Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Beautiful Scotland

September 27: Today we boarded a four-hour train for London that would take us to Edinburgh and then we would catch an hour-long train to Dundee where my mom’s cousin, Barbara, was going to be picking us up. The train ride was pretty, as much of the view was of vivid green farmland and beginning of autumn trees.

This would be the first time I would meet Barbara and she was just as nice as she could be. She picked us up from the train station and took us to her house where we would be staying for two nights. Her house is in the most picturesque location. Built by her father, this was her childhood home. The backyard garden was beautiful! She took us along the fence line giving us a little history of where the trees and plants came from. The house sits on an acre of well kempt land and it’s just so cozy and peaceful. She cooked us a perfect spaghetti dinner complete with a dessert using the fruit she grows herself. It was such a great first night in Scotland and amazing to meet some relatives I had never met before.

Glamis Castle
September 28: Today, began a little less typical than most of our travel days. We THOUGHT taking a ferry from Edinburgh to Dublin (our last stop of the trip) would be the cheapest and easiest way. We were wrong. After talking with Barbara, she told us that a flight would be the best and most efficient way. So, last night we tried to book it online, however, the website would not take any of our cards for some unknown reason. So Barbara was nice enough to take us to a travel agent first thing in the morning to get the tickets booked. They even had trouble with the site. And to avoid an extra charge using our American credit card, Barbara was sweet enough to put it on her card allowing us to pay her back in cash. Whew!

After that unforeseen travel hiccup, Barbara drove us 15 miles from Dundee to see Glamis (pronounced Glaums) Castle, the childhood home of the Queen Mother. Located at the end of a stunning drive in. A small paved road lined with rolling hills and huge canopy trees. It embodies a castle in every sense on the world. We took a guided tour (no pictures allowed) of some of the staterooms and were given a great history of the 600 year old, still inhabited castle. After the tour we grabbed a small bite to eat at the castle restaurant before beginning our driving tour.

Dundee and the surrounding areas of Scotland are just beautiful. By no means overly populated, the natural beauty is still at the forefront of this place. Barbara drove us along the coastline pointing out little towns and giving us a brief history of each. It was so wonderful because when you travel, you don’t get the chance to see much of the countryside as it’s hard to reach those using public transportation. I’m so glad she took the time to drive us around. I loved the little antidotes of family history she would weave in; all so interesting. I could definitely live here. There is just something some homey about it.  

September 29: Today Barbara drove us to the little town of St. Andrews; home to the university as well as the birthplace of golf. Andrew had been looking forward to this day for quite some time. The town is so charming. And just this year, the university celebrated its 600th birthday! We weren’t aware that the Alfred Dunhill golf tournament was going on on the famous Old Course, so we were not able to walk along it. Instead we had to admire it from afar. We were able to watch a few players play the 18th hole…Andrew was in golf heaven and he’s determined to return in 2015 for the Open that will be played there.

Andrew at St. Andrew's
 After watching some golf, Barbara took us for a stroll around the town and along the pew where we got a beautiful view of the ruins of St. Andrew’s Castle. It was also nice just listening to her insights on buildings and places, as she was a student at St. Andrew’s many years ago. After walking around we grabbed a quick lunch before she drove us to Edinburgh where we would be staying with another cousin of my mother’s, Jamie.

Edinburgh is beautiful. Their house is within walking distance to the city center which is super convenient for us. After chatting for a little while over a pot of tea, Barbara had to return home as she was leaving town the next morning. It was sad to day goodbye to her because it was just so wonderful to spend time with her. Jamie then thought to drive us to the city center and give us a map so we could explore a bit before making our way back to their house. 
Andrew and I with Barbara at St. Andrew's

Walking the main streets of the city was so fun. Everything is just so….well…Scottish! We took in a few sites before making our way back to Jamie’s for dinner. At dinner we sat with Catherine, Jamie’s partner, and Robin, Jamie’s older brother.  It was a delicious home-cooked meal and great conversation. We ended up talking until about 10:45pm. It was just a wonderful day!

September 30th: Jamie went with us to visit Edinburgh Castle. A royal castle built in the 12th century and continued as a royal living place until 1603. It was pretty cold atop that hill, but the view was well worth it. We had such beautiful views of Edinburgh from every angle. The castle has several mini-museums, from military to the crown jewels. We spend a little over two hours walking around listening to our audio guides.

We left the castle and made our way to meet Robin and Jamie’s cousin nephew, Jimmy, who works in a local pub. More distant relatives, yeah! We sat there chatting and eating lunch where I was able to sample Haggis, a Scottish traditional dish.

Edinburgh Castle
After lunch, Robin took us on a bus to go and visit his mother, my grandmother’s sister, Dorothy, in the nursing home. I never in a million years thought I would have the chance to meet all this family, let alone a 99 year-old great aunt. Dorothy does not look 99 at all. There would be moments where the light went off and she knew who I was, in relation to her, but then it would sadly fade away. She mentioned that she thought my grandmother was so witty, which made me laugh as it’s still true today. We stayed there for about 30 minutes before taking a beautiful canal walk back to Jamie’s house.

October 1: Andrew and I headed out for the day and our first stop was The National Museum of Scotland, right in the city center. It’s a wonderful museum with so many aspects. We especially enjoyed the interactive science portion! We spent about two hours just walking around and taking everything in.

"I just want to meet the queen!"
The rest of the day we spent moseying around the famous Royal Mile street and enjoying all the little shops we went in an out of. We also made our way down to the parliament building which is a building of very unique architecture, and then we took some photos of one of the Queens Scottish palaces, Holyrood House. We decided not to pay to go in, but we snapped some photos from the outside.
We walked, and then walked some more before returning to Jamie’s house to throw in a small load of laundry before taking them both out for a ‘thank-you-for-letting-us-stay” dinner. Tomorrow is another ½ of Edinburgh exploration before we fly out later that evening for our final stop; Ireland!

October 2: Today we decided to walk around and explore more of the 'new town' even though it dates back to the 1700s. The architecture was beautiful and we enjoyed the day just killing time before leaving for our flight at 5:00pm. And believe it or not, on our way back to Jamie's house to pack, we ran into Robin walking the streets. He told us if we had 20 minutes to spare, we should join him for a look around the National Portrait Gallery. We walked the two floors as he gave us a brief Scottish history based on the portraits we saw. I just can't believe that we ran into one of only five people we know in this city! Small, small world.

Scotland was such a wonderful place to visit. I felt so blessed to have been able to meet and stay with family members I had never even met. The way they opened up their homes to Andrew and I just show how kindhearted and generous the Scots truly are. We had an absolute fantastic time in Scotland!

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