This has been the hardest entry for me to write. I have been thinking about it for a couple of days. I can’t believe I come home in 2 days; I have been here for 49. These have been some of the scariest, most exciting days of my life. I had an hour yesterday to sit and reflect. I read back through my journal and realized how much I have seen, learned, and done. I have learned so much about the places I have visited and myself. My beliefs, my abilities, my faith. I can never say how much this trip has changed me. I spent the last few days on the Isle of Skye. This is an island that sits to the north west of Scotland. We crossed over by the land bridge and I saw some of the most beautiful places on earth, in my opinion. We hiked along the ridge of the Cuith Raing or Quirang, in Gaelic. As I hiked, I felt no fear of the heights but just looked around in awe at the beauty. We got lucky and had some of the best weather Scotland has seen all summer. The hills were so green and the sky was so blue. We stayed in the small town of Portree. On the whole island there are only 10,000 people. After the failed Jacobite rebellion of 1745, the English came in and started what basically amounts to genocide. They replaced clan chiefs with English lords and forced thousands of people from their homes burning all of their possessions as they went. The clans were no longer allowed to speak Gaelic, wear kilts, play bagpipes, or do anything we find iconic about the Scottish people. Thousands of people were killed or forced to leave the land their families had been on for generations. And while a lot of these regulations have obviously changed, the people of Scotland are still part of the United Kingdom. But possibly not for much longer. In 2014, they will hold a referendum to vote for independence. It is easy being here, to hope it goes through. The next time you will hear from me will be after I get home. I hope you have learned some things from me and have enjoyed my blog. See you soon!
Today the landscape changed for me. I left from George square in Glasgow at 8. My guide’s name was George. He was funny and entertaining all day. He had a song to go with every battle and every situation he talked about. He even played some Proclaimers, a Scottish group, known for the song “I’m gonna be (500 miles)” popular in the U.S. in the 90s. We climbed through the Monroe mountains first, stopping at Loch Lomon, named for the nearest peak, Ben Lomond (ben means mountain). This is really beautiful lake just north of Glasgow. Then we headed up to Glencoe, where the English, led by a Scottish Campbell, killed 300 villagers when there clan chief was two days late to sign a treaty. The English killed the men, women, and children while they were sleeping in their beds; most came from the clan MacDonald. The mountains in this area are also known for a less gruesome thing; they were used as the backdrop for many of the Harry Potter movies, including the location of Hagrid’s house in The Prisoner of Azkaban. After Glencoe we stopped in Ft. Williams which has a commandos memorial from after WWI. It has since been dedicated to all Scottish soldiers who have lost their lives in conflict, including Iraq and Afghanistan. Then we went monster hunting on Loch Ness. The loch is 22 miles long, 1/2 mile wide and at its deepest, 800 feet. We took a one hour cruise. And while I didn’t see Nessie, I did even the gorgeous views. All along the way we learned about clan struggles, the Scottish skirmishes against the English for independence, and even the faeries. I think I am going to have to watch Rob Roy some time. I will be out of internet range for the next few days, while I make an excursion to the Isle of Skye in the north. Then that will be my last post when I get back, because then I will be headed home.
canoeing on Loch Ness
When I arrived in Scotland (especially since the flight was so short), it was as if we had turned around and landed back in Dublin. The landscape is very similar, lots of green fields dotted with sheep and cows. The Scottish are a little bit more difficult to understand but I love hearing the thick brogue. I wandered around Glasgow yesterday while I waited for my room to be ready. It is a pretty city. The Scottish have an affinity for statues; you can see one every few blocks. They are soldiers, authors, rulers. This morning I caught the train to Edinburgh. I went to a whiskey museum. The process to make single malt is very similar to making beer. You germinate barley, grind it into a grist, add pure water, let ferment, distill, age 10 to 5o years. It is aged in barrels previously used to age bourbon or sherry. This adds to the flavors and gives it its golden color. After the museum, I went to Edinburgh castle. This castle was an area used to defend Scotland from invaders from the ocean. Also Mary, Queen of Scots gave birth to her successor James IV here. It currently houses the Scottish crown jewels: a crown, a scepter, a sword, and the stone of destiny. There is also a memorial to Scottish soldiers who gave their lives fighting in WWI and WWII. Tomorrow I am going hunting for Nessie!
statue of Prince Albert/ “In Latin agua vitae means water of life. In Gaelic this translates as uisge beatha – later shortened to uisge or whiskey in English”
palace of Mary, Queen of Scots – Edinburgh Castle
Yesterday after we checked out of our hotel we stopped at Silverstrand Beach, about a 5 minute drive from our hotel. When we arrived it was around 63 degrees and the first thing we noticed was a woman swimming, fully submerged. I thought maybe the water was warmer. But when Emily and I put our toes in to take a picture we discovered it was most definitely not. We stayed a while and jumped in the car and headed back to Dublin. The drive was much better than the day before. We got settled in and did some paperwork, printing documents. Then we found a place to eat, a pub called The Porterhouse. We had a good last dinner of fish and chips (mine as a sandwich) and a pint each. This morning we found our way to the Guinness Storehouse and did the tour. We were a little disappointed to find our tour didn’t take us into the working parts of the factory, but it was interesting. Then we came back to our hotel, got ready, and I took Emily to the airport. Tomorrow, I drop off the car and head to Scotland.
feet in Galway Bay/Atlantic, view of Bay
saying in Guinness Storehouse
As I sat down to type this I realized I only have 9 days left. It is hard to believe it is almost time to come home. These last few days have been especially great, having Emily to share them with. Yesterday was a long day. We left Blarney and headed for the Cliffs of Moher. It was a perfect day for this adventure. It was sunny and around 68 degrees (20 for those of you who know Celsius). The highest point of the cliffs is over 600 feet from the water and there is “path” that you can follow along the edge. At one point there is a sign that states you take your life into your own hands by passing it. This is because the cliffs are unstable and the edge loses rocks all the time. A piece fell off while Emily and I were climbing. It was a very loud and ominous sound. All together the cliffs cover 5 miles of coast. Emily and I figured we walked around half that out and back, so we did about 5 miles all together. It is the most beautiful natural place I think I have ever seen. It was designated a UNESCO sight and a specially protected area due to the large number of birds that live on and around the cliffs. After the cliffs, we drove to the Connemara coast, where Connemara marble is found. Our room was upgraded and we have a view of the ocean. This helped to lessen the rough drive from Moher. We discovered first hand that two lane is really more like one and a half and the shoulder is either a rock wall or high hedges. There were some tense moments passing by charter buses. Today we make our way back to Dublin. And Emily heads home tomorrow. Then Scotland here I come.
Cliffs of Moher
view from our room
We doubled up again today on things to do. It is helping us see more things. We started the morning at the House of Crystal. We took a factory tour and watched all of the different processes. We started in the blowing room. The craftsmen in this area must train for 8 years to become masters, the first 5 of that training is spent as an apprentice. Then we went to an area where they sanded the pieces where they had been attached to the blow rods. As the crystal moves through each step it receives an inspection. If at any point it is deemed unsatisfactory, it is shattered and the material is reused to make new. Then into the cutting room, where each craftsman knows the exact pressure to cut two thirds of the way into the crystal. After cutting, we saw the polishing and finishing areas. Each piece is cleaned with acid, which strip away a top layer leaving only clarity behind. After our tour we drove to Blarney Castle, with a few wrong turns. When we finally got to the right place, we headed straight to the castle. We took a close, steep staircase up to the top of the castle. Then we laid down, leaned back and kissed the stone (I only discovered this was the process in the last few days). It was a harrowing experience for both Emily and me. I don’t care much for heights and laying upside down 35 feet off the ground is a little terrifying. Same can be said for Emily because she had to scoot back further to reach the stone. We were both thankful for the man there helping us. Then we did some shopping, grabbed dinner and tomorrow we are headed for the Cliffs of Moher.
9/11 memorial at Waterford, Emily and me kissing the Blarney Stone
Today was a big day. We woke and got ready and headed to the Dublin Zoo. It was small but allowed up some up close experiences with the animals. It is the 4th oldest zoo in Europe and the largest in Ireland. It rained/misted (whichever way you want to look at it) off and on for the two or so hours we were there. Around 12:30 we had seen everything we went to see and headed for Waterford. The drive was really easy; we took the interstate for the most part. We had to pay a toll as we exited. I was told that the rental car agency had a pass and my credit card would be charged. That didn’t work. We used every last cent I had to pay the toll. We had just enough. We got to Waterford and promptly got lost. The GPS led us astray, if you can believe that. So we decided to check out a hotel we had seen advertised along out route and found out they were closed. We tried a Ramada we had seen while we were lost; they were full. So we drove down by the river parked and immediately found the Tower Hotel. We checked in and walked along the Suir River and saw some typical Irish buildings. We had dinner at a little bar with good food and good wine. Tomorrow the goal is to kiss the Blarney Stone.
I made him mad with my flash/Street in Waterford (hotel far right)