Tag Archives: Scotland

Sir Walter Scott, Whiskey, Haunted Vaults & Hefeweizen

I’d like to extend my apologies to my readers for my short holiday from the blogging world. I am finally back to writing after almost a two week break with many stories to tell. You may remember that in my last post, To Be a Tourist or Not to Be a Tourist, I was questioning the notion of whether or not to follow the tourism route versus being content with and getting to know the place I am in now. In slight contradiction to my previous conclusions, I recently had a friend visit from the US and we experienced a full day of sightseer activities in Edinburgh.

The one hour and fifteen minute train ride from Uddingston to Edinburgh lulled me into a sleepy stupor. Occasionally I opened my eyes to glance at a field full of sheep or a passing station where shivering passengers waited patiently for the next train. We finally arrived to Waverly Station and into the bustling city center alive with Christmas chaos.

Our first touristy stop was the Scott Monument, a Victorian Gothic monument in honor of Scottish author and poet Sir Walter Scott. The monument sits on Princes Street and resembles an old gothic cathedral. The giant structure offers several viewing decks at varying heights with fantastic panoramic views of the city of Edinburgh. We climbed 287 steps up a series of narrow spiral stone staircases to the top. Dizzy and slightly claustrophobic from the climb, I stumbled onto the top deck and gasped when I peered down to the street 200 feet below me. I’m not sure if it was the bitter chill in the wind or my slight fear of heights that took my breath away, but I decided this wasn’t a place I could stay for long. I quickly snapped my photos of the impressive panoramic view and made my way back to the claustrophobic, winding staircase. Two fears conquered in an hour: heights and small spaces.

The Scott Monument

The Scott Monument (with the Edinburgh Christmas ferris wheel in the way)

Looking up at the Scott Monument

Looking up at the Scott Monument

Looking up from the first platform of the Scott Monument

Looking up from the first platform of the Scott Monument

Spiral stare case to the top of the Scott Monument

Spiral stare case to the top of the Scott Monument

View from the top of the monument

View from the top of the monument

View from the top of the monument

View from the top of the monument

View of Edinburgh Castle from the top of Scott Monument

View of Edinburgh Castle from the top of Scott Monument

Beautiful stained glass window in the monument

Beautiful stained glass window in the monument

Charles Dickens' amusing opinion of the monument

Charles Dickens’ amusing opinion of the monument

The next stop on our touristic journey was a place called The Scottish Whiskey Experience on the Royal Mile. It is here that whiskey enthusiasts (or curious individuals like myself) go to learn the Scottish distillery process and to have a taste of the stuff that is famous worldwide. We got a brief overview of the process and learned about the four whiskey regions: The Highlands, Lowlands, Islay, and Speyside. Each region’s whiskey has its own distinct flavors and aromas. It is said the secret ingredient which gives Scottish whiskey a superior taste is Scottish water, considered the purest and most delicious water in the world. After picking up some whiskey knowledge, we of course had a taste.

One of the most interesting parts of the tour was a display of the world’s largest whiskey collection that once belonged to a Brazilian whiskey enthusiast, Claive Vidiz. Over his lifetime, Claive amassed over 3,000 bottles of whiskey from around the world in his private collection which now belongs to the Scottish Whiskey Experience.

Interesting fact about the maturation of whiskey

Interesting fact about the maturation of whiskey

One of multiple walls full of whiskey in the famous Claive collection

One of multiple walls full of whiskey in the famous Claive collection

Whiskey Tasting

Whiskey Tasting

Me with my whiskey glass in hand

Me with my whiskey glass in hand

About the Claive Collection

About the Claive Collection

The third stop on our journey was an Underground City tour by Mercat Tours. The South Bridge in Edinburgh has a series of underground vaults built into the nineteen arches of the bridge. The South Bridge Vaults were completed in the late 1700s and once served as taverns and shops full of craftsmen and cobblers. Due to the wet conditions of the vaults that were never properly sealed to keep water out, the legitimate businesses left.

The vaults soon became home to criminal activity and illicit trade including serving as a storage area for dead bodies that had been dug up by body snatchers.  Body snatching was a lucrative business at the time when cadavers were in high demand and short supply at local medical colleges. Murder and robbery plagued the vaults. Famous serial killers Burke and Hare are rumoured to have hunted and murdered their victims here and sold the corpses to the medical schools.

After the criminals had moved out, Edinburgh’s poorest moved in. The vaults were cramped, unhygienic living conditions with no sanitation or running water. But for these poor citizens, the vaults provided shelter from the harsh elements above ground. The vaults have a tough history and are said to be extremely haunted. There have been countless reports of paranormal activity and ghost sightings… if you believe in that sort of thing.

View of the Royal Mile

View of the Royal Mile

Another view of the Royal Mile

Another view of the Royal Mile

Underground Vaults

Underground Vaults

Underground Vaults

Underground Vaults

Underground Vaults

Underground Vaults

Compartments that are believed to have once been used for wine storage in the vaults

Compartments that are believed to have once been used for wine storage in the vaults

Our final stop was at the German Christmas Market where we grazed the stalls for delicious snacks and treats and finished off the evening with a tall, delicious Hefeweizen. The ice rink was bustling with Christmas cheer and Christmas lights were aglow.

Edinburgh Christmas

Edinburgh German Christmas Market

German biergarten

German biergarten

Ice Rink

Ice Rink

Delicious Hefeweissen

Delicious Hefeweizen

Although I hate to fall into the tourism trap, sometimes it really is interesting and entertaining to let your tourist flag fly… as long as it’s in moderation.

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To Be a Tourist or Not to Be a Tourist (that is the question)

Prior to coming to Scotland, I had big ideas of the different places I’d travel to during my stay in the UK. Every person I talked to gave a different recommendation for where I should visit or what I should see.

London would be beautiful at Christmas time. You have to go to London!

Belfast is a beautiful city and less than an hour flight from Glasgow. You have to make it to Belfast.

Nessie! Go visit Loch Ness and look for the monster!

You have to see the castles of Scotland. Do a castle tour!

Yes, I thought, I do want to see all of those things and I really do (although I’d imagine a sighting of Nessie is probably outside the realm of possibilities). In fact, if I was here purely as a tourist, I would have been to and seen those places already, but I’m not and I haven’t. I’ve not been to a single city other than Glasgow and Edinburgh and the only touristy thing I’ve done in the whole six weeks is visit the Edinburgh Castle. Is that a bad thing?

Every weekend I wrestle with this dilemma: to be a tourist or not to be a tourist. That really is the question. Should I be booking a flight to a different part of the UK every weekend? Going to visit famous monuments, buildings, museums? For some reason, the very thought of being a tourist has left me feeling completely exhausted. There is so much pressure to see and do it all, to make an itinerary and plan out the days.

In Alain de Botton’s The Art of Travel, he writes about an invitation to a conference in Madrid and his decision to stay a few extra days so he could visit the many attractions he had been told about on several occasions. Upon waking for his exciting Madrid weekend, he feels anything but excitement. He feels only lethargy and lack of enthusiasm for seeing all these things a ‘normal’ visitor would be enthralled to see.

“On the desk lay several magazines provided by the hotel, offering information about the city, and two guidebooks that I had brought from home. In their different ways, they conspired to suggest that an exciting and multifarious phenomenon called Madrid was waiting to be discovered outside, promising an embarrassment of monuments, churches, museums, fountains, plazas and shopping streets. And yet the prospect of those enticements, about which I had heard so much and which I knew I was privileged to be able to see, merely provoked in me a combination of listlessness and self-disgust at the contrast between my own indolence and what I imagined would have been the eagerness of more normal visitors.”

Every weekend I find myself riddled with guilt that I’ve been given this great privilege to be here and see things and I’m not taking advantage of it. But is it wrong to simply enjoy being where I am right now instead of jet-setting or train hopping to a list of possible destinations and attractions?

Every other adventure abroad I’ve had, I’ve been a complete tourist and I’ve never really had the experience of living abroad. Technically I lived in Cyprus during my study abroad experience a few years back, but I never actually lived the Cypriot life. I stayed in a flat with American students and travelled around Europe doing just about every touristy thing I could possibly do. You see a lot as a tourist and have a lot of different experiences, but you only merely scratch the surface of a place without ever truly getting to know a city, a culture, or country.

My time in Scotland over the past few weeks has been completely opposite of every other abroad experience I’ve had. I’m not hanging out with fellow Americans, visiting tourist attractions, and doing pub crawls with backpackers. I’m living in a Scottish residential community, eating Scottish food, making Scottish friends, and working at a Scottish company (not to mention learning the Scottish ‘language’). I’ve become completely immersed in the culture here and for the first time, I’m truly getting to know a place.

So I’m doing it… liberating myself from the shackles of tourism. If the question is to be or not to be, I’ve chosen to be an American, living and working in Scotland… and not to be a tourist. And I think I’m happy with that.

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Christmas Chaos in Glasgow

Yesterday I caught the 14:02 train into Glasgow. As I stood waiting for what felt like the longest 15 minutes of my life in the freezing cold at Uddingston Station, I quickly realized it was not going to be a comfortable train ride. Typically there may be a handful of people waiting on the platform, but not today. Herds of people waited for the next passing train and when it arrived it was an all out battle to squeeze through those tiny double doors. I knew this was a warning sign of what lie ahead.

A few stops later the train screeched into Argyle Street Station where walls of people made it impossible to even move toward the exit. Bodies and shopping bags were clashing, and mass chaos ensued. After a near nervous breakdown, I made my way onto Argyle Street, a main shopping street in the City Centre, playfully named “The Style Mile”. I have been to NYC during Christmas and I thought the chaos of the season in that city was unmatched, until I saw Glasgow.

People hurried about with shopping bags in hand. Crossing to the other side of the street was dangerous, not because of cars, but because the flow of people seemed to stop for nothing. Frantically they moved about from store to store, on a mission to cross all those items off their lists.

I made my way to St. Enoch Square, location of the famous Christmas Market. This delicious smelling outdoor market is full of tasty holiday treats from around the world. Stalls are lined with Christmas lights and flags waving for their native countries. I pushed through the crowds smelling my way through France’s stall of Turkish delights and cinnamon churros, Spain’s stall of spicy paella cooking in a huge caldron, Greece’s stall of smoked garlic, feta cheese, olives, and pastries. I continued on and the smell of bratwurst filled the air as I passed by Germany. The bratwurst was quickly overtaken by the delectable smell of exotic spices as I passed by an India curry stall, a favorite here in the UK. The smell of mulled wine crept into the picture and I stopped at Ireland for a hot glass of ginger wine.

There are Christmas lights everywhere. Every street, every square, storefronts, restaurants. Everywhere you look there are beautiful lights strung across buildings, in windows, and on light posts. I feel like a moth, like I’m drawn to the light and I can’t stop looking. There has always been something about Christmas lights that I love. They bring a warm, cozy feeling. I’m not sure I was ready for Christmas until those lights started pulling me into the holiday spirit.

I spent the afternoon pushing through crowds and watching the Christmas chaos ensue. I was a careful observer until the cold had taken the feeling from my fingers and toes. Even the warmth from my Peruvian alpaca gloves couldn’t quell the bite of the chill in the air. Exhausted from hours of wandering through the cold and crowds, I boarded the train back home.

I think I’ll stay inside or at least avoid the city until Christmas has passed. Or at least that’s what I say now, but it’ll be hard to keep me away from those beautiful Christmas lights.

Love Glasgow :) that I do.

Love Glasgow 🙂 that I do.

Glimpse of the Christmas Market at St. Enoch Square

Glimpse of the Christmas Market at St. Enoch Square

Glimpse of the Christmas Market at St. Enoch Square

Candies and treats at the Christmas Market at St. Enoch Square

MmMmm hot ginger wine to warm up.

MmMmm hot ginger wine to warm up.

Don’t mind if I do!

my favorite Christmas light display

my favorite Christmas light display

I love white lights. So classy.

Merchant City lights

Merchant City lights

Merchant City lights

love how they hang above the street

love how they hang above the street

George’s Square Christmas lights

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Thanksgiving Nostalgia

Have you ever had those extremely nostalgic moments where one little thing makes all of these feelings and memories come flooding back like 50 feet of water barreling over your head? Then you’re just drowning.

I didn’t have a traditional Thanksgiving this year. But I did still have a good Thanksgiving. An untraditional dinner with a new friend. It is a weird time, though, to be away from loved ones on a day so closely associated with them.

I brought a few books with me on my trip. One is Nine Stories by J.D. Salinger. I had read it before, years ago, but decided I wanted to reread it like I often do with my favorites. It was last week, the Tuesday before Thanksgiving and I was about ten pages in when I got this strange feeling… déjà vu.

There I was four years ago, sitting in a recliner in my Aunt Charlene’s house on Thanksgiving. My family was in the room adjacent and my Grandma in her room on the other side of the house. The cancer once again reared its ugly head, and although she was a fighter, she was older now and after a few previous victories, the villain was making a vicious comeback.  

I always considered Thanksgiving to be one of my favorite holidays. It’s the holiday I’ve always tied to my paternal grandparents. I remember my mom baking fresh pumpkin pies and putting candles in them for my Pap and older brother’s birthdays that happened to fall within days of the holiday. I remember my Grandma busily cooking succulent turkey, mashed potatoes, stuffing and the darkest most delicious gravy in her kitchen. And I can’t forget the pickled cabbage that only she really liked, and everyone else heartily joked about because, well, it’s pickled cabbage… I remember Grandma’s homemade apple pies. That smell filled the whole house and nobody has been able to make a pie quite that good ever since.

I kept reading that book and with every word, I saw another flashback. Grandma slowly making her way through the room, past my recliner, into the living room with the rest of the family… We were all so used to her being the life of the party. After all this had always been her day. But this Thanksgiving it was different and we all knew it might be the last one we spent with her. And it was.

Nostalgia.

Déjà vu.

They are funny things.

But I’ll never forget the good times.

And this Thanksgiving I was thankful… for memories.

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Table for One, Please… Crashed by a High-Fiver

“Table for one, please.” At first I hated saying it. For some reason it carries a sense of embarrassment, probably because the waiter or waitress always responds back with, “Oh, just one?” as if it is unthinkable that a person would be dining alone, especially on a weekend. Not to mention all the other patrons coming in couples and groups of friends, looking over at you as if to feel sorry for the poor girl sitting there by herself.

After a short adjustment period where I must admit I felt awkward and slightly embarrassed, I began to rather enjoy my moments alone. I love the company of others and I’m a very social creature, but sometimes it’s refreshing to go out and not worry about forming topics of conversation. How many times in life’s daily grind do we get these precious moments to ourselves to reflect on the day?

There I was enjoying a cup of tea at my table for one, when I saw him approaching. He was tall with light brown eyes and his lips had a devious sort of curve about them. I wouldn’t describe him as handsome, but there was certainly something attractive about him. “Tea on a Saturday night?” he asked with a chuckle. “Yes,” I said, “I know it doesn’t seem very exciting.”

We started into conversation about where I was from and why I was here in Bothwell of all places. “Would you like a real drink?” he asked. I hesitated, “Sure, I guess. Amaretto on the rocks.” I watched him raise his right hand and I watched it come towards me. I quickly realized what was happening and raised my right hand to meet his in the air… in a high-five. “Good choice,” he said. I was taken back for a moment. Did he just high-five me? He turned from the table and walked to the bar to gather our drinks.

The conversation was going quite well. He seemed nice enough, interesting. He was an engineer of some kind and had done a fair amount of travelling across Europe. I said I had done my fair share as well. “What has been your favorite place so far?” he asked. “Berlin, Germany.” I answered. “I love Berlin! I spent a few weeks there with my mate,” he said excitedly. There it was again, his right hand rising into the air across the table for a high five. This is just becoming comical, I thought. I suddenly felt like I was in a Seinfeld episode with a real-life David Putty.

 The conversation continued to favorite types of music. He had played in a band with friends for four years at university. “What type of music did you play?” I asked. “Did you ever hear of the Shins?” he replied, “They were our inspiration. That indie-folky sound.” “I really like the Shins,” I said. Oh gees, here it comes again, that right hand rising up and across the table. I’m trying desperately to not buckle over in laughter.

This is unreal. A real-life high-fiver. “I’m sorry I have to meet someone somewhere. Pleasure meeting you,” I said. I grabbed my coat and without even stopping to put it on, I scampered toward the door. I started walking down the hill into the cold, laughing with every step. How do I get so lucky to attract such fine gentlemen? And so there it was, my table for one crashed by a high-fiver.

Dear normal men of the world, please start existing.

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10 Things I’ve Adapted to (and may have even begun to like) in Scotland

“Man is a creature that can get used to anything, and I think that is the best definition of him.”― Fyodor Dostoyevsky, The House of the Dead

When I first found out I was coming to Scotland for eight weeks, I was ecstatic. I was so excited for a change, to get out and see a new part of the world. Along with excitement, I felt pangs of nervousness and apprehension. This isn’t my first long term trip abroad. A little less than three years ago I was boarding a plane bound for a five month stay in Cyprus. Being a seasoned traveller, I knew that with the new and exciting surroundings comes new and exciting (not to mention somewhat stressful) challenges and adjustments. There is no way to prepare for these challenges because you always end up finding them in the most unexpected places. The funny thing about humans, though, is that no matter what seems to be thrown our way, we always find a way to adapt to changes big and small.

Ten things I’ve adapted to (and may have even begun to like):

  1. Driving on the left side of the road while sitting on the right side of the car: I’m sitting in the “passenger” seat, driving into what feels like oncoming traffic, my brain screaming, “You’re going the wrong way! Keep right!” It only took me three weeks of opening the door on the left hand side of the car and realizing the steering wheel wasn’t there to remember the driver’s seat is on the right. I also stopped hitting the curb so much as I grew accustomed to judging how much of my car is to my left.  My tires on the left side thank me.
  2.  ‘Round-a-bouts’ or traffic circles if you please: I’ll never fully adapt to these, but any little improvement is a milestone for me. Although I have gotten much better at guessing which lane I need to be in and knowing who goes first, I’ll never understand the traffic signs. A giant circle and little arms coming off in all directions that looks like an alien drawn by a five-year old child doesn’t help me. I can always see where I want to go, but very rarely do I get there on my first try. I’m always driving in circles, but not because I want to be.
  3. The Scottish accent combined with fast talking, shortening of words, and vocabulary I’ve never heard of: Slagging, snogging, chippies, crisps, the use of “wee” before every noun… at first it was like we weren’t even speaking the same language, but now I find myself using words and phrases I didn’t even know existed four weeks ago. My personal favorite is “Et’s tha dug’s bollocks!” If a word or sentence can be shortened, or even if you think it can’t, the Scots will find a way.
  4. Rain, darkness, rain and more rain: The first thing you do here when you get into the car is turn on your headlights because no matter what time of day, it’s dark or raining or both. I miss my friend the sun, and I started writing to him daily. I’m hoping to get a response back soon.
  5. Traffic on the way home from work: We don’t get much “rush hour” traffic in small-town Altoona, PA. The after work commute here has taught me two important things: always pee before leaving work, and dancing in your seat pretending your steering wheel is a percussion instrument truly helps the passage of time. An added bonus is the reaction of others around you.
  6. Always carrying a pen and teaching people how to swipe a credit card: Magnetic credit cards don’t exist here. They have “chip and pin” cards and have no idea what to do when you ask if they can swipe your card. Although I’ve tried in vain to become a good swipe instructor, I typically end up sliding my own card on their machines because for some reason, it is an extremely complicated task beyond their comprehension. Don’t forget to bring a pen to sign the receipt, because I promise they never have one, even though they’ve used a pen just less than an hour ago to take your food order.
  7. The food: Some of the food is delightful. Others I just don’t understand. A bacon sandwich with brown sauce? What is brown sauce? Nobody knows really. Chip sandwiches (French fries on bread), crisp sandwiches (potato chips on bread), haggis (Google it), and just about anything you can deep fry including Mar’s candy bars and pizza. I can’t say I hate it… but I can say, it’s sure to be life shortening.
  8. The five keys and five different locks to get into my flat: Yes, that’s right. Five keys and five locks to get into one building and one flat. Between the number of keys and the fact that three of them look like they’ve come from the princess chambers of a castle (huge brass things that practically look hand-cut), I don’t worry about my security. It is so secure in fact that up until a week ago when I mastered the “turn the key and wiggle it frantically” method of unlocking the door, it took me 10-15 minutes to get into my own place.
  9. Always looking right, left, right before crossing the street: It’s an easy one to forget when you’ve been conditioned from childhood to look left, right, then left again. It’s also an easy one to remember after the first two or three times you almost walk out in front of a moving vehicle.
  10. Learning to live with myself, by myself and moments of intense loneliness: The biggest adjustment thus far. At first you feel very alone in this foreign place where you know nobody and soon enough you find you rather like the time you spend alone getting to know yourself. It’s relaxing, refreshing, rejuvenating. It’s not without its moments of intense loneliness, but if you can’t learn to love to live with yourself, who can?
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Dissecting a Bad Date: where did it all go wrong?

We had met the other night, briefly. It was late and I was walking past as he asked for directions. “I’m not sure,” I said, “I’m not from here.” He seemed nice enough, about my age, a seemingly sweet fellow. We chatted about twenty odd minutes. “Maybe we can go for drinks on Friday?” he asked. “Sure,” I said, “here is my number.” What do I have to lose, I thought. A Friday with the possibility of good conversation versus another night sitting at a bar by myself seemed like a no-brainer.

My friend joked that I would be like Cameron Diaz in The Holiday and I’d find my Jude Law. A charming thought… maybe it was pessimism or realism that made me doubt I’d live the dream of the female who goes abroad and falls madly, deeply in love with a complete stranger with a sexy accent. That is for the movies, although a charming sentiment.

I boarded the train and had a few moments of chick flick surrealism allowing myself to think maybe I could be a Cameron Diaz, real life version, meeting my Jude Law. I quickly laughed at the thought, realizing how stupid that really was.

I arrived at the meeting point about fifteen minutes early. He walked in promptly at 8 o’clock, the agreed upon time. I ordered a red wine and he, a beer. I typically go for taller gents as I’m slightly taller for a female. Height would never be a deal breaker for me, but when I stood up to the bar to order my drink, it became apparent how short he really was. I hadn’t noticed the other night because he had been sitting down. I was towering several inches above him. It didn’t help that I had chosen to wear heels. Whatever, I thought. Height is just a physical thing anyway.

I was slightly put-off by the fact he arrived in a t-shirt. I put forth the effort to get dressed up and I even wore heels, a very rare thing for me to do. And he, for a first date, a first impression, shows up in a t-shirt of all things. Laziness, I thought, sheer laziness and lack of effort. Whatever, so he is short and he chose to wear a t-shirt in a place where all the other men are dressed nicely in button-ups and sport coats. Maybe I’m being too critical, I thought.

The night began fine with casual conversation. He appeared to have a decent sense of humor, an important thing to me. By the time I had finished half a glass of wine, he had drank nearly four pints of beer. Okay… maybe he will slow down, maybe he was just nervous and the beer is a confidence booster. By the time I ordered my second glass, he must have been about ten pints deep and his personality drastically altered… drunk.

He tells me I am beautiful. “Thank you,” I said feeling slightly awkward. And then suddenly as if I have no real name, every sentence he begins with calling me beautiful. I have to be honest, that word is flattering at first in the right situation, but when it becomes the beginning of every sentence, it loses its appeal and quickly becomes annoying and insincere. I feel myself losing my patience and wanting to leave.

We leave the bar and begin walking toward the Christmas lights I’ve heard so much about in George Square. He tries to grab my hand and I promptly move it, avoiding the attempt at handholding. I am not a particularly large fan of public displays of affection as it is and although I’d have no problem holding hands with a boyfriend in public, I do have qualms about holding hands with a complete stranger. He makes another attempt and I so obviously once again avoid the handhold for a second time. Again, he tries and is denied. Are you not getting the hint here, I think.

Twenty minutes later I say I must catch the train back home. “Will I see you again?” he asks. I don’t respond at first and with hesitation I say, “We’ll see.” But we both know that is the last time we will be seeing one another. Another first and last date. I’m cold and annoyed and can’t walk away fast enough. Maybe I am a bad person, a shallow person, but as I walk to the train station I think to myself, “He was short anyway…”

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Strathclyde Park: a pooch’s paradise

“The neighbourhood park became a desolate spread of mud and water, lit up at night by rain-streaked street lamps.” – The Art of Travel, Alain de Botton

I’ve been here in Scotland for about three weeks and thus far have been quite unmotivated to create my own adventures, which to be honest, is very unlike me. Because the sun was finally shining, albeit through overcast clouds, I decided to visit nearby Strathclyde Country Park. I had been told by several Scots that the park was beautiful if I “fancied a walk”.

After a frustrating battle navigating the “round-a-bouts”, I arrived second-guessing if I was in the proper place. The sign read “Strathclyde Country Park,” this must be the right spot, I thought. It’s not like it was ugly by any means, just not what I expected of beauty coming from one of the most beautiful parts of the US (although a possibly biased view) in Central PA with sprawling mountains, flowing streams, and crisp blue skies. Perhaps they meant it was beautiful in the summer… because at least in my opinion, the park was not so in the traditional sense of natural beauty.

Grayish overcast clouds clung to what little sun fought to shine upon the brown, dismal loch. Leafless branches trembled in the chilling wind that created currents, propelling ducks across the waterfront. The grass was the only thing of color…kind of. A thick layer of brown mud fought to drown it out. It was as if the tips of the blades were sinking into quick sand with just their heads above the surface, begging to be saved. It seemed as though even the white swans had a brown tint to them.

Despite the lack of traditional beauty, Strathclyde Park offered an untraditional, picturesque air about it. Dogs excitedly pranced about through mud and puddles, their fur covered in inches of wet muck. For a brief moment, it made me wish I had a dog to bring here, although I wouldn’t want to be tasked with bathing it when I got home… (or for that matter, let that muddy mess in my car to get home).

And for another moment, I wished I actually was a dog, blissfully leaping into the loch after a tennis ball, swimming happily to shore to return the ball to my owner’s hand to be thrown once more. What a pooches’ paradise, I thought. It was a place the equivalent to a beachside resort for a human: relaxation, leisure, sport and members of the opposite sex to mingle with.

By the time I left, I had been splashed by so many pooches prancing through their paradise that my boots and jeans were covered in mud.  So much so, you would have thought that I actually had been a dog flouncing around through the muddy gunk.

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Finding warmth in a cold, dampened place.

Prior to coming to Scotland, I had heard the winter was full of darkness, of rain. “Worst time to visit,” they’d told me. Ah, it can’t be that bad I thought. No worse than a Pennsylvania winter where it’s dark at 5:00 PM and the wind chill is enough to freeze you in your tracks. But at least in PA there is sunlight… sometimes.

In the posh little Glaswegian suburb of Bothwell, I awaken nearly every morning to streaming beams of sunlight shooting through the cracks in my window blinds. I awake with anticipation of a marvelous, sunny day. I make my way to the kitchen for my morning cup of coffee and plop down on the flattened leather couch by the bay windows. Fifteen minutes has passed since my waking and with the passing of the minutes has come the passing of a thick, grey blanket of clouds that now shields the sun. Ah yes, like clock-work, minutes later the raindrops begin to pitter-patter on the window panes. This is Scotland, where the sun comes out long enough to wake you and the rain stays long enough to make you cool and dampened on the inside.

If it weren’t for the kindness and warmth of the locals and the brightness of the red wine in my glass, it might be a depressing place.  But luckily for me, I’ve felt welcome and accepted here. Despite the undesirable weather, I anticipate many desirable experiences to come.

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