of the overhead oxy mask compartments burst open a couple of seats in front of me.  Not confidence inspiring, people.  However, we eventually got off the ground and I have to say the flight was uneventful, if ridiculously uncomfortable, and the in-flight dinner was not bad at all.  So far, Air Canada gets pretty high marks from me.  But man, they need to improve their seats.

Chris was able to get a couple of hours of sleep on the plane, but I didn’t get a single wink.  By the time we finally debarked in Dublin, we were worn out and worn thin, but super happy just to be on the ground and done with 15 hours of flying.  We went to pick up our rental car, and that’s where we got a RUDE surprise.

First of all, it took forever.  I’m talking like an hour.  Second, while I’d seen prices as low as $9 per day online, the guy quoted me 100 Euros.  That’s $140 to those of you paying attention.  For a wee economy rental car, for ONE day.  He gave me some BS line about not having any other rates but the website says otherwise.  What that was, ladies and gentlemen, was a tax on Kryses who don’t reserve and pay up front for the rental car for the one day in Dublin.

I had a damn good reason to not do it, but in retrospect, I could have saved myself about a hundred bucks by just biting the bullet.  Don’t worry, our Scotland rental car is long since booked and it’s even prepaid.

So then, after all that, came our first experience of getting behind the wheel on the WRONG side of the car and driving on the WRONG side of the road.

I’m proud to say that after being awake for almost 48 hours and having never driven on the wrong side before, I did not wreck us, scratch the car, scare any irish people, or get us irretrievably lost.  Note the irretrievable part.  We definitely had an adventure getting there, and I was definitely driving at 20kph down the tiny winding narrow road with ivy-colored stone walls on other side, which had a 40kph speed limit.

I am also proud to say that Chris did not shriek at the top of his lungs, pee his pants or pass out.  Barely.  Poor guy is a little greyer after his first ride in Ireland.

But we got here, in one piece, with no real incidents, and the property is GORGEOUS.  The hotel proper is a 14th century castle with a 16th century (yep, renaissance, folks) manor house built around it.  It’s beautiful, creaky, substantial, and labyrinthine.  After showering and eating (OMG the best cider and the best sticky toffee pudding I’ve ever had) we wandered the entire grounds and explored every not-locked door inside.  We have lots of pictures, they’ll be put up eventually.

There’s a freakin’ suit of armor in a cellar bar that for all the world looks like you took Single Barrel back in time 500 years.  There are stained glass windows.  There is crown molding and crystal chandeliers.  There are sitting rooms and drawing rooms and chatting rooms and relaxing rooms and a ballroom that they call the library, for some reason.

And now, it’s 8:45 and Chris is already asleep on the bed.  I needed to pay a bridge toll so we can turn in the rental car tomorrow at 4:45am.  Yes, you read that right.  We’re going to bed early, we’ve got a plane to catch at 6.

However, I’ll leave you with some observations:

  1. Apparently, being a dick is not a uniquely american talent.
  2. Bad drivers are everywhere.
  3. The irish speak really, really fast. Like someone pressed fast forward and their tape is about to run out.  I think all my irish friends slow themselves down so that we three-dimensional mortals can understand them, but I suspect they’re 5th dimension star trek beings.
  4. Currency exchange is a hell of a racket.
  5. People while travelling are really gregarious, chatty and delightful.  At least, while traveling to Ireland and Scotland.  We’ve met loads of new people and we’re only a day in.  I even met a wonderful fiber nerd who lives near prunedale and has sheep and is willing to give or sell me fleece and wants us to come out and play with the sheep and stuff.
  6. Ireland is humid.
  7. Castles are cool.  They’re like normal houses inside, except that the doorways are really thick. And except for the fact that they’re freakin’ castles.
  8. It’s clear this is not a seismically active area.  None of these buildings would be standing in CA.

Good night, kids, The adventure begins in earnest tomorrow.

Scotland, here we come!

With the wedding well behind us, we’re headed toward our one year anniversary – and our honeymoon!

Because we think it’s the most awesome thing ever, I’ll be writing about it here.  For this first post, our itinerary!

We fly into Dublin. It was cheaper, and plus, Dublin!
We’re staying the night in an ivy-covered Edwardian, and spending the day wandering around the city,

The next morning we hop a jet to Edinburgh, where we’ll pick up our rental car and probably hit Edinburgh Castle.  We got a Historic Scotland pass.  It covers lots of places.  We’re going to make REALLY good use of it.  :)  We’re staying in another ivy-covered hotel, this one victorian.

In the morning, we’ll stop by Blackwood Crescent before we head south to Melrose and Dryburgh Abbeys.  From there, we’ll loop through the village of Blackwood that Chris gets his name from.  We’ll probably check out Bothwell Castle on our way to Glasgow.

In Glasgow we’ll check out Provand’s Lordship, the oldest building in the city and the only medieval house.  Queen Mary stayed there once.  Then we’ll see the sights and we’re staying at a modern but very pretty hotel.  😀

Then we’ll see Loch Lomond, Kilchurn Castle, and Balquhidder, where we’ll visit Rob Roy’s grave.  We’ll spend the next  two nights staying in a stone cottage on the shores of Loch Long.

While in Argyll, we’ll go to Dunans Castle, where I got Chris a lairdship.  We might pop over to the isle of skye one day, if we have the chance.  We’ll almost certainly check out the stone circle at Kilmartin Glen.

Then we’re off to Glencoe!  We couldn’t find a place to stay there, so we’re spending 3 nights in a lovely stone B&B in Ballachulish. That’ll be our base of operations for many highlands hijinks. We’ll see Eilean Donan Castle, Loch Ness, Urquhart Castle, and visit some of the speyside distilleries.

After that, we’re taking the ferry to the Isle of Lewis, where we’ll see the Arnol Blackhouse, the Callanish Stone Circle (that’s the one that Merida’s circle was based on in Brave) and stay in a working croft house.

When we come back to the main part of scotland, we’ll visit Balvenie Castle and maybe even the distillery, and then we are STAYING IN A CASTLE.  Broomhall Castle was built in the 1870s, but it’s super beautiful and we got a very fancy room.

The next day, we will go to an event celebrating (and recreating!) the 700th anniversary of the Battle of Bannockburn, at which Dougie MacLean will be performing!  Yes, we’re flying across the atlantic to go to a renaissance faire.  But it’s going to be awesome.  We’ll also check out Colloden, the Wallace Monument, and Stirling Castle.

That night, we’re staying in my favorite of all our awesome accomodations.  Warthill Castle was built in the 14th century.  It’s still owned by the same family.  It’s GORGEOUS and the woman who runs it is super sweet – and she’s the mother of the actress who plays Ygritte on Game of Thrones.  How cool is that?

We haven’t got set plans for the next few days – but our last 3 nights in Scotland will be in Edinburgh at a cute little B&B.  We’ll hit Holyrood House, Molly King’s Close, and Arthur’s Seat.  We’ll do all the things from the list above that we didn’t get around to or deprioritized, or we’ll go see things we discovered along the way.

Eventually we’ll have to go home.  Unfortunately.  I’m sure we’ll be missing you all, by then, so we’ll probably be happy to come back, with stories and pictures and whisky for Peter.

We know this is an ambitious itinerary.  What do you think? Have we missed something really important and awesome that we should try to see instead of something we’ve got listed?

We got so much done!

20130616_221108This weekend, Kitty, Michael, Louise, Rich, Sarah and Kayla all helped Chris and I with crafts.  We got SO MUCH DONE!  It’s starting to feel like the wedding is ready to go – the only things that are left are things that would be ok to not have.  We abandoned a couple of decor ideas because we just put them off too long and they don’t add enough to be worth the effort.

So there we are.  I hoped to be done by the beginning of June, and we actually finished up two weeks before the wedding.  Not bad.  We are ready, and eager, and starting to get excited!

Check out all the stuff we got done:

  • Made a sandwich board so people know where to turn off of the highway
  • Made all the table names
  • Made the final table runner
  • Made all the escort cards
  • Finished all but a few paper flowers (which Michael painstakingly cut and now I get to curl and glue)
  • Countless stars
  • Guestbook cards
  • Prepped all the vases
  • Bought Kayla’s bridesmaid dress (finally!)

Now we’re in the list phase, where there will be lists of things and asking people for help.  Whew, so much to remember!

Food, Glorious Food!

Image from

When Chris and I were deciding on the theme of our wedding, we were keeping an eye on budget and thinking about the overall feeling.  We really, really wanted it to be a casual, fun thing, more like a picnic or party than a fancy affaire.  It didn’t take us long to decide what to do for food.

The wedding’s at noon.  The theme is scottish. So what are we serving?  High Tea.

Okay, not a proper high tea.  The food will be buffet style – you’ll serve yourselves.  There will be scones and tea sandwiches, with lemonade, iced tea, soda and mead to drink (post on our meadmaker coming soon).  There will be a small candy bar so you have something to nibble on before the food happens.  And so you can hyper up the kids.

Our wedding is sort of being catered by Lisa’s Tea Treasures.  I say sort of because they’re making it all and we’re picking it up the night before.  Then we’re transporting it to the site, and setting it all up.  If you haven’t been to Lisa’s Tea, you’re in for a treat.

Just to get your mouth watering:  Scones include apricot, blueberry and lavender white chocolate.  Tea sandwich flavors are pesto nut, cucumber mint, chicken tarragon, roast beef and sun-dried tomato.

And now I’m hungry.

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