In London we stayed with my friend Justin, who is from South Africa.
I met him in Moscow in 1990. It is really nice staying with people,
not just because it is cheaper, but also because it is easier to get
a feel for the place. His roommates were very interesting and friendly,
it was nice chatting over dinner. The Hostel in Seattle gave us each a one
week, 6 zone London Travelcard as a going away present, which allowed us
free access to the Tube and the busses. It was GREAT!! I really like
taking the Tube, it is quick and easy, but the city busses (the double
decker ones!) offer a great way to see parts of the city you might otherwise
miss... so we rode them quite a bit as well. It is fascinating reading the
advertising in the Underground. Very different than in the US -- more
intelligent, more hip, more sexual. And there were about 10 different
places that sell travel insurance!
We were able to see some far flung places and were also able to get from
Justin's house near Clapham High Street (High street means Main Street...
so Highway means Main road!) to central London and places like Brick Lane
and Soho where we spent a lot of time. We walked the Regent's Canal, went
to Cannizaro Park, had Indian food at Brick Lane, went to the Brixton Market,
took a photo crossing Abby Road, visited Lords Cricket Ground (one day too
late to see a game -- DAMN!) walked the Roman wall and wandered many
London is a fun, vibrant, EXPENSIVE, happening city. It doesn't seem to
realize that it is no longer the largest city in the world (it's now
number 16) but that means that it FEELS important! The many newspapers have
huge screaming headlines every day, and all of it is a way of trying to
assert London as the center of the world. I could spend a lot of time
there... but it IS expensive and it was was time to move on.
So we went on a day trip to Cambridge with Justin, wandered the market and
the Backs (meadows behind the colleges) and we punted our own boat up and
down the river Cam. Punting is HARD. It looks so easy, but pushing on the
bottom and trying to make the boat go forward (and not sideways or backwards).
Also, keeping a hold of the pole is a challenge! (At one point we had to
rescue a pole for someone who had lost theirs!) It was lots of fun.
We had planned on renting a car and taking a 3 or four day trip around
Cornwall, land of Arthur, and perhaps Hastings, Canterbury & Rye ... but time
did not allow. Another time we will do that (hopefully on a bicycle!)....
The next day we took the train to Inverness, the capitol of The Highlands
in Scotland. We were met at the train station by a teenager in a Loch Ness
Monster costume. 'Inver' means river mouth. Inverness, mouth of the river
Ness (or Nessmouth if it were in England!). Inverness is a city that is growing
fast, sprawling and very touristy. (For you Wallace & Grommit fans, we found
the cutest Grommit cookies in a bakery there!) We went on a dolphin watching
boat trip on salt water Moray Firth. It was a wonderful ride, beautiful
scenery -- but like the monster in the Loch, the dolphins were elusive.
(The Royal Family however were not! They seemed to be following us. They
took the dolphin cruise the day after we did and for several days they were
just one day behind us!)
We also walked along the Ness river and the Caledonian Canal locks before
hopping on the train to Carbisdale Castle Hostel. The Hostel is in an actual
castle -- oil paintings in huge hallways, marble statues, giant stone towers.
Spooky mazelike hallways. It is very isolated, and in a beautiful location,
along the Kyle of Sutherland (Kyle == narrows, or estuary). The castle was
built in the 1910's for a Duke's widow from the next county south, by the
step-children who wanted to be rid of her. It is specifically designed to
look old and authentic by having separate wings which LOOK like they were
built at different times, and decorated in the style of different periods!
The castle has its own train station about 1 km away, and from the high
windows of the castle it was really neat to watch the train cross the bridge,
poke in and out of the forest and roll down along the water in to the
distance -- it looked like a model train!
While we were in Scotland I read a novel by a Scottish author that was set
in Scotland. Complicity by Iain Banks. It was a very bizarre thriller,
but it was fun recognizing so many of the places.
From the hostel we took a long walk through the forest and into the heather
covered hillsides. At one point we turned around and saw the castle on the
side of the next hill over, perhaps 4 km away, sticking up out of the forest
with (I am NOT making this up) a RAINBOW directly over the castle. It looked
like it was from a children's story book! We walked a long way that day:
past 3 or 4 towns, through heather covered hillsides and miles and miles of
Two things to remember about Scotland: Heather, EVERYWHERE!, and sheep.
Sheep, sheep, sheep, sheep sheep. More sheep than people. We saw
Rhododendron, a terrible invasive in Scotland, but native in Washington,
European thistle and Scotsbroom, a terrible invasive in Washington but native
in Scotland -- and many other familiar plants. In fact, the water and hills and
rivers and plants and clouds and rain all looked very very much like home.
(The accents on the other hand, did NOT!) We finished that day by walking to
a waterfall where we saw salmon jumping upstream. And people on the deck
above cheering them on! How Seattle! Oh, and we also saw a can of vegetarian
Haggis in the gift shop. That's a bit bizarre...
From Carbisdale Castle (Aug 31) we took the train to Thurso, the capitol of
the Cathiness, the northernmost region in Scotland and a very historic Earldom.
All the train station signs are in both English and Gaelic! Most of the way we
saw heather and sheep along the tracks. But we did see some elk, and for a part
of the ride we went through a wilderness... the landscape looked like parts of
Eastern Washington (only with heather instead of tumbleweed) and no farms or
sheep or buildings. We also saw North Sea oil rigs in for repair and rivers
and Kyles, beautiful beaches and a large flock?, pod?, pack? of seals on the
beach! I was REALLY wanting my bicycle!