Saturday, 29 October 2016

We tour our first medieval cathedral

Walked and walked uphill to find cathedral — worth the trek

On our little pop-out pocket map of downtown Glasgow, we seemed to be only a stone’s throw from the Glasgow Cathedral. What the flat map failed to show us was the uphill slog.

However, we made our way doggedly upwards through the campus of the University of Strathclyde, missed the turn to the cathedral, found ourselves outside the Royal Glasgow Infirmary, re-jigged direction, navigated crossing the roads and arrived at “one of the few Scottish Medieval churches to have survived the Reformation largely unscathed."

Built in the 1100’s on the site of an ancient wooden church founded by St. Mungo in the late 500’s, it was our first visceral experience of how drenched in history Scotland (like other “Old Countries”) is.  After a while, so much history begins to feel somewhat oppressive. Everything is so layered with accretion on top of accretion: fascinating but at the same time so very heavy with century upon century of so many things that have happened.

flowers in Cathedral Square

David Livingstone, one of several statues of famous Scots in Cathedral Square

We left our luggage near the pews by the east window and joined a tour in progress.

A few minutes later, as we drifted farther and farther away, I began to worry that someone might take a liking to them —pot-luck theft, as it were. This caused further consternation amongst the cathedral volunteers, as one is not supposed to leave bags unattended and they are regretfully not allowed to check then anymore, for security reasons. So we ended up dragging them around with us down to the crypt and back, worth the trip but cumbersome.

We found out a lot about St. Mungo, aka St. Kentigern (Mungo was a pet-name given to him by St. Serf, the monk who helped raise him), including why the lamp posts outside were decorated the way they were. The four images are Mungo’s symbols and they each have a legend attached to them:

The volunteer guide was a jovial fount of knowledge: five stars for the cathedral, which incidentally, hasn’t actually been a cathedral (bishop’s seat) since 1690. It is part of the Church of Scotland, i.e. Presbyterian. I never did get all the denominations of Scottish Christianity figured out and I won’t bore you with all my difficulties trying to get them sorted.

Walked downhill to catch the #2 bus to the Kelvingrove Museum

The cathedral volunteers had put their heads together to advise us of the best way to get across town to the Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum. After much more walking — all of it downhill, thank goodness— we found the bus stop and soon the #2 arrived. We had a scenic tour across central Glasgow. Always look up, our cab driver had advised us earlier in the day in the short haul between the airport shuttle bus station and the Scotrail station. The old buildings are wonderful. One of the most famous is the Tolbooth Steeple, a medieval tower in the middle of the busy street.

We walked by it, but I didn't take a picture; this shot is from wikipedia images.

 The Scots don’t have as well-developed a propensity for tearing down old buildings as Canadians do apparently. 

a view - from the taxicab - of a pediment 

near George Square

Sir Walter Scott in George Square (erected 1837); column by David Rhind, sculpture by John Greenshield, carving by Handyside Ritchie (likely no relation), pigeon of unknown provenance

We also got a kick out of the local colour provided by the passengers on the bus. After about 20 minutes, we were within walking distance of both our hotel, the Argyll Guest house, and the museum.

We got off, pop-out map in hand, and found our hotel where we were allowed to stash our bags, along with those of other guests, until check-in time several hours later.

Tuesday, 25 October 2016

We make our way through customs

Day 2: Tuesday,  September 6th

Security: “We’re not after style” Problems with who is our contact person - very nice customs man ...

The quotation is an obscure reference scholars far in the future will spend ages deciphering. I can’t quite figure it out now.  In the first place, we were at customs, I believe, not security. You stood in line until invited to go forward to a wicket.  Couples could go together.  

I believe this comment was said in reference to Greg’s passport photo, which is not flattering. Greg remembers the customs official (a white-haired man with very blue eyes, like Peter O’Toole's – my memory), saying all he was after was “a resemblance… We’re not after style.” 

It was fortunate he had a sense of humour. 

On the plane, we had received little cards to fill out with our names and other information. One question stumped us: Who is your contact person in Scotland? We did not know a soul in the entire United (for now) Kingdom, aside from a couple who had moved to Eastbourne last spring. That is about as far away from Scotland as you can get without wading in the English Channel.

The conversation went something like this:
Customs: You haven’t filled in the answer to this question.
Me: No, we haven’t. [I have been told never to give any more information at border crossings than that which is asked for.]
Customs: Who is your contact in Scotland?
Me: Well, we don’t actually have one.
Customs: You don’t?
Me: No, although [to Greg]  I suppose we could name Cam and Dinah.  [To the customs guy] They live in southern England –  moved there last spring… but that’s kind of a long way away in case of an emergency.
Customs: I see.
Customs: What are you doing in Scotland?
Me: We are touring in a large circle beginning here in Glasgow and then going to Fort William and maybe Maillaig, and then Inverness and up to the Orkney Islands, then back south to Nairn, then Edinburgh, Melrose and back to Glasgow.
Customs: I see and why are you doing this?
Me: Well, I am tracing my family tree; I have quite a few ancestors who came from various places in Scotland.
Customs: So you don’t have any family here.
Me: Well, not exactly… I might be a distant cousin  to the woman in the Orkneys who is going to guide us around the neolithic sites, but other than that they are pretty much just in cemeteries, I’m afraid.
Customs [in a resigned tone of voice]: I see. Well, where are you staying tonight?
Me: We’re booked into a hotel on ah ... I  can’t pronounce it … Sauchiehall Street. Just a sec. I have the name in my folder.

I reached into my black bag, pulled out my plastic folder for holding reservations, and found  the reservation sheet for the Argyll Guest House.  

His wrinkled forehead relaxed. He smiled, told us how to pronounce Sauchiehall, and suggested we really should plan on going to the Isle of Skye. He said he had never been there himself, but he heard it was wonderful. I said the train trip up there was supposed to be very scenic.

He wished us a good trip and that was that. We had officially arrived in Scotland.

And in case you are wondering about Sauchiehall:

While the correct pronunciations of this famous shopping street in the centre of Glasgow may well be more like "Saughiehall" (with a soft "gh" sound) you will find that from many Glaswegians it will sound more like "Suckiehall" Street. The name is derived from "saugh" the Scots word for a willow tree and "haugh" the word for a meadow (which was later corrupted into "hall"). Originally, it was a winding, narrow lane, with villas standing in gardens of about an acre or so. It was widened in 1846 and is now a mile-long, broad street, running in straight lines, from Buchanan Street in the east to Kelvingrove and the Museum and Art Galleries in the west.

Tuesday, 18 October 2016

Our Big Trip to Scotland: Day 1

I ventured off the North American continent for the first time a few weeks ago in September. Greg is a more seasoned traveller than I am but not by much.We both kept travel journals. I am going to post my journal entries in bold with embellishments where needed, one day at a time until finished. Yes, there will be pictures.

Anyhow, I shall begin with  the riveting account of our departure:

Day 1: September 5th, 2016

No reservation for the ferry

This was a major oversight on my part. It was the only detail of the trip I had neglected to tie down. I forgot it was Labour Day and everybody and their uncle (and aunt) would be travelling home. Also only one of the ferries was in service from Wood Islands to Caribou, so there was an unusual four-hour gap between them.

On our way through Montague, I glimpsed the father of the family of Syrian refugees recently settled in town. He was mowing his lawn. I had enjoyed tutoring his mother-in-law in English every Wednesday afternoon all summer, so we stopped to say hello, and he invited us in for coffee. We regretfully declined, thinking we had better get to the ferry.

We reached  the ferry terminal in very good time for the 1:30 crossing and there was no traffic in the lot at all. How odd, I thought. Where were the cars which were left behind for the next crossing? That question was soon answered! Everyone had a reservation and would be arriving much closer to the departure time.  The woman in the ticket booth offered to put us on stand-by; we thought that would be risky, so she directed us to a small side exit — made for clueless people like us, apparently.

So we left Wood Islands at 10:45 am and drove to the fixed link

On the way west, we discussed what we would have done had there been no bridge! Maybe fly out?  Anyhow, the day was lovely, the scenery bucolic, and the traffic light at least until we got to Truro.

A photo I took several years ago of the Confederation Bridge 

I drove from Amherst to the airport… got the shuttle… no problem … Parked in “B” at the end of the driveway near the fence.

We were the only ones on the shuttle bus, which took us the half-mile or so to the terminal. We were too early for check-in (a pattern — unusual for me — which was to repeat itself frequently during our trip), so we explored the airport, then sat on a bench and watched the same people walk back and forth in the concourse. The outfits people choose to wear while traveling are often eye-catching, to say the least. 

Ate dinner at the airport pub, not a bad meal. I had unbuttered boiled potatoes, veggies and fish from which I removed the panko coating.

I am not usually so conscious of food. I just enjoy eating it, but I had had a horrible digestive upset which began the night of July 28th and lingered for seven weeks. At one point the diarrhea was so bad I thought we might have to cancel the trip. After four weeks or so I went to the medical clinic in Souris (again), and the doctor gave me a prescription for codeine for its off-label side effect: constipation. It proved to be my new best friend on this trip.

Our dinner venue, Maritime Ale House (Source:

Pleasant cheerful security people... I walked through the arch by mistake.

Knowing with my fake hip, I would have to go to the imaging machine, I took off for it once the security guard motioned me ahead and walked quickly through the arch most other people go through, thinking I was being very efficient. I wasn’t. I did not however get a chewing out, as I might have in other airports. That is Maritime patience and kindliness for you. I got patted down and then stroked with a wand, and soon Greg and I were sitting on a bench putting ourselves and our luggage back together.

Loooong  Flight — twitchy legs — no sleep

I was assigned a the middle seat on a Westjet Boeing 737-700, a plane  with winglets, which make it look cute and perky and helped instill nonchalance in me. It was full: 130 passengers.

My young seat-mate to the left  spent most of the trip cocooned under his hoodie. After we landed in Glasgow, he said hadn’t slept much either. Could it have been the twitchy restless seat-mate to his right? He was too polite to say. He did say he was from St. John’s, Nfld and was going to spend the next year studying medical engineering at Strathclyde University in Glasgow. (By coincidence, later that day we walked through that very campus.)

Thank goodness Greg was the seat-mate to my right (by the aisle), since I had to crawl out over him a number of times when nature didn’t just call, but hollered. I felt very badly at one point that I didn’t let a very elderly woman, leaning on her daughter’s arm,  into the bathroom ahead of me, but doing so would have been much much worse for everyone.

This is what our plane looked like. (Source: wikipedia)

Finally we landed. I am never going to take another red-eye flight ever again.

The only good things about the flight were that I was not white-knuckled, we didn’t crash, and the Thai chicken wrap I had ordered on-line a few days before leaving — because I thought I might be healthy again by the time we left — was delivered without a hitch.