I guess I'm just really grateful that one of my co-workers agreed to cover my class tonight, otherwise I'd probably never have finished. Never never never.
I re-watched Notting Hill this afternoon, as I was processing the UK entries (it seemed appropriate). That movie always makes me smile- not just because it's a sweet movie (which it is) but because it always reminds me of my Katie. And if that's not reason to smile, I don't know what is. We went and saw that movie in the theater when it was first released, on a girl date, and afterward she said to me that she loved the ending because it made it obvious that it wasn't an ending- it was a beginning. I completely agree with her.
I am such a crankasaurus right now. Wish I didn't have to go back to work tomorrow- but I do. Which means I really ought to get to bed, because I'm feeling utterly burnt out and exhausted. Sorry for the basic lameness of this post, but hopefully you will be mollified by the complete awesomeness of the thirteen that I threw down for the past two weeks...
Also, have a picture.
It wasn't true- she didn't hate the couch. But she did hate the couch-cover, that horrible piece of fabric that transformed her lovingly selected couch into a hideous, ill-defined blob.
"You are everything that's wrong with my life," she continued, attempting in vain to tuck the stretchy material in between two cushions, and thereby impart a sense of 'furniture' to the mess. "You're turning something awesome into something stupid, just because it's more practical," (this said as though the word were a particularly offensive expletive) "And you're ugly and you don't even really get the job done, anyway. Sure you shield from repeated vomit attacks, but look- just look!" She plucked ineffectually at a densely perforated bit that might have covered an arm. "You're useless when it comes to claw-protection!"
She flopped down on the puke-green microfiber and let out a gusty sigh. "I hate you," she repeated, "But I just don't have the guts to go without you."
Our holiday was really great- but I won't get too into that here, since I'm about to go back and post what I wrote while I was gone. It may take a while to get them all up, because right now they're in a sort of raw, "We did this, then this, then this," form, whereas I would like to put them into Witty Anecdotal form. Preferably with photos, but since Nate has approximately 1300 of them to process, that may take even longer.
What I will do is give some of my overall (ie, random) thoughts...
London is full of fabulous things to see, and you'd really need a few years to do them all justice. The people, however, leave a wee bit to be desired (one little old lady actually drew away from me in narrow-eyed suspicion when I smiled at her. Sadly, her reaction really wasn't that much more extreme than most...). In my opinion Edinburgh, although less brimming with Iconic Structures, is overall the far superior city, as are its denizens. I don't know... Scotland just felt like more of a home place to me. That's not to say I didn't thoroughly love the Lake Distric of Cumbria (I truly, truly did) but there was just something soothing about the Scottish countryside... an odd word to apply to craggy, windswept mountains, but true nonetheless. As far as London goes, Nathan and I both loved the convenience of the Tube (especially those Oyster Cards!)- however we wouldn't want to live in an area with the requisite population-density to require it.
We learned that as much as we love our family (and we do!), such large gatherings are probably better suited for National Parks than urban areas or long bouts of caravan-ing. Also, too many Alpha Personalities on one holiday can get... interesting. But the predicted homicides never actually manifested, so go team! Nathan and I have been discussing the possibility of taking a family trip with my side to Germany... that will have to wait a while, tho. Recovery, and all that.
Furthermore, the word "queue" is awesome, and I don't care what Nathan says to me about sounding pretentious, I'm using it from here on out. It's great fun to holler out, "Queue up!" at a mass of unruly individuals. I did inform a few locals, however, that our "Yield" signs beat the pants off their "Give Way" signs, so I'd say we're equal on the funny words front...
Also, I apparently must look at least a bit Scottish, since I got asked not once but twice for directions while in Edinburgh (one time by an actual Scotsman). I do kind of wish we'd gotten to Wales, to see how I fit in there (good bit of blood from that country- hence the slanty eyes) but ah well... just have to save that for another trip.
My Osprey pack turned out to be a very fine investment indeed (as did the Marmot PreCip jackets), and I must say that I did a perfect job of packing it. What makes me say this, you ask? Because I used every single thing I packed (minus the universal sink-stopper) and didn't wish for anything I didn't bring. So go me, way to pack 13 days of stuff for two people into one bag, and still be able to hump it all over the UK. Which leads me to this; we're in pretty good walking-with-crap-on-our-backs shape now. I hope to somehow capitalize on this as a launching-off place for getting us into superb walking-with-crap-on-our-backs shape. I strongly desire some PCT time... specifically the John Muir Trail. Just think of the photos Nate could churn out of that little experience!
Speaking of which, I'm pretty excited to show off what he got from this holiday. I hope you're equally excited to see them.
Finally, it took me three days to adjust to looking the proper direction while crossing the street, and frankly I'm a bit nervous that I'll have a bit of trouble adjusting back to American standards- I had to remind myself not to get panicky while Jeff was driving us home from the airport yesterday...
(PS; you'll be pleased to know the Rat Babies survived our absence and are just as hale and hearty as ever- big props to my mom or checking in on them!)
Our day started at 0630 (okay, technically Nate’s didn’t start until 0700, when I got stern) so that we could finish packing and then go grab some breakfast before meeting up with the others at 0730. We bid a fond farewell to our little Yotel room (which may have seriously been our most favorite hotel on this entire trip- certainly a damn sight better than the EasyHotel) and headed upstairs for some grub.
Nathan, of course, didn’t want anything, but I took advantage of the M&S Simply Food (side note: I cannot tell you how much I wish our country had this chain…) to grab a tuna and red-pepper sandwich, along with a few snacks for the flight. Once we’d gotten our little cat herd in once place, we began to amoeba our way towards check-in, where we learned why you’re supposed to show up two hours before your international flight is scheduled to leave.
We stood in that damn queue, inching our way forward, for an hour. And no, I am not exaggerating for the sake of a better story- in fact I’m actually being a bit modest, because I distinctly remember glancing at my time-piece and realizing an hour had passed, and yet we still hadn’t made it to the front…
Eventually we did, however, and from there we went on to security- where they confiscated my Febreeze (which, in all fairness, was in a 6oz bottle- but there was less than 3.5oz of it… oh well…) (and, by the way, a total life-saver in terms of keeping our limited clothing supply bearable) and tried to take my Stag’s Breath whisky liqueur, but I started to kick up a high holy fuss until Nathan calmly pointed out that no matter what the agent thought it looked like, the label on the bottle was 10cl, which was within our volume rights.
I got to keep it.
We had to book it through the rest of the airport, since they were already boarding our flight, but we all made it on okay (although for a while there we thought for sure the Jeff and Elizabeth kitties were going to miss it) and settled in for another eight-hour test of endurance.
Customs was shockingly efficient, but security managed to irritate me. Nathan and I ended up in the body-scan line, which apparently cannot handle scanning such dangerous articles as sunglasses or gold bracelets (I really freaking hate it when they take my bracelet away from me- it was my great-grandmother’s, and there is literally no reason for them to make me take it off). Before I got in they asked if I had anything in my pockets. I told them no. I went and stood in the stupid thing, then they had me stand outside of it, not moving, where they again asked if I had anything in my pockets (shockingly I had not managed to get anything into them between one side of the machine and the other) and then they left me there while they glared at me and didn’t say anything, then they frisked me, and finally said into their little walkie-talkie “female cleared”.
What. The. Hell.
Seriously, I get that it’s for our safety or whatever, but you’d think they’d at least do me the courtesy of telling me why the hell I have to stand in one place, not moving. What about me was so suspicious that there had to be walkie-talkies involved?? And, as Nathan pointed out, the whole thing is just stupid if you’re not subjecting everyone to the same process, which they were not. The other queue, which Jeff and Elizabeth were in, was not subjected to the body scan (although they did unpack their bag because apparently their rolled up clothing looked like food- and yet they let the girl ahead of them take through an over-the-size-limit Tupperware container of pork and beans. Again I say: What. The. Hell.)
We had about a four hour layover in CLT, which was uneventful, as was the final leg home to Birmingham. It is definitely nice to be in my clean apartment, snuggled up in my high thread-count sheets, after the luxury of a shower which involved a loofah and conditioner. And now I’m going to stop fighting, and go to sleep (after all, as far as my body is concerned, it's after two in the morning tomorrow...)
Nathan and I got up bright and early with the idea of running (not literally) back down to the Royal Mile to pick me up a girl-kilt. We did this will our full packs in tow, since we were supposed to be checked out of the house by 1000, and to Waverley train station by 1130. Once we started shopping around, however, I couldn’t find one that I felt justified in purchasing. They were all either expensive and overpriced, or cheaper but still overpriced considering the cheap fabric (not to mention the issue of finding my size and a tartan I liked), and when it came right down to it none of them really called my name. So I sulked for a while, then remembered a gorgeous rainbow moonstone and rose quartz necklace I’d seen at a vendor the other day, and dragged Nathan down to see if it was still there. If it wasn’t, I had the backup plan of buying a piece of jewelry incorporating green Scottish marble (from the vendor I’d previously purchased my true moonstone pendant from). Weeelllll, as it turned out, the vendors weren’t there at 0930. Nor were they there are 1000. Nathan was well and truly irritated with me by this point, so I pathetically submitted to heading down to the train station, where we verified the fact that our train didn’t leave until 1130. After a bit of wheedling (of which I am just a smidge ashamed) I coerced him into heading back to the vendor area one more time, with the caveat that if they still weren’t there he had the right to a free punch.
Fortunately for my arm, they were there. At least, the Two Skies people and their Scottish marble were, so after much dithering (my tiny fingers make it quite difficult to pick up rings at open air markets) we finally selected one flanked with silver trinity knots, and it was with great satisfaction that I allowed him to herd me back to the train station, where we were just in time to meet the others as they walked in.
The train ride was about four hours long, much of which Nathan and I passed in pleasant conversation with the elder Scottish ladies who sat across the table from us. Scots seem to be far more friendly than the English, as a general rule. Of course, that’s not entirely fair- the people in Portsmouth and Keswick were quite friendly- mostly it was the Londoners who were complete twats.
Once at King’s Cross we took the obligatory Hogwarts Express Photos, then scattered like light-exposed cockroaches.
Nathan and I headed back to the National Gallery, where the coat-check people were assholes to me, and although it was clearly marked everywhere that the Galleries closed at 1800, they shut off the lights at 1730. We stubbornly stayed the course for a few more minutes, but finally gave up and left, bringing the grand total of our time spent in the National Gallery up to a robust fifty minutes. ::sigh:: I never did manage to see the Portrait Gallery…
In need of the kind of comfort that can only be provided by delicious food, we returned to Victoria and The Marquis (home of the only non-douche Londoner we’d met). Nathan had a steak, I indulged in Moroccan-spiced bangers and mash, and we each had a pint of the delightfully refreshing Kopparberg pear cider. Much mollified, we returned to Victoria Station, where we just so happened to run into another part of our cat herd, with whom we teamed up to hop on a train down to Gatwick. Sadly, no meeping people or erudite beggars made an appearance on that journey...
And so we return to the delights of the Yotel, which again- I cannot recommend enough. How brilliant to be already at the airport! How fun to have all sorts of special lighting and a moving bed and amazing shower!
(Coming down the hallway to our "pod". Yes, they call them "pods".)
(The bed in it's couch form, tucked conveniently out of the way.)
(Looking into the glass-and-mirror walled bathroom- the shower is on the right end.)
(Yet another mirror- hello Nate!)
All in all, an excellent way to finish up our holiday in the UK...
It started out really good- Nathan and I got up early and hoofed it down to the castle to beat the queues, which we did manage to do.
Edinburgh Castle was really interesting, but the fact remains that I really preferred Stirling (Nathan agrees, as does Curt). Probably the best part of it was St. Margaret’s chapel, which was tiny and lovely and coincidently the oldest building in Scotland.
The funniest part came when we were making our way through the old prisons, and they had voices of “prisoners” piped in. Suddenly this really absurd, nasally accent came on and I looked at Nathan and said, “Is that supposed to be American?” and he stopped and listened and said, “Yeah, I think so…” and we burst into peals of laughter. So now I guess we know what we sound like to the Scots! I must admit, I mourn the fact that no one thinks and American accent is sexy… ah well…
(Look carefully- that's prison grafitti of an American flag: old-school star-formation, but Ameican nonetheless.)
(Know who does have a sexy accent? This guy.)
It took us three hours to get through the castle (and the “well stocked gift shop”, as pointed out by our audio guide) at which point we headed for what we had dubbed the “Skeksis Tower” (actually the Scott Monument) intent on climbing its 287 stairs to the top.
It cost £3 to go in, but considering the fact that they gave us a super-sweet print of the tower (each), we thought it was a deal! The structure is carved of sandstone*, which strikes me as a particularly poor choice seeing as how it barely made it 150 years before its first major restoration. It makes a body wonder why anyone would bother carving anything in any substance less hard than marble… I tell you what, when it comes to carving my mausoleum, diamond all the way! Anyway, we went up four winding, progressively narrowing stairwells (by the last one Nathan had to take off his backpack and squeeze through sideways) but were rewarded with a pretty sweet 360° view of the city.
By the time we inched our way back down, we decided it was more than time for a small smackeral- not to mention the fact that we both felt it was high time for us to indulge in the beloved “wee dram” of Scotland. So we hiked back up to the Lonely Planet recommended Malt Shovel, found a table, ordered food, and then took the bartender’s advice on some whisky.
I had a superbly smooth 12-year-old single malt, whereas Nathan went for a smoky 16-year-old single malt that had been locally distilled (yes, yes- I am kicking myself for not having written down names…). And let me tell you, friend- it was smoky. I took a small sip, and had to suck on lemons to get the flavor out of my mouth (only because I wanted to appreciate my whisky untainted, not because it was a disagreeable flavor)- it was, as Nathan put it, like having a bonfire made of autumn leaves in your mouth. In a good way. Furthermore, I could still smell the fumes on him well after we’d left the pub…
But back to the food. Nathan had the roast beef, and I the chicken pie, and both of us made sounds of squirmy happiness as we dug in. Wonderful, beautiful city with its tasty comfort food…
Our bellies filled and my mind pleasantly humming, we made our way over to the National Gallery of Scotland. There we saw the typical offerings of Italian dudes with questionable knowledge of actual female anatomy, but I also learned a thing about my husband- I learned that he likes the work of the Impressionists, most especially that of Monet. It was surprising to me because his own work is so meticulous and tight (dare I say anal retentive?) that I never would have guessed him to be a fan of their loose style… but this discovery led into a wonderful discussion of what we do and don’t like about Impressionism (I find that many of them are just sloppy and lazy- although I will agree to Monet’s superiority, because I feel he was truly working with ways to represent light, rather than looking for a way around having to paint the details of things…). All of my favorite works at this gallery, however, were located in the Scottish artists’ wing. The art-nouveau, gold-leafed Diana and Her Nymphs (Robert Burns), was originally done as part of a restaurant motif. The larger-than-life The Progress of the Soul: The Victory (Phoebe Anna Traquair) is silk and gold thread embroidered on linen, which absolutely blew my mind (I am a bit hapless at the fiber arts- not totally incompetent, but not likely to ever produce anything a fraction of that quality) (they don't have a link to The Victory, so I linked to The Entrance, which gives you the general idea). And my absolute favorite, Saint Bride 1913 (John Duncan) was actually done in friggin’ tempra, if you can believe it. I adored that one so much that I’ve a mind to order up a good sized reproduction of it (I managed to snag postcards of all three, but my soul cries out for larger pieces…)
We eventually wandered over to another exhibition that had just delightful pen and ink watercolors by two contemporary illustrators (Catherine Rayner and James Mayhew), then decided that the time had come for us to wander in the general direction of our temporary home. On the way we stopped by St. Mary’s Cathedral, not two blocks from the house. I must say, that is one of the best things about cities in the UK: cathedrals or monuments on every corner.
Once home our little cat herd made up its mind about where to go for dinner (not the Thai place, sadly) and set out. Indigo Yard was okay, I guess, but the truth of the matter is that it wasn’t as cool as it thought it was, and the food was only so-so. My burger was good, but Nathan said it was the least-delicious fish-and-chips he’d had on the trip, and the others seemed pretty equally unimpressed with their food. Oh well- at least we got a decent walk in.
It was after dinner that the storm struck. And by storm I don’t mean literal rainy storm, I mean people reaching their “I’ve-been-in-the-company-of-others-for-almost-two-weeks” breaking points. Long story short, I ended up needing to take a Very. Long. Walk.
It turned out to be for the best, however, as my rage-fueled wanderings brought me down to the Water of Leith, where I found some stinging nettle (how’s that for a genuine UK experience- I now have even more sympathy for the sister-of-swans...) but also St. Bernard’s Well, and eventually some peace (coincidence? Perhaps not…). I stayed quite a while down there, bird-watching and ruminating, until I finally decided to head back to the house, where things were soon resolved.
All the same, I think we’re all more than ready to be heading home.
* (Yeah, I know the Wikipedia entry says it's shale- but the literature from the monument itself says sandstone. Just goes to show, kiddos- you can't always believe what you read on the interwebs. Unless it's on my blog, of course.)
Yesterday’s foul mood had me doubting whether I’d like this city or not, but today’s adventures have brought me back around again.
Since it was a “fend for your selves” sort of day, Nathan and I took the opportunity to sleep in, lazing in bed until well after 0900. Once up, we set out for the little French café we spied last night, intent on the sort of pastries that make you roll your eyes back into your head in ecstasy. We were not, unfortunately, to have them- the café turned out to be less pastry, more sandwich-y, so we moved on with the idea of finding better fare elsewhere.
Our primary destination of the morning was Edinburgh castle, and I tell you we picked the most bass-ackwards manner of coming at that place. We cut through a park and popped up behind the castle, but the path we thought we’d follow up to it turned out to be closed, which meant we ended up having to find our way through winding streets around to the front. We eventually did, however, although by that time it was around noon and the ticket-queues were insane. We took one look at them and decided we’d just come back early tomorrow morning. That moved us to the second goal of the day, which was to stroll down the Royal Mile.
(That's Arthur's Seat in the background...)
It was a pretty steep hike, but the views of Edinburgh were absolutely magnificent.
Actually, if I’m going to be completely honest, we didn’t precisely make it all the way to Arthur’s Seat, per se. We reached a peak, and then the path started to go downhill, and we saw that there were stairs and a road not too far in the distance, so we figured it was just going to take us back down and that the views wouldn’t get any better than the ones we’d had- so we turned around. We later looked at a map and realized that we’d been on “the crags” rather than Arthur’s Seat. Whoops. Still, we got the view we were going for, so no point in feeling bad about it (except I do just a smidge and it will probably bother me forever until I get back to Edinburgh and do it properly…).
(Proof that I was there!)
On the way back down we had an encounter with the most beautiful, silky greyhound I’d ever had the privilege of caressing. He came trotting up to Nathan (who was crouched down taking a picture of me) just as friendly as can be, then helped himself to Nathan’s mocha, which made us both laugh.
His owner’s were mortified, but we didn’t mind, and I took the opportunity to love on him. The fellow (in his delectable Scottish burr) told Nate that if he saw us in town again he’d buy him another coffee: definitely the Edinburgh dwellers are far superior to Londoners in terms of friendliness…
We got back down and considered going into Hollyrood, but it had an entrance fee and we decided to forgo it (saving the entrance fee for tomorrow’s visit to the castle) so instead we began the trudge back up the Royal Mile.
(Nyah! Didn't want to pay your entrance fee anyway!)
On the way Nathan managed to attract the attention of a crazy person (usually that’s my forte) who rambled conspiracy theories at him and wouldn’t let him take a photo… I eventually managed to disengage us, and we continued on our merry way. We stopped at a jewelry vendor I’d admired on the way down, and I bought an especially nice moonstone pendant, as well as a ring for my mom made from a shard of Delft pottery recovered from a shipwreck.
We made it back to the guest house in one piece, although Nathan’s Achilles tendon in his right leg was threatening some serious mutiny. After a sufficient recovery, he accompanied me back out to Waterstones, a giant book store. I wanted to pick up a new Sanderson novel, but I discovered that it’s not entirely easy to get American books at a UK chain store… (I’d thought it was going to be a used and new store akin to Powells, but alas- I was mistaken). I settled for an omnibus edition of leGuin’s Earthsea novels, and we returned to the house for some quiet time.
Later in the evening (after everyone else had trickled in and we’d all traded stories) Nate and I headed out to the Thai restaurant (Songkran) we’d attempted to patronize last night. When we got there we were met with a highly apologetic owner who explained that they were closed due to electrical problems, but that he could do take out if we’d like.
We definitely liked.
So he sat and chatted with us while our food was prepared (sweet potato, veg pad thai, and pad kra prao with beef for Nathan) and then we brought it back to make everyone else jealous. And I have to say it was amazing- best Thai I’ve had in years. I’m hoping to convince the family to go there tomorrow night for our big family dinner, but somehow I think I’ll get shot down…
Our cat-herd left the city around 0800, heading for the rugged beauty of the Highlands. Our first destination was Loch Lomond, which necessarily led to endless repetitions of a certain folk-song. After stopping to take some photos (and in my case, dip my toes in its frigid waters) we followed it up, up, up to the North, with several more photo-stops (and one long stint in a tiny town for half of A Team while Don and Barbara returned to the previous stop in search of a misplaced camcorder).
(The banks really were quite bonny...)
(Nathan got quite a few lovely shots.)
(Doesn't it look inviting?)
(I repeat: bonny.)
(This is not part of Loch Lomond- this is from a waterfall we pulled over to get a good look at.)
Finally we made our way around and back down to the Lowlands, and Stirling, home of the absolutely breathtaking Stirling Castle (itself once home to Robert the Bruce).
Nathan was busy taking photos, so I made a break for it, and had a good hour or so of solitary wandering about the castle.
I eventually found myself in the tapestry-restoration room, which was beyond cool. If I’d been thinking I’d have drawn the women at work (photography is forbidden, as flashes are highly distracting and their work is quite painstaking) but to tell the truth I was so captivated by watching them work that it didn’t even occur to me until later. It was as I was making my way back to the main courtyard that Nathan found me, so we continued our exploration of the castle in a companionable manner. He even re-visited the Great Hall so that I could see the already-finished unicorn tapestries. Good man, that.
I had really hoped that the gift shop would have a piece of jewelry with the castle’s unicorn logo (preferably like a pendant in silver), but alas it did not (edit: nor was I able to find good unicorn jewelry anywhere in Scotland, which is kind of weird…) It was getting to be about That Time for moving on, so Nathan and I got some ice cream and headed out to the car, where Don, Curt and I noticed that the B Team van seemed to have sprung a flat. So rather than go check out the Wallace Monument (as planned), the three of us got down, dirty, and greasy, and changed that bad boy (my main contribution was figuring out where the spare tire and accessories were, and then how the hell to get at them- also I finagled the original tire back into the spare tire’s spot. Behold my clever problem-solving skills!) By the time we finished it was time to get on the road again, so we bid Stirling a fond fairwell and headed to the Edinburgh airport to return the vans.
Vehicles returned, we humped it over to the bus station, got yelled at by one worker for following the directions of another, and hopped on a double-decker bus that took us into Edinburgh proper, just blocks from the very nice townhouse we are renting for the next few days. Nathan and I (being under fifty, sans child, and un-pregnant) have been relegated to the very top floor, but that’s alright; the amount of meat and fat I’ve been eating over this past week and a half definitely calls for a little extra cardio.
He and I were seriously craving some Thai food, so we headed out to a nearby place (recommended by both Lonely Planet and our landlord) called Songkran. It was closed on Sundays, (much to our chagrin) but we made the best of it by walking a little further in search of an Indian place (also recommended by LP) called Omar Khayyam.
Now, normally LP is incredibly reliable. Hell, the restaurant they recommended in Montego Bay was the only thing that salvaged our brief stint in Jamaica. But in this case?
Fail. And I mean epically.
We got there and were seated without much trouble, but after they took our drink orders (water for both of us) it was like we ceased to exist. Finally someone brought us some dipping sauce… but nothing to dip in it. Eventually a different waiter came over and took our food order, and I asked again for our drinks, which we finally got. And then we waited some more. And some more. And our water was gone, and we were still waiting, and I discovered that there was food encrusted on my fork, and we were still waiting. Our food came and I asked politely for another fork and more water. Neither appeared, so I just started eating my curry and rice with my knife. Finally I got up, walked halfway across the restaurant, and asked one of our waiters for a second fork and more water. He brought the fork (still no water), but as I was raising my fork to my mouth for a bite I saw something moving.
Oh yeah, there was a giant ant on my fork.
So, shaking with the famed Jenny O Rage, I marched all the way across the restaurant to the bar (where the waiter, who apparently saw me coming, started putting water onto his tray) held out my fork and said, “I need a new fork.” It took him a moment, but he finally realized what I was showing him. “Also, I think I’ll just take these,” I said, and snatched the waters. I started to head back to the table when a little old man waiter insisted that he carry the waters for me. I wanted to tell him to fuck off, but after all, it wasn’t his fault, so I let him.
My third fork arrived. We finished our mediocre food, and began the long wait for our check. I found myself entertaining vicious thoughts about walking out on it, and had just decided not to (out of sympathy for the cooks who had nothing to do with the service) when Nathan commented that we ought to just leave. I pointed out my cooks argument, and he reluctantly agreed.
It eventually did come, and I noted with anger but no real surprise that there was no sort of apology discount for the bullshit we’d put up with, and I found myself wishing that the UK had a tipping culture so that they would understand the insult I was making by not leaving them a tip. As it is I’ll have to salve my wound by getting on the LP forums and putting up a more recent review.
My current opinion of Edinburg is not good at all.
But let me back up to the rest of the day, which was really quite delightful. I had already been out-voted on the hiking part of my “Let’s hike to Castlerigg Stone Circle!” suggestion, but everyone was definitely down to drive to them, and thus we did. The stones are on a much smaller scale than those of Stonehenge, but impressive nonetheless, especially since you can actually get in and among them.
Also, there were lots of sheep milling about, which for some reason continues to amuse and charm me. They declined to be squeezed (prudish creatures), which was a shame, but I did get a bit of (dung-free) wool from one of the stones where they’d passed too close. So how’s that for a unique souvenir?
From there we hit the road again, this time aiming for Hadrian’s Wall. Well, aiming for a parking lot down a little hill from a portion of the wall, if you want to get technical. One can’t very well go around running one’s rental van into other people’s historical Thingies, can one?
Anyway, we got there and engaged in a bit of “Stay on your side of the wall, you filthy heathen!” and, “Wouldn’t want to be on your side, anyway, you barbaric Englishman!” (I was, of course, playing the part of the afore-mentioned heathen Pict).
After that we crossed the border...
...and Team A headed for Drumlanrig Castle, where we did not go into the castle itself (got there a bit too late in the day), but did wander the estates thereof.
I engaged in a bit of a roll down a hill (shrieking with glee the entire time) (edit: it ended up being one of my favorite parts of the trip), which left me feeling drunk as a skunk, so I had to lay there for a bit and recover.
There was also a totally awesome playground area: old-school playground, with plenty of character-building splinters and metal burns for all. I was thrilled, and definitely took the opportunity to slide down the giant-ass slide (as did Nate).
Finally we headed to our hotel (in a town called Hamilton just outside of Glasgow) where our cat-herd was reunited and a bit of hissing and spitting ensued. We decided that the best course of action would be for everyone to go their separate ways for the evening, and so Nathan and I had a nice little date at a Tuscan restaurant (where I had the most cheese-infused lasagna I’ve ever encountered), and then spent a quiet evening writing postcards and the like.
Truth be told, Nathan and I feel like we’d rather have come here to spend a week instead of dashing about all over the place. But then we wouldn’t have seen as much of London as we did, sooo… obviously we need to come back.
Anyway, we started out this morning with the familiar, dubious offering that is a Holiday Inn Express's idea of 'continental breakfast', and then headed out for Liverpool to take photos on Penny Lane (it’s a Beatles thing).
From there we went to Windermere, where I got my most intense UK hiking experience yet. Not so much because the hike was difficult (although it wasn’t exactly easy), but because I did it twice. See, our little cat herd had decided to hike up to Orrest Head, but of course part of the herd set out first- that being Heather and Elizabeth (who, in all fairness, only did so because Elizabeth was worried about slowing the rest of us down)- soon followed by a second part of the herd- that being Don and Barbara- finally followed by the rest of the herd who had been waiting for the second part of the herd to come back from the toilet before we got going (tricksy elders got the drop on us!). As soon as we realized what they’d done, the rest of us (Jeff, Ben, Curt, Alana, Nate, and I) scampered after them (Eel was being pushed in a buggy, lucky little monkey)- only to find ourselves at a fork in the trail. To the left was labeled, in large letters “Public Path”, but to the right, in eensy weensy letters, it said “Orrest Head View Point”.
Nathan didn’t see his parents to the right, so I was sent loping down the more winding left path to see if I could find them (me being, in the words of one of my fellow travelers, ‘the fittest one among us!’) I caught sight of them rounding a bend about twenty yards from me and hollered, “You’re going the wrong way!” to which Barbara replied, “But this is how Heather and Elizabeth went!” which put me in a bit of a spot. Finally I said, “Oh never mind- I’ll head back and let them know what’s going on.”
So I did.
It was decided that the rest of us would go ahead and head up the right path, but Jeff elected to wait at the fork. “They’ll be back eventually,” he assured us. So up we went on the switch-backing road, occasionally dodging traffic, until it finally turned into an actual trail, which made pushing the buggy a little more challenging, but not undoable.
Maybe fifteen minutes later we came up to where our trail joined with another trail, and who should be coming around the corner but Don and Barbara!
“Oh crap,” I said, then sprinted ahead to find Ben (I’d been hanging back with Curt and Eel, the better to “protect them from bears”) to ask him to use his phone to call Jeff and let him know to come on up- but then Elizabeth said sheepishly, “Um, I have the other phone…” (we’d bought two disposables for just such occasions…) So I told them to continue to the top while I went and got Jeff, and said that if I got down there and he was gone I’d come back up, so to wait for me.
And then I started running.
Well, not running exactly. If you’ve ever done any trail running you know that your descent is a lot more like a controlled fall/scramble than a run, and that’s what mine was like. I chose to go down the way that Heather and Elizabeth had come up, with the logic that if Jeff had gotten tired of waiting, that’s the way he’d head up. The trail was absolutely gorgeous, much prettier than the way we’d come up, as it sported views of forest and lake rather than people’s homes and sheep fields (which are a different kind of pretty, but are certainly not hard to find anywhere in the rural UK). It was also a bit more treacherous, but that was no matter. I passed a fork a time or two and hoped fervently I was picking the right one, which I apparently did because before too very long I recognized the bend in the trail where I’d earlier found Don and Barbara. I picked up the pace a little and then- ta da! There was Jeff, still patiently waiting.
“Why are you running?” he asked. (It wasn’t until later that I realized he must have thought something was wrong.)
“To get you!” I puffed to a stop next to him. “Turns out the two trails meet up- everyone’s at the top now.”
So back up we went, together.
The view from the top was absolutely breathtaking- you could see for miles in all directions. Forest, lake, hills- and of course plenty of sheep penned in by charming little stone walls. I did some yoga while I was up there, partially because I was in some need of some major stretching (I always am after a lot of travel) and partially because it just seemed the thing to do.
(See that? That's a LAKE. In a DISTRICT.)
(Downward Dog- so nice of Nate to snap a photo...)
(Catching my breath.)
I stayed behind a bit after everyone started down, communing with nature and generally being happy to be in fresh air again.
We left Windermere and headed north for Keswick, where we had a few rooms reserved at a hostel.
Turns out Keswick is an utterly charming little town, complete with an open-air market (although we wouldn’t discover that until the following morning). The hostel itself was set right on a tiny river, and we sat there for a while watching ducks (including their fuzzy yellow and brown babies) go about their adorable business. Once we were checked in (and had rented towels, etc) we started up a load of laundry and then went in shifts to look for food.
I had the best veggie burger I’d ever had (it was made from actually vegetables, not just weird pressed grains) while Nate indulged in another round of fish and chips (not so good at the Portsmouth edition, but then he wasn’t expecting it to be).
Afterwards Nate and I teamed up to play some pool against Ben and Jeff, and won (I even managed to sink a few intentional shots- it was awesome), and then later Jeff and I ganged up against Ben (which should have been a sure thing since he sucks worse than I do, but right about the time Heather came in to watch Ben miraculously started sinking shots left and right; Jeff and I were a bit flabbergasted, and thoroughly trounced…).
Now the girls are in their tiny room, and the boys are in their slightly-less tiny room (how that happened I do not know) and I am in the top bunk not only because I always like the top bunk but because it seems prudent to give lower bunks to pregnant people and anyone over fifty.