Monday, November 14, 2005

Maxwelton's braes are bonny

Hello everyone! Here I am, safe and sound in crazy ol' London again. Scotland was WONDERFUL. Even though it rained all the time and was...bloody cold and...yeah, and the wind was pretty nasty too... Okay, so the weather didn't cooperate, but I still had a great time.

I stayed at the Hotel Greek Thompson, which was named for an architect who was into Grecian influences, so there was lots of columns and things woven into the carpets. The hotel was "shabby genteel." The first room they stuck me in was about the size of a closet and smelled like an ashtray, so about two minutes after I got there (just long enough to whinge about it in my journal) I went back to the front desk and requested a room change. Eventually I was put in a room with a double bed and a television, which was very satisfactory. I even got to watch an episode of "House" that I hadn't seen before!!!

Oh, right, Scotland. Well, Scotland is bloody beautiful. Glasgow is a little city, so I could get around sans car. The streets are laid out on a grid, but what they neglect to tell you is that they also go UP and DOWN. Hilly does not begin to describe this city. My first day I was there I got out my climbing equipment and hauled myself up a sheer rock cliff to go see the cathedral (okay, no, but that's what it felt like) The Glasgow cathedral appears small, but it's built into the side of a hill, so when you go inside, it opens up--and there's two levels "underground" poking out of this hill. It's about eight hundred years old, and mostly plain sooty stones, no fancy goldwork like a "normal" cathedral--this would be due to the Reformation. Clearing the cathedral out of all it's riches is what saved the building which is an architectual marvel. There's also a saint buried in the basement--sorry, not basement, lower chapel--St. Kentigern, also known as St. Mungo. As in St. Mungo's Hospital for Magical Maladies. :) I only barely managed to not ask the nice Scottish tour lady if she had read book four.

After the Cathedral I went to the Cathedral Bar and had a delicious lamb curry that I'm still drooling over, and then visited the Necropolis, this gorgeous Victorian cemetary built on the tallest hill in Glasgow. The dead people have the best view of the city! It was very eerie. As you're walking (hiking) up this hill you're literally rising out of the noise of the city until it was practically silent. This is where John Knox is buried, he's the man responsible for the Reformation in Scotland.

Self portrait of me at Loch Lommond--note the lack of sun or smile.

The next day I went to Loch Lommond. This was the only day when I really felt like "this sucks." It was really windy and rainy, and a lot of places were closed because, haha, who would be stupid enough to go touristing in November? I did take a boatride on Loch Lommond (I love boats!) and get a lot of pretty pictures of the Highlands. Because it rains so much, the grass is still green, greener than I've ever seen it, even as the trees all around were losing their leaves. The little town at the end of the train line where I got off is named Balloch. Balloch Castle was built in 1810, and after I mountain-goated my way up the steepest hill yet, I discovered that it too was closed for the season. Then it started to rain. And I was forced to sing the blues.

Walking back I was nearly attacked by a vicious herd of ducks who have no respect for tourists. There were also some graceful swans who were doing their best to dismember two little girls who had made the mistake of proffering bread. These little girl were screaming in terror as these huge birds came after them, and their parents were saying, "Now, now, they don't have teeth, they're not going to bite you." No, they don't have teeth. So it will hurt more when they tear you to pieces. Scary.

The day was saved, luckily, by Balloch House, a small pub that had a real fire, a real pot of tea and a real piece of carrot cake and a squashy armchair where frozen me could sit down and consume aformentioned tea and cake. (only £2.50!!) So the day ended on a warm and fuzzy note.

Friday I locked myself in my room with my computer and told myself sternly that if I wanted to do anything that night I was going to have to finish some plays. I sulked for a little bit, then set about doing my homework, and actually got quite a bit done. then I rewarded myself with pizza and a movie--"the Corpse Bride." Not bad.

Saturday, ah, Saturday I went to Stirling. There were two things I wanted to see there: Stirling Castle and the Wallace Monument, but I couldn't go to both. So in the end I went to the castle, because the Wallace Monument was built by the Victorians, and Stirling castle was built by KINGS. The walk up to the castle was brutal. "Who," I panted to myself as I hauled myself skyward, "Who builds a bloody castle on top of a bloody hill?!" Of course it makes sense when you're trying to repel invaders, but it also repels plenty of tourists, I've no doubt. Most of the streets in Stirling are cobblestones--the sound of terror is a speeding car hurtling towards you over cobblestones. Lucky I had on my blaze yellow coat.

But the castle was well worth it, with a thousand years of history. Here's me on top of the castle, looking out--note the windblown hair. The Wallace Monument is a tower on the next hill over, about a three mile walk.

There's been a fort here since 300 AD, and King James IV of Scotland started a proper castle. His son finished it, and it's been added on to quite a bit. Mary, Queen of Scots was crowned here, and her son, James VI of Scotland and later I of England was baptised here. Oooh. It's all historical. The Great Hall has been completely renovated and looks like it would in the 1500s. During the 1800s the army was stationed here in case Napoleon decided to invade, so there's a line of cannons across one of the walls. And all around is this beautiful swell of mountains and green highlands. The wind was whipping gently into my hair and for once it wasn't raining, so I took about a million pictures (including one of a statue of Robert the Bruce--more Victorians) to remind myself of the Countryside when I'm back in the City.

So, yeah, Scotland was great. Everyone was super friendly, and I felt really safe walking around the city. I even got all of my Christmas shopping done! There is a pedestrian zone with shops in Glasgow--and also bagpipers, hanging out on the sidewalks, playing like you would see people in America with guitars. One lad was wearing a kilt, but later there was another bagpiper who was hardcore!!! bagpiper!!! with hot leather pants and long hair and a punked out bagpipe. Extreeeeeme! I did like seeing men walking around in kilts and soccer jerseys on their way to the pub to support the team. I'm mad for kilts. the thing I thought was interesting is how different the two countries are--england and scotland--when they're so close. Green Bay is maybe six hours away from the Canadian border, but we share a common dialect. But if you drive north of London for six hours, you're in Scotland, and it's completely different.

So now I can say I've done Scotland--didn't try the haggis though. I'll have to go back I guess. I've rambled on long enough here, but I feel like I've left a lot out. I did pick up a book of ghost stories which I haven't read yet--you know me, if I read them before going to bed I'll never sleep.


Chris said...

Wow, Scotland sounded great despite the rain and all. I am so jealous most of those palces are my list of hings to see before death. I'm glad you had a good time despite the rain and genreal cold, kinda sounds like point minus the history and stunning scenery. Oh and I'm glad you found St. Mungo!:0) That just made me smile.

Chris said...

I've got a blog but I haven't written much. I'll email you the addrees sometime today, after I've written something deep and profund and chalk full o' spelling errors.

Peter said...

Nicki, I wish I could have gone with you. I really would've liked to see Scotland, so if I come over when you graduate, we'll have to go up there. Anyway, I'm glad to hear your back and safe and had a good time. And hey, walking never killed anyone (getting hit by a car might....). Later, Peter