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Wednesday, February 20, 2008

HAIL AND FAREWELL

The trip to Ireland and Scotland ends with this edition. A fond farewell. We met some wonderful people and saw some terrific places. I posted two videos and a slideshow for you. There is just not enough space for me to share everything with you. Double click on the videos.

I will give you some info on our tour company, Trafalgar, next month. Without a moment’s hesitation we would take another Trafalgar tour.

I am also responding to some emails about the length of time some of you have downloading Third Age Traveler, so I tried something new with the photos that should help. Let me know. Again, please comment. When you click on the comment at the bottom of a post and then fill in the comment form, remember to scroll down to the bottom of the comment box to click on the post button.

Enjoy—Hope your journey is a good one!

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

EDINBURGH, SCOTLAND--DAY 14

Our trip to Scotland culminates with a stay in Edinburgh.

On the drive there, we stop at St. Andrews’ 18th hole, and I can honestly say I can miss a putt just as skillfully as I saw missed putts at St. Andrews! For you golfers who complain about waiting for tee times, you will wait up to a year for a tee time at St. Andrews. On some days the fog is so thick you cannot see the ball to tee off! No one gives up a tee time, however, and there are rumors that on those wet, misty, foggy Scottish mornings it is not difficult to see a grown man cry!

We arrive in Edinburgh in the late afternoon passing through the Kingdom of Fife to the Forth Bridge. (Doesn’t that sound romantic?)

In the evening we attend a Scottish show and dinner at Prestonfield, a grand mansion built in 1687. Prestonfield was built as a statement of wealth and power and designed by the royal architect who had just completed remodeling Holyrood Palace.

Half a century ago Prestonfield opened as a hotel, and some of the famous guests have been Winston Churchill, Margaret Thatcher, Grace Kelly, Sean Connery (yay), Elton John, and Catherine Zeta-Jones. And Rob and Wendy & friends! Benjamin Franklin stayed here in the 18th century when it was still a residence. It is named one of the Best 101 Hotels in the World, and Conde Nast Traveller describes it as “so extravagant it’s like walking onto the set of some flamboyant costume drama.” Nice way to end our trip, huh? We attend the last show of the season, so it’s a sentimental one for the cast as well. Go to Prestonfield’s website; it’s a trip in itself.

To solidify my impression of Scotland, much of the entertainment is both patriotic and commemorative of the fighting Scots: “This Land Will Never Die,” Jacobite Impressions” (Bonnie Prince Charlie and the Jacobite Rebellion), “Glencoe,” (one of Scotland’s most horrific massacres), and “Scotland the Brave.” To highlight Scotland’s musical heritage and what it has given to the world: “Celidh Dancing” (The Virginia Reel), “The Three Scottish Tenors” (singing songs of Scotland), and “Instrumentalists” (bagpipes, accordions, and violin). Of course, just before intermission is the Haggis Ceremony with a rendition of “Address to the Haggis” by Robert Burns. We are served haggis (“Great Chieftain o’ the Puddin’-race!”) during intermission. The show ends with “Auld Lang Syne,” and between the closing night sentiments of the performers and our own near-to-closing feelings, it is a heartfelt song that touched us all.

The following video clips highlight some of the dancing of the evening. video video


If Prestonfield’s extravagance, dinner, and show are not enough, we come back through the city to see Edinburgh at night—rather to see Edinburgh Castle towering above us by night. This is everyone’s dream castle, built on a rock 70 million years old, The Castle Rock, and the site of a fortress for over 2000 years! We see the Castle from Princes Street, the main shopping thoroughfare. It is an unusual street; the stores line the north side of the street leaving the view to the castle unobstructed. The south side of the street leads to gardens. It takes the breath away.

We’re up bright and early the next morning for a tour of Edinburgh. Our guide, Keith, though not Sean Connery, is as true a Scot as there is, and he gives us quite a tour! Not only of the town, but also of traditional Scottish dress. He explains the kilt—a single piece of fabric up to nine yards long—and its history. We see many men wearing kilts and later we stop in kilt shops, learning that the entire outfit will easily cost more than $1,000.00.

“People are always asking,” explains Keith, “what’s worn under the kilt?”
“Nothing’s worn” is the Scotsman’s reply. “Everything works just fine!”

He also shows us what he claims is the “ugliest building in Scotland”—The Scottish Parliament. It did win eight international architecture awards, but, hey….

We tour Edinburgh Castle and see from the views why it was so important to the history of Scotland. We walk the same paths that Mary Queen of Scots walked, and visit the room where, in 1566, she gave birth to James I whom she left behind when she fled to England in 1568. There’s such a sense of historical presence in every room we visit that it sends shivers. The views from the castle are extraordinary



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From Edinburgh Castle, one can walk a mile to the Palace of Holyroodhouse, the official residence in Scotland of her Majesty the Queen. This walk is known as the Royal Mile, and it passes many interesting attractions. As our coach is taking us elsewhere, we forgo the Royal Mile on this day. If we begin at the other end, it’s all uphill. NOT.

We have the afternoon to ourselves and we leave the coach on Princes Street. Now we are in modern Edinburgh, no different from any other metropolitan shopping area with the same crazies! We cross to the south side of Princes Street to head toward our bus stop, and lo and behold, we are stopped by our dear friend, Mike from Burton-upon-Trent, England, who we are supposed to meet the next day when the tour ends. We are staying a few extra days for this extra special visit. What are the odds????? In the middle of a city!!!!!!! Now that's serendipity! First order of business is catching up over tea—actually tea for me; the guys are coffee drinkers. Rob and I catch the bus back to our hotel after we make plans to meet the following day at Holyrood House.

This evening is our tour's farewell dinner in South Queensferry, a little outside Edinburgh, at The Two Bridges restaurant, looking up at the Forth Bridge. Through these narrow, winding streets that challenge our skillful coach driver, Robert Louis Stevenson wandered, and it was in this town that he wrote Treasure Island. How cool is that? It is the perfect farewell to the tour, but it is the beginning of our visit with Mike.


Sunday, February 17, 2008

EDINBURGH, SCOTLAND--OUR LAST DAY

Edinburgh, Scotland is an historic, modern, old and young vibrant city. Its charm lies at least partly in its inherent contradictions, so exploring the city sometimes forces me to step back and remember that I am walking in the imprint of history. I definitely feel that way in Edinburgh Castle, and that is just the beginning.

Rob and I planned to meet Mike after the tour was over and to spend some time with him exploring the city. Mike and I became friends when I was thirteen. We began as pen pals, and we met for the first time when I was 21 on my first trip to England with my cousin Phyllis. Rob met him a bit later, and the three of us have been close ever since. These extra days in Edinburgh are special, and accidentally meeting Mike in the gardens on Princes Street in the shadow of Edinburgh Castle in the middle of a busy city is one more proof of a friendship that was meant to be.

But enough sentimentality. With guidebooks in hand, we are off! And we pick the big stuff at the start—Holyrood Palace at the foot of the Royal Mile. It’s the official residence of the Queen while she is in Scotland. The entire palace is not open to the public, but what we do see is history and where it took place. No photos allowed. An audio tour guides us through the palace and tells us its storied history peopled with famous and infamous personages who previously existed for me only in books. Now I am entering their bedrooms! Built in 1498 by James IV, Holyrood Palace is the site of some of the most dramatic events surrounding Mary Queen of Scots (read Antonia Fraser’s Mary Queen of Scots for this fascinating story). Here Mary was crowned Queen of the Scots, and here her Italian Secretary David Rizzio was stabbed upwards of 57 times. When I pause in that room, I shiver.

Holyrood Abbey, with a history of 800 years, stands in magnificent ruin. We walk in the drizzle among the ruins and tombstones and wonder at it all.

Then off to the Royal Museum and the Museum of Scotland, both situated in one huge building and offering two very different looks at the country. Fascinating is the Museum of Scotland which houses over 10,000 artifacts—a treasure trove of Scottish history. There is even a communal drinking cup made after the Scots beat the English in the Battle of Bannockburn in 1314. We spend a lot of time there and then move to the Royal Museum which has 36 galleries housing an impressive international collection of artistic, archeological, scientific and industrial exhibits. Marvelous!

By this time we have worked up a thirst and head for—not just any pub, but Greyfriars Bobby’s Bar, right behind the statue of the noble pooch who gained fame for his devotion to his dead master, watching over his grave for 14 years. Our drinks inside are welcomed, but the sight of a kilt-clad Scot with a Budweiser in hand seemed histrionically incongruous. To each his own, I guess.

Loving the literary connection, we continue our walk until we come to The Elephant House, the famous shop where J.K. Rowling created her boy wizard, Harry Potter. Cannot resist this photo op.

We walk and walk, and finally find a place for a lovely meal and more time to sit and talk. Remember, however, that Edinburgh is neither staid nor fuddy-duddy. Beneath the Castle, this is what we run in to! Riotous fun, loud, and exciting, and we enjoy it immensely.

Our last day in Scotland, the next day, is primarily spent in the Edinburgh Zoo. Rob and I like to visit zoos whenever possible, and this one, seemingly cut into the side of a mountain, is a maze of trails up and down. It is not our own Bronx Zoo; it doesn’t compare to London’s or to San Diego’s, or to any of the really great zoos we’ve visited. BUT it does have one of the most fun displays—the penguins parade along the walkways each day escorted by attendants, and we all get to line the path and watch. The penguins “choose” whether or not to walk. They all know what’s going on, and those who want to do the stroll just join in. It’s delightful. The penguins are the zoo’s pride and joy, and their tank display keeps us mesmerized.

Sadly, we leave Mike at the zoo. Oops I mean we part at the end of our day at the zoo. It is a great visit, but we are all heading home in the morning. For we three, though, it is only hasta luego.

















Scotland

Saturday, February 16, 2008

A GOOD NOVEL--THE NAMESAKE


Pulitzer Prize winner Jhumpa Lahiri’s novel, The Namesake, is another book that looks at the immigrant experience in America, seeking to explore the complexity of the relationship between people and countries and cultures. What makes The Namesake so intriguing is that it tracks two generations simultaneously, and without being judgmental makes us aware of the difficulties inherent in finding one’s way through culture’s maze. As the lives of Lahiri’s characters unfold, we often are forced into value judgments we might find unexpected.

The Namesake’s main character, Gogol, receives his name as an accident, yet the name has a profound and deep meaning to the boy’s father—a meaning of which the reader is aware but of which Gogol does not learn until he is a man. Complicating this issue is the Bengali custom of two names, a public and private, a pet and a good name, a type of divided self—one for family and friends, and one for the outside world. That custom does not translate from the Bengali culture to the American one, and this culture clash becomes major for our protagonist.

Don’t allow me to sound too serious. This is rich, descriptive writing, and I finished the book with a compassionate sympathy for the characters of this family saga, particularly for Gogol, somehow caught in the middle and not quite ever having a feeling of belonging.

I could not help coming away from the book with certain personal feelings reinforced. When immigrants come to this country because of its rich opportunities and then reject everything other than what America does for them personally, thereby choosing to remain outsiders, I feel remote. When immigrants try to become part of the American fabric yet keep their cultural identity, I feel incredibly sympathetic because they’ve chosen a difficult path. I sympathize for the children who are forced, at times, to choose between the two, something very difficult for parents if the choice is for the new culture. These issues are explored in The Namesake. Follow this link to an interview where Jhmupa Lahiri talks about some of these things. www.houghtonmifflinbooks.com/readers_guides/lahiri_namesake.shtml#interview

The Namesake reflects this Indian experience, but it is universal to all immigrant experiences. My father used to tell of coming home from kindergarten and refusing to speak to his mother in any language other than English. That was how one succeeded in this country. My grandmother decided to go to school herself.

Read this novel on your vacation. You will come away with a good feeling and probably a better understanding of the cultural clash, a battle every immigrant faces.

TRAVEL TIPS

We keep hearing about delays at airports, missing connecting flights, or leaving long periods between connections to avoid missing flights caused by delays.

While there’s no way to make a delay go away, if you’re airport bound, make sure you can occupy yourself. A busy mind makes time appear to go faster—I’d say “time fly” but that would be adding insult to injury. Bring a book, your iPod, crossword puzzles, etc. to fill the time.

This is so simple, yet look around the airport waiting areas, and you’ll see more fidgeting and watch checking than occupation. Believe me, busy is better.