Sunday, September 8, 2013

Britain Revisited: Day 9--Final Day!

Sadly, day 9 was our last day in Scotland and in the UK in general. We decided to take this opportunity to book a day trip to Glasgow, Loch Lomond, the Highlands, and Stirling (all William Wallace territory for Braveheart fans). We had wanted to do Loch Ness, but it was a 12 hour tour, and we didn’t want to arrive back at 8:00 at night when everything was closed. 
I really encourage anyone who has just a few days in a particular city or town to take one of these day tours. It really is a great (and affordable) way to see some highlights of the terrain, and especially if you’re operating without a car, it’s a stress-free transportation method. 
It was somewhat unfortunate that our tour guide was almost impossible to understand. The poor guy had a slight speech impediment, but we were still able to at least hear him until he pulled the bus over on the side of the road and changed his microphone, worried that the one he was using wasn’t clear enough. But after he changed out the microphone, we couldn’t understand a word he said--the reception was so muffled and garbled. So we settled for sitting back and watching the beautiful scenery go by.
Once we reached Glasgow, further auditory interference occurred when a woman in the front decided to use her cell phone and put it on speaker. Noise that sounded like a distant radio station filtered through the bus, and the bus driver kindly asked if whoever was currently using their mobile phone would shut it off. Everyone looked at everyone else, wide-eyed with wonderment and suspicion (and a desperate desire to let everyone else know they weren't the offender) and the noise continued. Again, the bus driver asked if the offender would shut off their phone. Eager to ensure everyone else that they were not the culprit, people’s expressions changed to annoyance, and they craned their necks to look around ever more diligently. But the noise continued. 
Finally, the bus driver pulled the bus over to the side of the road and stopped. “There’s no point in us continuing on this journey with that sort of interference.” And we all sat, feeling like chastened children whose father had pulled the car over to the side of the road because we were acting up. Amazingly, the sounds continued to echo through the bus. 
Obviously irritated, the driver stood and marched down the aisle, searching for the rebel who dared to ignore his pleas. He found her in the second row, and although we could not hear all of what he said to her, his hand motions insinuated that he was hopping mad (I actually thought he might take the phone from her), and he ended his comeuppance with: “We can all hear your conversation! It’s broadcasting throughout the whole bus!”
Because the woman was not a native English speaker, I can only assume she did not understand what he was saying when he requested the phone call discontinue (or she was too engaged in the call). At any rate, he continued the tour with words of amiable humility. "I'm so sorry about that interruption, but it is my feeling that phone calls should be done in private." 
The tour through Glasgow was definitely a snapshot of the city. We did not exit the bus, and the entire city-at-a-glimpse took no more than 20 minutes. Glasgow is completely different from Edinburgh and its well-preserved antiquity. It feels much more modern, cosmopolitan, spread out, and …well, cityish. Although the business sector was attractive enough, I didn’t feel that I had missed anything by not spending time there. 
Soon we were back on the motorway again and headed toward Loch Lomond. Loch is the Scottish terminology for Lake, so like Loch Ness, Loch Lomond is a large lake frequented by tourists. It is really beautiful and all along the way there are castles and mansions to behold. Many of these abodes are frequented by celebrities and/or owned by people with oodles of money. Stephen and I made sure to find a seat up-top so that we could look out over the water. Everyone else had the same idea, so as we began the journey, the open-top part of the boat was jam-packed. Little by little, as the hour-long tour progressed, people began to excuse themselves to the downstairs area, as they became too cold to sit in the chilly loch air. But not us! Survivor Man and Woman were prepared! (I bought an ultra-touristy sweatshirt just the night before in preparation). We wore sweaters and long pants and brought additional jackets as well. Although I did break down and buy a cup of coffee at one point, we fared better than many.
**Just an interesting tidbit: Although we did not make it to Loch Ness, we were told that there had been another “Nessie” sighting while we were there. 

We left the loch and traveled to the highlands and a little village where we had lunch at a wool center. This was a fascinating place as it was kind of a combination of a clothing outlet (lots of inexpensive sweaters and other clothing), a petting zoo, and a dog-herding demonstration. We ate quickly so we could join the crowd outside watching a Border Collie herd ducks and sheep. I’ve seen this before, but I never tire of it. My grandfather owned several Border Collies over the years, and I know how smart these dogs are. Watching them do what they’re made to do is mesmerizing. They need very little instruction in these sheep and duck games (as they instinctively herd anything), and the “creeping” that they do is a natural, inborn trait. 
Our journey continued on into the beautiful highlands where we stopped for several photo opportunities—breathtaking hills covered in heather and thistles, and no pictures do them justice. Finally, we arrived at Stirling Castle. Stephen and I opted out of going inside, as we had already seen quite a few castles and were really more interested in finding a place to have tea or coffee. Just as we started to walk into town, however, we stopped to take  photos from the castle looking out over the town. A very nice group of Scots stopped us and askedif we wanted our picture taken, and with the most outgoing man of the group, we entered into a fifteen minute conversation. (The Scots really are SO friendly!) Turns out, this man and his wife live half the year in Florida (the cold half)and half in Stirling (the nicer-weather half). He used to be with the British armed forces, and he mentioned something about doing some commando work, in which he was stationed in Norfolk, Virginia. Fascinating guy. And as he said, he and his wife were “living the dream.”  He also mimicked an outstanding American accent!

Walking into the town of Stirling, it was all down hill. So it was a lovely walk down town. Once we got into the main part of town, we were shocked to find that most of the shops were already closed. “It’s only 3:30!” I said in disbelief. “How do these people make any money if they’re closing down halfway through the day?” We did find an open restaurant, however, and had our coffee there before making our way back up hill to our bus. Not nearly so pleasant.

It was an hour or so back to Edinburgh, so we arrived a little after 5:00. We had departed the city in the fog, and when we returned, the fog over the town was as thick as ever. I was very concerned about confirming our 3 a.m. taxi for the next morning, which was to take us to the airport. Again—the phone problems ensued. I had forgotten that I had only agreed to the international data plan until the 21st of the month. That left us one day in Scotland without use of mobile devices. That included cell phone calls. I tried to use the phone in our hotel room, but I learned that I would have to give them my credit card deteails first. That sort of made me angry. I just wanted to make one 30 second local call. I couldn’t even use the calling card I had bought in London without giving them my credit card details! 
Feeling very frustrated and cut off from the world, I resolved to find a pay phone. Marching down to the lobby, I tried the pay phones on the wall, only to find that they, too, only took credit cards. Nearly demented with anxiety, I was less than calm as I demanded of the concierge if she knew of a nearby pay phone. When she said that she did not, I nearly shrieked with hysteria, but instead I snarkily replied, “Thank you for your help.”
At this point, Stephen stopped me and told me to take deep breaths because I was “getting crazy.” I knew this was true, because I actually felt my brain uncoiling, as evidenced by the irrational tears springing to my eyes. 
“Let’s pray right now to find a pay phone,” he said very calmly (I was so proud that he held it together when I was so visibly losing it!). This actually lowered my anxiety levels considerably, and as soon as we walked out of the hotel and emerged on The Royal Mile—there was a red phone box. My calling card still didn’t work with this contraption, but then this very primitive idea occurred to me. Why not actually feed change into the machine? 
My hands were shaking as I put the coins into the slot; it seemed highly unlikely this would actually work. Coins? In a pay phone? Ridiculous notion! I was amazed when I actually heard a voice on the other end of the line announcing the name of the cab company. The next morning’s ride was confirmed, and we were even more pleased to know that they would be picking us up at 4 a.m., not 3 a.m. 
I couldn’t believe how upset I had gotten over this, and I was even more perplexed by the immense relief I felt afterwards. But this was our last night in Edinburgh, and we were determined to enjoy it and not let that little episode bring us down. We ate at a pub on the Royal Mile called Rabbie Burns (a little phonetic play on the Robbie Burns pronunciation). For those of you who don’t know, Robert Burns was a very famous Scottish poet who wrote “My love is like a red, red rose…” (roll your r's and you'll have it!) This pub had some 700 hundred (I’m exaggerating) different kinds of whiskey (mostly Scotch Whiskey). Stephen tried one of the more illustrious ones, whereas I settled for a beer and fish and chips. In the whole time that we were in the UK, this was the only restaurant that didn't take our debit cards. I had to run down the street to an ATM to get cash, bypassing homeless street people with dogs (my absolute weakness). It took everything in me not to give them the whole of the 40 pounds I had just pulled from said machine. 
Afterwards we wandered in and out of tourist shops trying to decide where to spend our last half hour before we needed to get back to the hotel and get in bed if we wanted at least five hours sleep. The Fringe Festival was still in full swing and it was still impossible to make it down the road without having at least ten flyers shoved into our hands. We could hear a girl behind us handing out flyers to people as she repeated “Dirty Canadian, Dirty Canadian, Dirty Canadian,” over and over again. 
Stephen finally turned around. “What are you calling me?” 
For a brief moment, she was thrilled, thinking we were Canadian—only to be severely disappointed that we weren’t. But she gave us a free ticket to the show, which she described as involving “absolutely filthy country music.” We decided we would definitely pass on the "Dirty Canadian", and head to back over to Frankenstein’s Pub instead.  
Back at the hotel, we readied ourselves in preparation for the outrageous wake-up time. Remember that money that I felt sure we’d lost back in Wales? Well, it was still weighing on my mind heavily. I had been praying to find it, because now on our last night, we knew we would need to tip cab driver, buy food at airport, etc. I went through my purse again, all of the pamphlets we had picked up over the course of the trip, the pockets of Stephen’s jackets. No money. I finally gave up and decided not to think about it. It was gone forever. Chock it up to "the expense account."
The next morning, I found the twenty pounds in the pocket of the pants I had laid out to wear for traveling. I was overjoyed but embarrassed that I had blamed Stephen for the loss of the money. Unfortunately, I also managed to donate my sweater to the back seat of the cab just as we arrived to the airport. You find something, you lose something. Isn’t that the way it goes?
Stephen and I both agreed that this was the trip of a life time. It was good for us personally, as we had never vacationed somewhere that didn't involve family visits (save our honeymoon trip in 2007). It was wonderful to have this time to go somewhere together and just enjoy each other’s company and our surroundings. It also made me so happy that Stephen loved the UK as much as I did. He found wonder and awe in all of these places that I hold so dear, and he even expressed a desire to return and spend more time in various spots.
This was also a very healing time for me, as I mentioned before. There will always be such a special place in my heart for the United Kingdom. I love the profound effect it still has on me after so many years. Maybe it’s the fact that my family’s heritage is found in this place, or maybe it’s just an ingrained adoration for all things British. I will always want to come back here and continue to discover more about this wonderful country. When I left London in 1997, my heart was utterly broken; this time, as I left, I felt an indescribable sense of peace (minus the plane ride, of course). Almost twenty years after I first arrived in the UK, I returned to find many things were changed--many were the same, but ultimately--the world was at it should be.
I will leave this blog segment with lyrics I would never have thought to include in any of my writings before now, but there you go. That's the nature of living and learning:

"There are places I remember
All my life, though some have changed
Some forever not for better
Some have gone and some remain
All these places have their moments
With lovers and friends I still can recall
Some are dead and some are living
In my life I've loved them all

But of all these friends and lovers
There is no one compares with you
And these memories lose their meaning
When I think of love as something new
Though I know I'll never lose affection
For people and things that went before
I know I'll often stop and think about them
In my life I love you more

Though I know I'll never lose affection
For people and things that went before
I know I'll often stop and think about them
In my life I love you more
In my life I love you more"  -The Beatles

1 comment:

  1. I was so sad to read this knowing it was your last post on this trip! But I was so happy to read that it was healing time for you and that Stephen liked it so much too! Your description of the cell phone rebel on the tour bus was sooooo funny. I was just picturing all those people acting innocent! And as for the stores closing so early - I too found that crazy when I went to Europe with Dad one time. So un-American! As for your reaction about the pay phone - maybe you were hungry! ;) And how interesting that they still do take coins ...