May 13, 2006
We are on the way back to Indiana and I just thought I'd share a quick overview and impression with everyone. We spent a week in Scotland visiting Edinburgh for 2 days to start and finished there, and going to Aberdeen and Stonehaven for the other 3 days. We met people involved with theaters, the writer of the play “The Rout”, Bob Adams, the Center Stage Acting Company of Aberdeen University, and, Alan Spence, writer in residence at Aberdeen University. While in Edinburgh Travis, Nick, and I stayed late after many of us enjoyed “The Rout” and visited with the cast and playwright over a cup of coffee. There were also a few evenings that many of us spent experiencing the city of Aberdeen with members of Center Stage.
During the days we visited castles, met with playwrights, and learned about the literary history of the areas we visited. Aside from a few group events, the evenings were mostly free time to further our experiences and explore the cities. We all had a great time, met a wide range of personalities, and have a greater appreciation of Scottish heritage.
Today marks the end of our trip to Scotland, involving an early morning, getting up at 6am local time, to get on a plane for the states. Fortunately, everybody made it out of bed and through security, and the food on the way over was halfway decent this time. Our last night in Edinburgh was fairly uneventful, as most people opted for an early bed, though the hostel was throwing a charity party downstairs so there were a large number of interesting people coming and going.
Overall, I think this trip has been both a lot of fun and very educational. Personally, I was happy with the number of connections we made and conversations we had. We are improving international relations one step at a time, hopefully. Of particular interest, some of us were able to have an extended conversation with one of the actresses in the play we saw in Edinburgh, and it turns out she has won an award for her production of a short film. The term used was a BAFTA if I remember correctly, though I’ll admit I’ve forgotten what the acronym stands for, it was explained to us as the equivalent of one of our Oscars.
The Scottish countryside was beautiful, the fellowship was good, particularly with the Center Stage group from the University of Aberdeen, and I think most of us came away with some good writing and some even better story ideas. We even kicked around the idea of crafting a musical set in an airport, though I don’t think that will go anywhere.
I’m very grateful for the opportunity to experience so much of the Scottish culture, and eagerly awaiting my next trip over there, which luckily for me will be with the Glee Club later this month. Scotland go bragh!
May 12, 2006
Another day, another enormous complimentary breakfast at Crombie Hall at the University of Aberdeen. It turned out to be well needed, as we’d spend most of the remainder of the day walking and burning off those calories.
We departed late in the morning for Stonehaven. We were unable to reserve a coach for the group of us, so the trip ended up being close to a twenty-minute train ride. Stonehaven is an impressive old town, surrounded by some of the most beautiful landscape I’ve ever seen. It's actually about a two-mile walk south of the town to get to Dunnottar Castle, our destination for the day. The castle is surrounded by cliffs on three of its sides, and there are multiple ways of reaching the cliffs. The faces of the cliffs and the sea below were quite impressive. I had to stop myself from taking so many pictures, just because the beautiful scenery simply didn’t translate nearly as well onto film.
While at Dunnottar, we were able to retrace the steps of Mary, Queen of Scots and William Wallace. This particular castle is still privately owned, and its attractions weren’t nearly as informative as those at the castle in Edinburgh. Regardless, it’s an impressive castle on a beautiful hilltop, however, I was slightly bitter about the fact that we chose some interesting paths to get to the castle, and the journey ended up being uphill both ways.
After all of the uphill walking, we returned to the train station, only to find that our train had been cancelled. We weren’t too upset about it; the next one was set to come in an hour, and we were all pretty hungry at that point. We ended up walking to a fish and chips shop that was apparently the home of the deep-fried Mars bar. I could almost hear my arteries hardening as I ate the Mars bar, which was mediocre at best.
We returned later than expected, and many of us were unable to attend the portion of the World Festival that we had planned. We didn’t let it affect our evening plans, as many of us joined some theater students from Aberdeen at a pub downtown. I can tell you now that when I get back to the States, I’ll be plenty ready for a few days worth of sleep, but for the moment, I’m trying to live it up as much as possible while we’re still in Scotland. Cheers!
Our stay in Aberdeen, unfortunately, does not correspond with the actual dates of the Word Festival. However, one of the most productive and enjoyable connections we made in Aberdeen was the relationship we’ve built with the Center Stage Theatre Group on campus. Tuesday evening we ran a workshop with the group where both Wabash men and the Center Stage actors read original works with varying degrees of Midwestern, Scottish, and English accent. This was quite possibly the most beneficial aspect to our writing. Hearing a work read out loud by actors is always helpful for the writer; however, the works take on all new aspects when actually performed. The Wabash men and our newfound friends in Center Stage combined in mixed groups and gave workshop performances to the others, which were both hilarious and helpful to us as writers.
The real connection though, as everything else in Scotland, was made in the pub. There’s nothing better than going out for a pint with new friends. More so than just the workshops, the actors made us feel like true Scots, or at least like we were more than Hoosiers in a strange land. Over the course of the few days in Aberdeen, we went out and found a truer sense of the city and the culture through these friendships. We did not waste time finding the best restaurants and pubs because our fellow students were our tour guides. Now for some, the best places in Aberdeen included the clubs and some rather late nights. For me, however, I found an easy joy in sitting in the pub with a pint talking theatre, literature, and production with Center Stage’s club president. It was a relationship that was good to build and hopefully lasts longer than just these few short days.
May 11, 2006
An early awakening and breakfast at the hostel leads us into the day. The class packs up their items and Dwight and company meet us at the entrance of the hostel. We make our way around the corner to Waverly Station and restlessly await the departure of our train to Aberdeen.
I find myself anxious to depart on our journey for the fact that I might learn more about the natural landscapes and rural life of Scotland. After a short wait, the group makes its way toward the train and shortly thereafter, the train leaves the station. I must say that the travel accommodations are much better and more spacious that any of our previous means, and that, for a tall person much like myself, comes as a relief. The ride is enjoyable and as we make our way out of the city, I find myself more intrigued by the passing scenery.
The city is built in an old style and all of the buildings remain that way. The architecture of the city is consistent and one must search to find a modern looking building. All of the businesses have adapted these old buildings to meet their needs but the exterior of the buildings are remarkably ancient and ornate. Row after row of buildings pass by, both industrial and residential, tearing through the city on the rails. A short duration elapses and I find myself observing the life of the Scottish Highlands. The scenery is remarkable. Miles upon miles of rolling hills, low-lying simple houses, and fields upon fields of blooming flowers and green pastures. The vegetation seems to be a more hardy variety then you would find in the fields of Indiana, that is if you could find a natural pasture not previously marked by agricultural production. The brush grows in small clumps and the trees scatter the landscapes, a few here, one here, one there. The natural contour of the land seems to roll itself. The curves of the hills are flowing and moving. Even if I were not in the train rolling by, the hills themselves would give me a feeling of movement, a natural and even calming motion.
Small communities are viewed along the way but it seems that these folk live in their own little areas. Flocks of animals can be seen grazing the open pastures of this beautiful land as we follow the coast of Scotland on the other side of the train. I do not have much of a view of the water from my seat but I feel that the view I have been afforded on this side of the vehicle is much more representative and fascinating. All of the remarkable scenery, the flocks, green, colour, houses, trees, brush, hills, and the rocking of the train rolls me into the trance of sleep…
Three days in and survival has become my utmost concern. The dollar does not do well in translation to the pound, and the prices pound that point home. The language barrier seems to be a slight hindrance that borders on risk if conversation is taken in a ‘pissed’ state (especially on the brink of sports and soccer). I have adapted and have only the highest outlooks regardless of present condition.
This morning I awoke to the click of the tower clock at 7:54. My sense have heightened in the absence of an alarm clock or any time system. I packed my gear and trudged to breakfast. I stocked my belly with tea, toast, and cereal, the delicacies of a free meal earned by staying at the St. Christopher hotel. Our party set out for the train station and Aberdeen against the backdrop of sunny skies. This happens to be the greatest threat at the moment. Rumors and reconnasaince brought me to the understanding that the country was under a continual fog , overcast skies, and drizzling to pouring rains. Now I am exposed to unforeseen weather, barely avoiding exposure and heat in the upper 60’s on a clear sunny day. Bloody hell.
The train ride left no hope. I began by observing the country side slide by. Astounding cliffs gave way to rolling meadows and vegetation of the most magnificent kind. I kept a keen eye out for unicorns and the Loch Ness monster but the noisy train gave away my position. I turned to reading some survival material but soon became aware of spy. A Sean Connery impersonator constantly eyed me as he used his technological splendors. Should he shupposhe to shee what I wash doin he should report my shupishious activities. Well I made shure to back track and erase my path upon my exit.
A brisk tour gave us a means of familiarization (and the introduction to magnificent King’s kirk) and then we were left to fend on our own. I escaped the economic traps of the Consumeristic regime and found myself deep in the heart of the woods. I realized the end was imminent so I began to formulate plans of survival. Much needed rest brought me into a deep sleep. I awoke to a beast breathing down my neck. I knew the best thing to do was play dead. Luckily its master soon called it back and the beagle narrowly avoided my next move which would have dehabilitated it beyond a chance of survival. Hunger began knowing my stomach and I knew I had to find a cure.
That had to wait as our group met up with an acting group of the college. Center Stage treated us to a very productive theatrical session in which we intermittently acted out plays and scenes. They tried to hypnotize us with their weird dialects, yet my extensive training left me un phased. Regardless of their efforts, I followed them to the local watering hole where we were lectured on the secretays of Scotland. None of which can be written here and now. Just remember though that goats of uneven legs form the greatest Scottish meal of ‘haggish’.
I now found myself penceless and exhausted after saving a Queen that was not my own and avoiding the enslaught of vocal assimilation. My English remains intact and my inflection is as Midwest as it can be. Scotland is not a place for the unprepared!
Tuesday marked our trek to Aberdeen, we woke up and gathered on the main floor of our hostel before leaving for the train station and boarding a train on our way to the University of Aberdeen. Once we arrived at the school we embarked on a lovely tour of the beautiful campus. Later in the evening we had a writing workshop with the Center Stage Theatre Group here at the University. We read some plays of their writing, some of ours, and we finally ended the day at the Bobbin, a small pub a few blocks from campus. This morning, after thinking about the train ride to Aberdeen, and the poem "From a Railway Carriage" by Robert Louis Stevenson, I wrote the following piece of creative writing. Enjoy!
The Train Kept Moving
A Narrative By Nick Kraynak
On Tuesday we took the train from Edinburgh to Aberdeen, where we would be staying for the next few nights at the University of Aberdeen, home of the 2006 Word Festival. The train ride there was an entirely new and different experience all its own. Now I am by no means a stranger to rail travel, but I had always before had some inane way of distracting myself from the outside world that was passing me by with every blink of the eye. This time, though, something was different. There seemed to be fewer distractions, fewer ways to avoid paying attention to the passing scenery, but the train kept moving. I tried sleeping, but the frequent passes of the ticket checker and the snack cart quickly dashed those hopes. At that point I started to look out my window, where I saw a number of sights, much more impressive than I truly expected, all flying by before I really got a chance to see them, before I could think about the fast moving objects and understand them, where they were, and why. Now that I think about it I guess they weren't really the fast moving objects leaving me, it was me traversing their expanse as quickly as the train would carry me, and the train kept moving. Graveyards, small towns, great cities, fields full of farm animals, and short stone walls dividing it all up, deciding where one man's reign ends and that of another begins, the ultimate adjudicator. The stone walls were my favorite part; they reminded me of Frost's "The Mending Wall" and all throughout the trip parts of that poem crept silently into my subconscious, and periodically I would think aloud, saying "Something there is that doesn't love a wall." and "Good fences make good neighbors." And so it went, until we neared Aberdeen, something would catch my attention and draw me in, get me thinking, really deeply thinking about it, and just like that it would be long gone, almost as quickly as it had appeared, and the train kept moving. Never again would I see the same things in the same way, this I knew. Much like Thomas Wolfe's idea that "You can never go home again" because your perceptions are constantly changing, I knew that even a few days later on my return journey I wouldn't have the same ideas about many things as when I arrived in Aberdeen. I didn't know what I should think about all they beauty, everything passing me before I could thoroughly see it, but the train kept moving, leaving me with less and less time to see, so bewildered, I gave up. I just stopped worrying about analyzing it all and just tried to enjoy the view. And the train kept moving. Each day brings with it new fun activities. We were really glad to meet with the Aberdeen theatre students, they were really fun to hang out with. Tonight they have invited us to their rehearsal of Agatha Christie's "And Then There Were None" the which, if you will excuse me, I am planning on visiting currently. Have a lovely day!
To get things started off right I have a message for someone very special across the Atlantic. Mom, I’m okay. Stop worrying, seriously. I’m fine.
Okay, now on to bigger and Scottish things. Our third day in the land of haggis was a very exciting one. It kicked off with a lovely two-hour train ride out of the historic and awe-inspiring Edinburgh to King’s College in Aberdeen. I personally caught up on some much needed sleep after all those crazy Edinburgh nights, but what I did see of the local landscape was quite beautiful. Upon our arrival, we checked into our rooms, which are quite like nice little hotel rooms. In fact, we’re staying in a bed and breakfast they have for guests. Think about that Wabash.
I bummed around most of the day with Jack looking for some cider and trying to meet people. We were fairly unsuccessful in both respects. The evening took us to meet the Center Stage Theater Company — the acting troupe on campus. They’re a great lot. We bounced some original works between the two groups and performed some short plays for each other — in short we got on famously. After all that excitement we headed over to the pub for some late-night debauchery. We discovered a bit about what a British drinking game is like. If someone drops a pence into your pint, you’re required to retrieve it immediately — I think we all know how that is done. This game has been appropriately named God Save the Queen. We stayed at the pub for a good three hours and got to know each other a little bit. Even after the barkeep threw us out, we stood around for nearly half an hour chatting uproariously.
Scotland so far has been really great. The people are very approachable and quite friendly. They’re loud in the pub and mice on the street. This place a very similar feeling to that of the hospitality found in our own south, and the people are about as difficult to understand. That isn’t to say you can’t understand them at all; you just have to work at it a bit. The woman here are quite beautiful. But coming from Wabash, any woman at all is a welcome change. Adjusting to the pound has been easier than I thought, and I’ve actually grown to prefer their currency. The pound and two pound coins they have finally made carrying loose change worth it—something that has bothered me about American money for quite some time now. The Scottish dialect is quite invading. I feel the twang of it slowly taking over my own speech patterns. I think I’m okay with that, though. Their slang is ace. I love the way these people talk to each other. Everything is so new here and exciting. I hate that I have to leave and can’t wait to come back. Scottish food is interesting as well. My vegetarian inclinations has kept me well away from haggis, but I’ve enjoyed other, more meat-free Scottish delights. International cuisine is very popular around here. So I’ve mostly been eating Indian food and other such delights. Well, after spending all this time trying to get something to throw up on the webpage here, I think I’m going to get and find some trouble to get into. I send my greetings to everyone back at home and hope everyone is enjoying their days as much as I have been. I send my love into the world as I venture out to greet it. Cheers.
May 09, 2006
I began the day in Edinburgh waking at 8:00 to get an early start. I then decided to venture out on my own. Solitude is preferable to me when I travel, especially in cities because I like to do my own thing. I wandered New Town a bit, still tired from the massive hike taken with Kyle and Tom the day before. The wandering was rather uneventful; I saw a lot of the city and just general acclimated myself to the hilly city.
After a tasty lunch provided by a little ingenious shopping on my part at the local Sainsbury’s, I proceeded on to the National Gallery, mere meters from our hostel. I didn’t have as much time as I would have liked, but then, I never have enough time in art museums. However, I did find an interesting piece of family history that morning. To provide background, when my mother and brother visited me in London last December, we toured St. Paul’s Cathedral, where I discovered I had an exponentially great, great, whatever named Benjamin West buried in one of the most sacred places in London. He lived during the Revolutionary War, but when war broke out, he left for England. He was an artist, not a fighter. While in London, he was appointed to direct the Royal Academy of Fine Arts. Very cool, I thought, I have some interesting family history. Flash forward to four months later and as I walked into the Scottish National Gallery, I turned to the left to find a fifteen by twenty foot epic portrait of a Scot stabbing a stag and saving the life of King Alexander III. As I read the ridiculously long title, I wondered, “Who could ever honestly name a painting like this? It’s cool, but what’s the story?” I looked at the plaque and realized that the man who painted this Scottish masterpiece was none other than Benjamin West, my ancestor, painting his famous ancestor saving the future king of Scotland. For all the events of the day, this was the most interesting and astonishing for me. I never knew what kind of art Benjamin West produced. The shock of traveling halfway around the world and randomly finding a piece by my ancestor was my highlight of the day.
William McGonagall (abstract)
“The Worst Poet in the World”
William McGonagall, known as “The worst Poet in the World,” was born in 1830 in the Scottish town of Edinburgh. His parents grew up in Ireland, but after William was born they never returned to their birth land. William was the humble handloom weaver. After struggling for many years, the McGonagall family settled in Dundee. For the first half of his life, William followed in his father’s footstep and became a weaver. However, his mind was elsewhere. He began to read the works of Shakespeare and was highly devoted to analyzing the great characters.
It was during this time that William McGonagall made the life switch from a humble weaver to an inspired poet. In June of 1877, William McGonagall was “divinely inspired to devote his life to poetry. He claimed to hear the voice of God saying, “WRITE. WRITE!” For the rest of his days, McGonagall was devoted to his poetry. Today we see poetry as objective and inspiring to all our senses. This was not the case for William. His mind was said to be appalling to the audience and his poems were often mocked off stage. William McGonagall devoted the last 25 years of his life to poetry and was buried in a pauper’s grave. He was the writer of the worst poems in the English language, despite the fact that he was on a mission from God
Day 2 of Edinburgh, Scotland
I woke up on Tuesday at 8:00. We were going to have a workshop before we made our way to the Scotland Museum. Kyle and I stopped at Bobby’s Bar for a bowl of soup before we went through the museum. As we were walking down the royal mile we saw a sign for a “Literary Pub Crawl.” We didn’t know what to expect but it look pretty harmless. The sign advertised that we would visit the historic sights from Edinburgh’s literary giants. I couldn’t recognize the pictures on the sign so I didn’t know if my great Scot was part of the tour. So, I just signed up hoping that he would be and continued about my day.
The museum was interesting. I particularly enjoyed the extensive history of Scottish Kings and Queens. I took a course this semester on The Reformation. It was really cool to connect the dots and see actual artifacts on a subject where I was given a test. Looking at them now was for pure enjoyment. However, I still could not find anything on my great Scot.
The rest of the day was spent walking around the town with Tom. He had signed up for the pub-crawl and we decided to meet Kyle at the start of the tour. Allen Foster was the name of our guide. The tour was called the pub-crawl. He should call it “Edinburgh History 101.” Since he knew so much, I decided to ask him about William McGonagall. I was the only American that he has met who knew anything about William. He took us to Captain’s bar. It was said that William McGonagall would read his poems every night at Captain’s. William would carry an umbrella, not for the rain, but from all the ale that would get thrown at him each night.
I was introduced to the bartender as the only American who has read a McGonagall poem. The bartender asked me how I liked it and before I could answer he said, “It sucks.” I was so happy that my research paid off and I could connect with the culture. I will never forget the plaque outside Captain’s that read, “William McGonagall died here. A poet and a tragedian.” It had been put up recently by a few local supporters.
Greetings from Scotland! Our second day consisted of a tour of Edinburgh’s museums, parks, cafe’s and of course, pubs. We were also able to observe a local play called, The Roup. A roup, for those of us in America who are unacquainted with such UK colloquialisms, refers to the selling of a farm. It is also an opportunity for the owners of the farm to hold something of a yard sale, during which items of sentimental value are often reacquired and hidden away by the woman of the house (thus, hardly anything is ever really sold).
The play was a great opportunity to hear some of the different Scottish dialects and was strikingly reminiscent of home. (my mother tends to be steadfast to her heirlooms whenever we have a yard sale). Finally, a few of us went on a ghost tour of Edinburgh, which wasn’t very scary but was entertaining and historical. I would like to end with saying that Tennets is my favorite beer here in Scotland so far, and the University of Aberdeen seems promising. I now know why it is easier for me to concentrate at Wabash, where there are no girls are to be found. Not the case here. Till next time. Cheers
So full day number two down and only a few more left on our adventure. It has definitely been a little intimidating here so far. Many of the natives have thick accents, sounding something like a perpetual drunken slur. My experience in translation over the years at Wabash has made picking up the native tongue a bit less hairy, but I can say it's been quite a chore. A play we saw last night by a local, Bob Adams, even brought regional dialects into the mix. Though this all may seem intimidating, it has actually helped to make my Scottish experience a very authentic one. My expectations of Scotland, the working-class pubs, the lively people, the beautiful architecture, the fresh air etc. have been far exceeded. I am looking forward for a few days at Aberdeen to cap off a successful trip.
May 08, 2006
The day had finally arrived, we had finally arrived in Scotland, and the culmination of an entire semester had arrived. After we dropped our bags at the hostel where we’ll be staying in for three nights of the trip, we ventured as a group to Edinburgh Castle for a short tour. The highest building in the castle, right in the center of the fortification, was a war memorial. The inner chamber of the building served as a mMemorial for numbers of unknown soldiers who had laid down their lives to defend the country they loved. A few lines were chiseled into the stone walls telling of the reverence that the Scots have for these valiant soldiers. This inscription inspired the enclosed narrative; it read “The souls of the righteous are in the hand of God. There nothing cam harm them: they are in peace. Others also there are who perished unknown; their sacrifice is not forgotten and their names, lost to us, are written in the books of God.” The title of the piece is The War Memorial.
The War Memorial
Simply walking into the room is belittling. The first thing that catches your eye is an inscription on the walls surrounding you. As you read of the respect and appreciation these people have for the numbers of unknown soldiers who have laid down their lives for their country, you become aware of the source of your initial awe at simply seeing the place. The inscription reads: “The souls of the righteous are in the hand of God. There nothing cam harm them: they are in peace. Others also there are who perished unknown; their sacrifice is not forgotten and their names, lost to us, are written in the books of God.” And there I had already, on the first day of my journey, come across what I knew would be one of the most memorable parts of the entire trip. I knew that I would carry many memories from that trip with me for the rest of my life, but those forty-five simple words, and the rest of the spectacles with which my eyes met in that small inner chamber, no doubt gave a better start to my voyage than I could have possibly dreamed.
Yesterday was the travel day, a lot of fun though entirely too long. Woke up at 8:00 or so, did some last-minute running and packing, got on the bus for the airport at 10:30, but our plane was delayed in Houston and didn’t arrive until about 3:00, meaning we sat in the airport for about two hours doing nothing.
Then we got onboard our tiny plane (one of the small ones, still a jet, but had three seats across and no room whatsoever), cramming Nick in as necessary. At least he got an aisle seat. The flight was short, and then we had about an hour to kill before our UK flight left, so we grabbed a bite to eat and then sat around. A pair of airline employees were pushing an old lady in a wheelchair around, asking if anybody knew how to speak Spanish. One of my classmates heard them and so got me, and I got to translate for the lady. She was from Puerto Rico and didn’t speak any English, so the people pushing her had no idea where she needed to go. I guess she thought they were asking where she was from, because she just kept saying “Puerto Rico” but it turns out she just needed to get to baggage claim, so I was able to help them out and get them to where they needed to go. The joys of being able to speak two languages are many.
The flight to the UK was much better, a Boeing 757 with pillows and blankets for everyone. The in-flight movie was Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, which I watched before getting some very small amount of shut-eye. The food was terrible, as expected. By the time they got back to us, all of the dinners they had left were the vegetarian plates which consisted of rice, and a couple things I couldn’t identify let alone eat. Breakfast was better, which consisted of a croissant roll and peaches, along with some OJ and coffee. Then the plane landed through some very thick fog.
Getting off the plane and through the passport station was relatively painless, though standing in line took a while. Then we went to the hostel, put our bags in the luggage room, and headed up to the castle. The castle was pretty neat; I have plenty of pictures, though we weren’t allowed to take pictures of the memorial to the Scots who died fighting in WWI, which was a simply amazing building. Then we walked back to the hostel and all proceeded to fall asleep in the common room around noon. Dr. Watson woke us up to check us in around 3:00 or so and we went back to sleep. I woke up at 11:30 and went out to try to find a bite to eat, wound up at some little place with some good pizza, then came back to the hostel, where I found some of the guys at the bar downstairs. They were having open mic night, so I decided to sit around and hang out for a bit. With 17 being the legal age to drink in Scotland, the hostel’s bar seemed to be a pretty popular place, even given that it was Sunday.
I finally went to bed (again) around 1:30 in the morning, and woke up at about 9:30 to get some breakfast downstairs. Cereal, toast, and water, but good enough for free. Below is a piece of overheard dialogue from last night, in which I am the American. The pair were speaking in Spanish.
(A senor and a senorita sit at a bar, talking. An American sits at a table nearby, eating.)
They’re so rude.
Better than the English.
Yeah, but my dog is better than the English.
Oh, be nice.
I’ll be nice when they stop being so damn stuck-up.
At least they tip well.
No, the Americans.
Only because they can’t count their change, so they just leave it all.
They’re not that bad, just out of place.
(The American stands, leaves some money on the counter, and heads for the door)
See? Can’t even count his change.
(American pauses in the doorway, considering something. Finally, he turns, smiles and nods to the pair at the bar, who return the gesture.)
I speak Spanish.
Events of 5/7/06
Around noon today, which my body feels as 7am, I was starving. Looking though Edinburgh Castle had drained much of the little energy remaining after our 6 hour flight. Some of us decided to go to Pizza Hut, but looking for Scottish fare, Kyle and I scoured the closes (A Close is like an alley in American, but they have names and are clearly marked.) in search of a pub. Our first attempt was “The Scotsman’s Inn” a small pub advertising “Beer” “Food” and drink specials. We walked in and sat down at a table, which was made of half of a barrel. We had waited for a few minutes and looked at the beer list, when two other Americans walked into the pub. They asked the bartender for a menu, to which he replied, “We don’t serve food.” Slightly embarrassed and shocked, Kyle and I left the pub to continue searching.
We headed down Fleshmarket Close at a whim, and passing a goth night club came upon The Halfway House, a small pub on the corner of two closes. We entered, and the kindly Scottish couple tending the bar said hello. The owner, a middle aged man, welcomed us and asked us what we’d have to drink. “Umm,” I said, “What’s good?” What followed was a 30 minute lecture on beer and beer-making which I will summarize for our readers. The owner informed us that his beers, Bitters and Ales, were true Ales made with yeast. “These are served warm,” He said, “because anything under 5 degrees celcius will kill the yeast.” It’s the yeast that creates the flavor and gives the beer its head. “Unlike your American beers,” we were informed, “which are full of carbon-dioxide, which everyone knows is a poison!” Admitting our beer inferiority, he then gave us free samples of several of his beers, before I selected the “Houston Texas” a British beer with an American name (taste, not homesickness, guided my choice). I had rosemary lamb, being too unadventurous to try haggis, neeps and taters. But fear not dear readers, I refuse to leave this land without trying the Scottish dish and will let you know how it goes.
We landed between 7 and 8 AM local time. We got on a bus to Waverly Station, then walked to our hostel. After dropping off our things we all went to Edinburgh Castle. The walk included half of the Royal Mile, then we entered the Edinburgh Castle. The front gates were impressive, a fortification that was added after a siege on the castle. This followed a pattern of many instances of where they added fortifications after there was a loss of the castle with a major event being at where they built the new defenses. While touring the castle, the buildings seemed small and the history was very long and detailed, at times even boring. However, later when I was walking around other parts of Edinburgh the sight of the castle was impressive. The hill on which it is built has very steep and rocky faces on most of the sides with the exception of where you enter the castle along the Royal Mile, the street connecting the castle with the residence of the Queen and the Parliament building.
The streets are lined with stores and restaurants. There are pubs every block at least. I planned on going to Mass at 8 PM at Sacred Heart Catholic Church, but I lost track of time. I headed in the direction of the Church at 8:10 and took a wrong turn. I finally walked in at about 8:35 and they were already finishing. So I took the long way back to the hostel, experiencing the Royal Mile. The streets were mostly empty, I was too late for the dinner crowd and too early for the party goers. Getting back to the hostel around 9 PM I was exhausted and decided to go ahead and try to catch up on sleep. This wasn't as easy as I planned because apparently there is a big nightclub a couple buildings down and they let out a noisy crowd at about 3 AM. After 30 minutes to possibly an hour of noisy, drunken banter and what I think sounded like a fight or two I finally got some more rest.
Scotland is pretty cool. Well, its as cool as my sleep deprived, alcohol driven insomnia will allow. You see my anticipation for this trip has left me eagerly awaiting the next moment so I have been forced to prepare for this experience to make it the best it could be. I knew my golf game was fine, so I worked on the finer details. My mom knitted me a scarf with our family colors. My girlfriend turned my favorite flannel into a make shift kilt that would fool any tourist. My brother pitched in and found some blue face paint. I took nature watching and photography classes in between my 14 viewings of Braveheart to ensure that Nessie would not escape my grasp. I couldn’t find bagpipes so I engineered some recorders and hot water balloons to the tune of Amazing Grace, Scotland’s national song. I then proceeded to check out every Sherlock Holmes book I could find, but there was no time for reading while I was training my liver so The Great Mouse Detective had to do. I found a nice Scottish brew, Robert the Bruce, (the buffalo skin wearing guy from Mel’s masterpiece) but bystanders pointed out it was brewed in Indiana. Some people started to talk like I was crazy. I knew better than to believe their anti-Scottish sentiment. One girl told me I was just wrong and an ignorant fool. I did a little investigation into her Scottish understanding and found that she had never even seen Braveheart. She knew nothing, bloody wanker. It was finally time to depart, and I was ready. If anything went wrong, it would be that I was more Scottish than any of the lads in Scotland.
We had a slight delay which allowed me to work on my accent. Perfect, let me tell you. On the flight over, I persuaded a young lass of a flight attendant into playing of a football tape, that’s soccer to the ignorant American, for the in flight movie. She decided it would be a good cultural experience, well that and her other movies mysteriously disappeared. At first my fellow passengers didn’t take to the choice and began to express more anti-Scottish propaganda. So I used some Scottish persuasion to win them over and bought the plane a round. To keep spirits high, I sprinted up and down the isles leading cheers. Any soccer hooligan would have been proud. Just when I was about to beat down some British wanker like Wallace, the flight attendants ushered me back to my seat and kept guard. It was a good idea though, I needed to get good and pissed before we landed. So I tried to keep the crowd going while I pounded a few more pints and waited for touchdown.
Apparently Scotland has changed a bit since the release of Mel Gibson’s documentary, so I was forced to adapt. My plan and my kilt were both unraveling so circumstances and my groups persuasion forced me to don the horrifying American tourist clothing that I tried to leave behind for this immersion trip. With the World Cup a month away, St. Andrews miles away, and Sherlock Holmes in London, depression set in. The local pub offered me a cure in some Scotch and ale. I was pretty down, so I took a few doses just to be sure that I was cured. Spirits soared as I saw that the itinerary began with a tour of a castle. I bided my time, planning on how best to scale the walls or ram the gate. Well our fearless leader somehow bought us safe passage and we found ourselves within the hallowed walls of Edinburgh castle.
Edinburgh castle is a testament to the Scottish Culture I had come to expect. It mirrored the culture around it by adapting with time while maintaining the history and integrity that consumes the Scottish motif. We passed by the old and new gatehouses, donned with statues of Robert the Bruce (first king of Scotland) and William Wallace (no introduction needed) on our way under the menacing Foog’s Gate. We immediately laid eyes upon canon lined walls and mazes of walls, passageways, and monuments. This fortress has been through countless sieges, battles, and take overs, but always ended back in the Scottish hands. My favorite story was the success of Robert the Bruce’s nephew, Randolph. He succeeded in placing an undercover soldier on the inside at a strategic locale that allowed many other elite soldiers to scale the wall with an intricate system of ladders. They slyly moved to the gate and raised the gate before an alarm could be sounded. Randolph was close by with his army dressed as merchants and they soon stormed the castle and bringing Scotland back its greatest castle.
The stories of Scotland are laced into every stone inside this amazing castle. From the oldest building, St. Margaret’s chapel, to the recently built and still used soldier’s garrison, there is a tale to tell at every corner. War memorials testify to the spirit of its dead soldiers. Scotland knows its history is indebted to this fortress, so the magnificent crown jewels, scepter, sword, and stone of Scone are on display here. All of these items in and of themselves have great stories, but they can be told at a later date.
I continued to roam the shadows of this place, looking for any British that wanted to take back the place. I found myself learning about the intricacies of construction and the survival of the place after Oliver Cromwell. My blurred vision, a side affect of the pub’s cure, was sobered by the spectacular panoramas of Edinburgh. I eventually found myself in the War prisons and really began to understand some things for the first time. I had conveniently forgot that Scotland was against America during our revolution against Britain. They had transported several prisoners back to this castle during the war. These prisoners had remained here for several years. During that time they managed to carve their initials and messages into the doors that still remain to this day. Seeing a two hundred year old American flag engraved on foreign soil as a result of fighting for my people brought on new meaning to this trip. I was not getting Scottishized but rather I was learning about a culture. I left that castle ready for more.
I know now that my preparations may have been a bit rash, but not all in vain. I am sure that they will all come in handy soon on this trip. I have not lost my original spirit, but just settled in for the sake of my traveling companions. Insomnia remains and spirits are high. There is more to see, and drink, but Scotland is pretty cool. JRS