Monday, October 19, 2009

Back on the Bus: Day 5, Scotland

Six-fifteen came as early as it sounds, actually 6:07 am to be exact. We put our bags outside our hotel door by 6:15 am. Ughh! I snapped this beautiful photo of N. about 6:23 am as we scurried to try and have some breakfast. She screamed in horror. For some reason, I was wide awake, laughing, learning to stay away from the eggs and sausages, I grabbed some yogurt and granola, in my opinion a very good decision. We learned we weren't the only people having trouble sleeping, many a bus traveller told me of their bouts that morning, popping Excedrin PM, Tylenol PM or stronger. Ok, I guess we aren't alone, however both of us did actually sleep in a beautiful and comfortable room. After all, five hours is five hours.

We boarded the bus, yes at the ungodly vacation hour of 7 am, but none of us would be able to sleep, the first stop only an hour away, a tour of Medieval Chester, England awaited us, a mere two miles from the Welsh border, many of us protesting that we cannot at least step over the border. I swear N. started to chant: "I am not going to make this." On the way, I thought that soon I will be in Scotland, nearing the end of the day, a place I heard about my whole life, the place my grandmother was born. My great grandfather fought for the French in World War I, was killed in 1915, only a year after nana was born. My great grandmother, alone with five children sent her oldest daughter, Jean and Ina (my grandmother) to America and our American story was born. Today, on this bus I would enter Scotland for the first time, a near spiritual experience, searching for our family's story.

But, not yet, first we toured medieval Chester, quite frankly the best part of the trip so far. The tour guide's accent was melodic, she pointed out the Chester Cathedral, dating back centuries and even more impressive in my opinion was the Roman amphitheater, recently discovered dating back to the 1st century, well before the English rooted the Romans out of England, passing the torch of skulduggery and oppression to the English. Case in point, our tour guide kept close to the vest a not so subtle lowly opinion of the Welsh maligning them with wit and humor. She pointed out the Chester clock faced in three directions, but not Wales because: "We won't give the Welsh the time of day." "Ok, so that's how it's gonna be?" as my friend Liz might say.

Chester was delightful and charming, nonetheless, a beautiful tiny city in the English countryside. I took a few pictures of the clock and the shops and the architecture of this darling little city, of course once N. took control of the camera the photos stopped. Probably a good thing, since toward the end of the trip we were choosing which pictures to save on our digital camera, eliminating the Chester amphitheater. Before departing I ran to the Welsh coffee shop, since we were told "Englanders won't step foot in there." My kind of place, I thought and acquired me a coffee for the ride to Grasmere, William Wordsworth's hometown on the way to Scotland.

Grasmere was cute and we actually ate a nice little meal here, N. stuck to the soup and I chomped a great sandwich, pretty impressive since we hadn't had much of a meal outside of London yet. Although, N bought a dessert, some sort of fudge or cake concoction that tasted neither like fudge nor cake and ended up in the waste basket. We toured the town afterward and looked in the shops and it remained pretty impressive sitting at the bottom of beautiful foothills, we took several pictures and even made a trek to Wordsworth's grave. It stilled the long day on the bus awhile and we enjoyed ourselves through the lake country.

Back on the Bus I trembled at the notion we were headed to Scotland, part of the land of my ancestors birth, deep within the Scottish highlands. When we crossed over into Scotland, my heart jumped, Robert yelled to everyone to "get out your passports ladies and gents." I knew he was kidding, Scotland still swears her allegiance to the British crown, though not without some tension as we were about to find out. We stopped first at a woolen mill, the first in a long line of woolen mills. I looked up my family name, Barnes, and as it turned out the name Barnes, is a derivative of Burns and is part of the Campbells of Argyle, a bloody, marauding clan who single handedly saw to it that the Macdonald clan would not survive. Yikes, with no thanks to my ancestors the Macdonalds did survive. Robert said: "This is why today you can't get Campbell soup in a MacDonalds." Pretty funny stuff Robert.
It took another hour to arrive in Edinburgh, we arrived almost at dusk. We were excited to finally be at our destination and in my opinion, I anticipated Edinburgh as one of the highlights of the trip. She did not disappoint, she is beautiful, stunning really and N. immediately put her side by side with Paris as her favorite city. Though the sun was setting you could see her beautiful architecture, different than London, a soot covering all of the buildings giving it a rusty feel, a working city with beauty. In the morning we planned a long exploration. But, for tonight we needed some food and Scottish ale.

Our group now, fully in the mood for some new culture set out for "The Tass." She lay a block from our hotel that overlooked Edinburgh Castle. We might have been in a dream it was so beautiful, on the "Royal Mile." The Tass is everything we wanted it to be, a little Scottish Pub with Scottish music about ready to begin, we ordered pints, mine straight out of Glasgow. After a long day on the bus, it was just what the doctor ordered. We also ordered meals, most of us fish and chips. N. ordered the mac and cheese and I ended up with Shepherd's pie which was actually decent, a little too salty, but it made me thirstier. Mmmmmmm. We listened to some genuine Scottish music, though my American counterparts were a bit too rowdy for some of the patrons. "Stupid Americans." I know I heard someone say.
Our group bonded that night through taking pictures of one another drinking ale and sharing our stories. "How long have you and N. been married?" A. asked us. "Too long!" we both said at the same time. We told them our story of not wanting to be married, no one seemed to understand, but it didn't matter we were all so merry. We scurried off, passed the Royal Mile and went to bed, asleep in Scotland a return to the homeland. I looked out our window in the hotel, a view of Edinburgh Castle where my great grandfather's service with Blackwatch is memorialized. I heard the bagpipes in my mind playing at his funeral almost 100 years past. "Sleep tight til morn." I said.

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