Saturday, October 29, 2005

This morning I actually felt halfway decently so after a hefty breakfast of half a plate of omelet (good gracious) I wandered around the aforementioned one lit street, which, it turns out, is the only street with shops in all of Stromness. There are some charming little shops, though I have no idea where these people go to get most of their groceries, since they only have one tiny grocery and a butcher shop. That I saw, anyway.

I found a bookshop and got a little bird identification book, and admired the little things taped up to the shelves (“Get some fresh air if you start to smell”). Because it’d worked so well for me I asked the bookseller where a good place to walk would be. He sent me up the west coast. I would be able to see a cemetery, seals, birds, and a castle. And all the sheep I could shake a stick at. Should take me about two hours to get up castle ways – longer, if I lingered, and then I could walk back or hitchhike back to town.

Hitchhike? See, I’ve always been under the impression that one never, ever, ever hitchhikes. Unless it’s the 60’s and then it’s fine. Being told that hitchhiking here is safe is akin, to me, to being told that doing crack here is healthy.

But this being a tiny, friendly town I’m thinking it’s okay. And so I’m determined to try it. If the opportunity comes about. What was I talking about? Oh yes, the walk. After I left the bookshop the owner ran after me and handed me a beat up map of the island and said to just put it through the mail slot of the store when I was done with it. I was astonished. How often does that happen?

I started walking! Saw some seals (they do sit with their tails in the air) and some birds, though none that were new, that I could tell. It was lovely, though a bit windy. And two hours later I saw what looked like a ruin ahead, and checking the map realized that I was nowhere near the castle, and had only gone about a third of the way.

How on earth did he make that walk in two hours? He must’ve run the trail, cause damn. I had to walk on the beach – made up of lots of large rocks – which was heaven for broken ankles and made for really slow going. And I realized that there was no way I was going to make it to the castle. I couldn’t even see a good way to get to the ruined bit of house that I was looking at – my options were either to go through a cow field or through seaweed. So I turned around, slightly miffed.

In total I walked about 3 1/2 hours. Which is a long time.

I came back and rested a bit, then wandered around again. Everyone here’s so friendly. They – and their dogs – always say hello when we pass. I called the local tour company – which doesn’t have tours on Monday so I’d need to get a tour for tomorrow. No response. I called about fifty million other times, and still no answer, so no tour for me.

And since there’s no real way to get anywhere on this island without a car, I think I’m going to rent one on Monday. I was hoping to go scuba diving since it’s apparently really good here, but the season ended this weekend, so the best I got was that if something comes up they’ll call me. But I haven’t the faintest idea what I’ll do tomorrow. There’s not much more in town to see, and I don’t particularly feel like doing that walk again.

Of course, it could also be hurricane-style weather (see: current weather), which will mean that I’ll run to a pub, and spend the day there.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

They must really not want people to visit Orkney from Edinburgh, because holy hell that was the longest trip ever. I left my house at 6am and checked into my hotel at 8:45. PM. Nearly fifteen hours of traveling. Three trains, a walk, and a ferry. Here’s how it went:

Train from Edinburgh to Perth. I went to Perth, you may remember. It was the town where, when I asked what there was to do there, people frowned and said, “In Perth…?” This is also, I’d failed to mention, the land of no trash cans. I mean it. None. Not even in the bathrooms. Even the women’s bathrooms! I asked about this, and the reason, apparently, is security. So people don’t throw bombs disguised as trash into one of the trashcans.

My question is how that stops people from just leaving, say, a paper bag with explosives in it on a bench. But what do I know?

Then I took a train from Perth to Inverness. It was on this train ride that I’d woken up enough to do something other than just stare. So I started reading the book I brought with me, because I learned a while ago that one should never, ever, travel without a book. And the train was late getting in, so I booked it to the next train, which was:

The train from Inverness to Thurso. Thurso is way (way) up north. I had quite a layover there – three hours until the bus to Scrabster that the Train Information Man told me about, that I couldn’t find. I asked him twice, and he sent me the wrong way the first time around. Said to go right when I needed to go straight. Jerk. The only bus times I could find were for 6:18pm, and an alleged 5:55pm (one bus station said that’s when it would show up at the train station, but the train station didn’t agree).

Or I could walk – Train Information Man said it was about an hour walk. There was very little to do in Thurso – a few shops. I stopped in a bakery and asked what kind of soup they had. “Broth.” Oh! Yes. Broth of some variety. And so I had that, and ascertained that it was, indeed, broth of some variety. With carrot and onion bits.

I got bored after about an hour and a half of walking up and down the same street, wondering about bus times and trying to figure out how the hell I was going to spend another two hours there. So I decided to try and walk. And it was a fine walk, the only problem being that while Thurso has almost nothing in the town, Scrabster has less than nothing.

See, the thing about Thurso and Scrabster is that they’re both towns that you go to in order to leave them. Unless you live there the only reason to go there is to catch anything you can to get out.

Scrabster has the port, a seafood place, two closed restaurants (rumor had it that they were opening later in the evening), and a hotel (for whoever misses the last train, I’m guessing). And a really terrible name. Lovely sunset, though.

With this dearth of, well, anything in the towns I have to say that the ferry is ridiculously swish (isn’t that the greatest term? I thought so!). It’s like walking into a hotel. There’s a restaurant, a bar, a game room (gambling and video games), a shop, lounges, couches, and tvs. I watched the Simpsons for most of the 90-minute trip. Okay, drinking beer on a boat? Crazy weird. The boat, being on water, rocks back and forth and you start to wonder if it’s the boat or the beer that’s causing the weave in your step.

It was dark so I didn’t get to see any of the sights that one is rumored to pass while on the journey, but I wasn’t totally keen on doing more than sit and watch tv so that wasn’t a huge deal.

I didn’t feel like a B&B – I wanted a hotel with my own bathtub (if possible) and food and – okay, I just really wanted to crash. Not much else mattered. It being dark I wandered around the one lit street that I could see, where I did indeed find a hotel and was thrilled to check in.

“What kind of room would you like?” the clerk asked. I blinked at her.
“One with a bed in it, I think.” Unless they have a dining room free. That’d be cozy.
“One with a bed in it,” she repeated loudly, clearly not interested in my attempt at dry local humor.

The distinction she was making, and I know you had this figured out ages ago, was whether I wanted a bath or a shower in my room. Ohhhh, right. Silly me.

Food, bath, tv, sleep, and life is much better, thank you. But all I could think after, oh, noon was “This had better be a fucking impressive place.”

Tip learned too late: If you want to go to Orkney from E-burgh or similar, go to Inverness for a day or two and then go to Orkney, then go and spend some more time in Inverness. Because, and note how I come full circle here, holy hell.

Monday, October 24, 2005

An exciting day, y’all! Not for you, for me!

I slept in lots, which was kind of ridiculous because I went to bed early, but apparently my body was really into having 12 hours of sleep, and so I did! There were weird dreams.

Anyway! I decided to go out and try a new wireless internet place which was located in a shopping centre, in a bagel shop. Nearer to my house than the pub, which would be really thrilling. Free wireless internet! Plus bagels!

Except only four of those words were true. The free bit? Not so much. I could get onto AIM and AOL just fine, but it wouldn’t let me browse the web without paying £5 for the privilege. Per session, and it didn’t specify what a “session” was. When I saw this I said HAH to the shop in general, finished my bagel and left. Making me pay. Ridiculous.

And I went off shopping for things that I’ve been needing and haven’t gotten around to purchasing, and y’all, here’s where it gets awesome:

I found trousers. Oh yes I did. I found them! And bought them and they are now mine to wear.

This might be not interesting to you, but I’ll explain.

I have spent literally days going through shops trying to find either 1. the same trousers that now have three giant holes in them, only two of which are patched, or 2. some kind of nice new European-style trousers with the embroidery on the leg which are the rage here and do, indeed, look very nice. Or, if I get really lucky, a pair of wide-wale cords which do not exist in this part of the world, even for men.

But after many trips the pants trousers that I’ve found have been 1. much too tight to wear, 2. loose to the point of falling off, 3. just plain not in my size ever, or 4. hideous beyond belief.

I am unable to just walk into a store and find trousers that fit. I complain about it often. You may have noticed. But if you can do this thing, appreciate it. (I feel like one of those 80-year-old people who tells angsty teenagers to appreciate their youth. Bleah).

And so I found trousers that fit into category 1 and snatched them off the shelf, along with some others. And they fit and they were cheap and I knew that if anyone tried to separate them from me I wouldn’t be totally adverse to killing them. The only problem was that they were for “tall” people, which I am certainly not. So I have to chop about 5” off the bottoms, but I certainly don’t care.

Trousers! Yay!

Right. And I looked up places to go next and think I’m just going to have to ask someone who knows things about travel, because the relevant travel search websites suck. I’m thinking Orkney islands which are north of the northern bit of Scotland, which will make it seem much warmer here when I get back, or Wester Ross, which is northwest, where it is rumored to be totally photogenic, or somewhere else.

I bought other fun things like cleaning stuff and thumbtacks, so my windowsill is clean(er) and my map is finally up on my wall, bringing my wall-decoration count to 2 (the map and my dress, which, since I don’t have anything silly like a hanger, is hanging on a nail above my bed).

Oh! And did I tell you? I came out of the bathroom the other day and looked down to see a dog looking up at me. There’s a dog in the flat! Former Contra Dancer Tam’s wife has moved over here and brought her dog with her – apparently the quarantine rules, while expensive, no longer require your pet to die before attempting entrance to the new country. So there’s a dog! Who is sweet and lovely and spends all her time in their room, so I don’t get to see her much, but still! Dog!

And my number of books read since departing America has been upped to nine. And I’m out of books again. Oy. I’m not looking forward to bringing them back home with me.

Sunday, October 23, 2005

I have a few days and not much news to catch up on. Let’s see.

Last Tuesday, which would be the 18th, you may recall that I tried and failed miserably in an attempt to find Jamie. I managed to succeed on Wednesday, when he was opening for folk singer/guitarist Mark Silver at the pub at which I’d twice found myself on the previous evening.

Before entering the two gentlemen assured me that Jamie was indeed playing that night. I threw my hands up in relief and the older of the two men imitated me with a laugh and said “Thank Allah!”

You won’t find a comment like that in America. I fully appreciated it.

I babbled a minute about my grand search the night before and the younger man winked at me.

I went in and bought a Magner’s (cider) and sat down. The younger gentleman, whose name I now know to be David, came and sat next to me. We had a nice chat for a while. Jamie came out and gave me his usual look of surprise at my attendance.

David got up as the show started (he’s the secretary for the club, which apparently involves holding the door for latecomers), and when Jamie was finished he came and sat next to me. We watched Mark, who reminds me either of Phil Collins or Peter Gabriel, play, chatting during the breaks between songs. During the intermission he jumped up to do some business or other, and the woman sitting next to me started chatting about music and musical ability.

I started to wonder if this club was so lacking in walk-in audience members that the arrival of someone new caused a stir. I think I’m right.

Jamie invited me out the next day (Thursday) for breakfast and a little shopping. Something we were planning to do in Greensboro, which fell through. After the show Jamie went to pack up and chat to some people, and the bartender – apparently the other young member of the club, came over to talk to me. Remember what I said about the group being really excited about new people? I think the younger members were even more thrilled that I was under the age of fifty.

We trooped out to some little bar where they were having a music session. I, being the clever, clever young woman that I am, had brought my knitting with me, and sat and knit and listened. Because let’s face it: if you don’t play an instrument or sing, a session can be god-awful boring. I have tested this theory a number of times and I am so totally right. Yay music and all of that, but damn.

Quarter of one rolled around and I found myself a nice headache to latch onto, and so told Jamie I was going to head out. I had to walk home, after all, and wasn’t sure how long it was going to take me. He said if I waited another ten minutes he’d give me a ride.

Awesome, right?

I keep forgetting that I need to take Jamie’s concepts of time with a grain of salt. Maybe even a cup or two. We didn’t head out until after one – which was actually fine, since now that I wasn’t walking time was less of a factor. But we were also dropping off one of the other musicians. Who lived far enough outside of the city that his street didn’t show up on my city map.

But car! Driving! No worries! Much. I got home around two, and Jamie and I decided that meeting at 10 was silly, and 10:30 was far more reasonable. In retrospect I probably should’ve walked.

Waiting on the sidewalk for him the next morning (he was right on time, I was early) a Hari Krishna-style nun came by to ask me if I was happy and you know religion makes you happy and do you have any money? As I was telling her I wasn’t interested Jamie came up and put his arm around me, and we gave each other giant grins. I looked at the nun, confident that I’d answered her question about my level of happiness. Neener, neener, neener.

Y’all, Jamie and I have been trying since we met a year and a half ago to hang out without interruption and this was the first time we’ve actually accomplished it. It was fantastic.

We went to a café and sat for over an hour, talking about life and such things. I think he’s trying to get revenge on me for telling him that he would love living in North Carolina, because he spent some time telling me that he could see me in Seattle, or Boston, or at least not somewhere I’ve lived before. Now is not the time to settle, but rather to try something new and different.

His ambition for me to try things was contagious, and that bastard has me thinking about going back to school, a thing which I have been staunchly against since graduating.

I paid for breakfast while he was in the bathroom, and when he found out he tried very hard to repay me at least part of it. I refused, despite his repetitive urging, and he gave me a long hug.

We visited every shop along the Royal Mile that sold sweaters, as he was searching for one for his new sweetie, if you will. (Girlfriend isn’t the right word, and this is definitely more than a friendship, so I’m borrowing a term from a friend of mine). She has similarly colored hair to me, so anytime he found something he liked he would hold it up to me.

In the middle of our hunt we stopped for a beer and discussed sweater-and-gift options, his Scotland tour next September, and more of life.

He ended up buying her a ring, too, and as per our new custom, asked which I liked. I pointed out one, and he asked if I would like it. I turned a violent shade of pink and said no. He asked why I was blushing, and I told him it made me shy when people bought me things. But he did, because he can be ridiculously charming.

He departed suddenly after staying an hour and a half later than I thought he would. Since we’d spent so much time wandering he had to take a cab back to wherever he was staying, and our goodbye was brief. His cab drove past me and he turned to wave and blow kisses.

It was heart-achingly sweet, and an unreasonably fun day.

And now Jacqui is ten minutes late picking me up for today’s swing dance (as she predicted), so I’m going to finish getting ready and hopefully have a more entertaining entry later.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Yesterday! Yes. The plan:

1. Dinner
2. Go to Jamie’s concert since he’s in town, according to his schedule
3. Either go swing dancing or hang out with Jamie.

Easy, yes? Ha ha! I laugh.

I went and had dinner; that was fine. I finally went to the Royal Theatre pub, but they’ve had almost complete employee turnover there, so Graham was the only one I knew. I left there at ten of seven to walk to the Pleasance, or possibly the Edinburgh Folk Club, where Jamie’s schedule had said he would be. Fine!

Made it to the relevant street faster than expected and walked past the address and had to turn around to find it. It’s in a cobblestone courtyard off the street, and there were no major signs. I went into the first door (they weren’t marked, of course, with street numbers or anything silly like that), and they seemed to be showing some movie. I didn’t see any of Jamie’s posters, so I went to the place next door and asked at the bar. They gave me a seriously confused look.

The folk club, they asked? That’s tomorrow night. And Sunday.

Good! What?

I still didn’t see any of his posters and left, confused. His schedule definitely said today. I checked my phone to double-check that it was, indeed, the 18th (it was). So I guess I wasn’t going to catch him. Since he doesn’t have a cell phone and his computer is broken I didn’t have a way of contacting him – finding him at the gig was it. Blast.

It was over an hour until the swing dance, so I walked back to High st, where the dance was, found a pub, and nursed a beer and read my book until it was time to go.

I walked down the street, thinking it was a shame I couldn’t catch Jamie, but swing dancing is always good, and I’ll go back to the club tomorrow to see if he’s there and then suddenly I was at the end of the street, and I hadn’t seen the club.


I walked back up. Surely it’s on this street, right? Of course it is. It looks right. Isn’t it? I checked my map – neither Calton st. nor Holyrood st. looked right, and they were my other options.

So, having wandered too damn much today, I called Jacqi and asked her. It was Holyrood st. Bah. Made it to the club and went into the bathroom where I ran into Jacqi. I told her about trying to find Jamie, how he was supposed to play at the Pleasance/Edinburgh Folk Club and I didn’t see him. Oh yeah, she said, that’s just right up the road.

What? No it’s not. I walked way too much for it to be right up the road.

Another woman in the bathroom with us said that she’d just passed it – there had been people gathered outside.

Now. This means that I was in the wrong place and the concert’s over and if I don’t catch him then I really won’t see him.

So I ran. I ran up the road (with periodic bursts of walking quickly – I’m not totally insane) and up the hill and some stairs –

and found myself where I’d been not two hours earlier. I’d gotten the address right, and it’d been right around the corner from the dance place the whole time. Only this time I was sweating and panting. Lovely!

Just for fun I walked into the first place again, but it was no more promising. So I went into the bar – not the one I’d been in earlier, a different one – to see if they had any different ideas. I waited for the bartenders to stop talking to other people, thinking that Jamie could be anywhere, and if I don’t catch him before he leaves – you get the idea.

And I waited. And looked to my left, and recognized the person standing next to me as a drummer I met in Inverness when I was hanging out with Jamie and Hans.

What the hell.

If this was a novel I’d have less respect for the author’s ultra-convenient deus es machina.

I said hello and asked if he knew where Jamie was – oh yeah, he’s in town this week. But he’s been really hard to reach on his phone.

He has a phone here now?

Oh yeah, he just got a British SIM card for it.


So it turned out that the Folk Club was in the bar that I’d been in on my first trip here, and he didn’t know if/when Jamie was playing, but he was definitely around this week.

And then my head exploded. By which I mean I gave him my email address and asked him to let me know about music sessions and went back to the swing dance.

The dance was fun. And I got a ride home from Jacqi and went to bed. And since there’s a swing dance Sunday I think I’ll stay in town this week, though I’d been hoping to go out west.

And today? All the thrills and chills of going to the grocery store! Ooh, aah.

Sunday, October 16, 2005

So yesterday I decided I was done with Inverness and was going to go to Kirkcaldy. It seemed, from the train ride, that I’d get some fantastic views of cliffs meeting the ocean. I wasn’t positive that I was going to do it, but checked out of my B&B this morning anyway. As I was walking to an ATM to get some cash I had this exchange. See if you can make some sense of it.

Scene: Walking along the footbridge crossing Lake Ness. At the end of the bridge two people are setting up what seems to be a video camera. The theory is that they’re doing some news thing.

Guy: Looks like we’re going to be on TV.
Me: Yep. (chuckle).
Guy: [Babbling about tv].
Me: Mm.
Guy: Where are you from?
(Golly, never heard that line before!)
Me: The states.
Guy: I was going to go to the states once, but I had to get a 60-day visa. I can’t even remember my own name and I have to fill out a visa form!
Me: …?

Then he asked if he could buy me a drink some night and I said no. One thing is that’s just a little weird, but second, can’t remember his own name…? That’s confidence-inspiring!

What do these people expect? That I’m going to turn to them, flip my hair, and say “Oh yeah, baby, take me now.”

I went to the train station and got into a very nice conversation with an old woman in line. She’d lived in Inverness for 50 years and said that it tended to be a city unto itself. Even she, after so long, felt a little bit like an outsider on occasion.

On the train there were kids sitting across from me. Three kids, and two mothers. The kids couldn’t have been older than seven. The kids yelled, cried, kicked my chair (and they werern’t even sitting behind me, they moved into the seat behind me and then kicked my seat), whistled and left a mess. Thus I have decided that kids should have their own car. A special kids-and-their-parents railcar. And I have also decided that that car should not be attached to any train that I happen to be riding.

And this is when the kids are being quiet. When they’re being noisy I say they can stay in the same train, but they should be dangled outside of the train by their ankles. Or duct taped to the roof. I’m flexible on the matter.

It was a lovely day in Inverness – bright, clear, cool. And ten minutes into the train ride it was gray and cloudy and foggy. I wasn’t sure until the last minute whether or not I really was going to go to Kirkcaldy. Would it be worth it with the gross weather? I didn’t want to go back to Edinburgh just yet, and knew now was as good a time as ever (since I plan to go west next), so I jumped out at the station.

This town… It’s pretty sad. It has a severe need of a good cleaning. The architecture seems to be suffering from bad contractors and insufficient funding. Whatever is in the classic European style is filthy and in bad disrepair, and whatever isn’t is classic 1930’s – 1960’s ugly.

You know in Inverness they have a horrible 1960’s building that they knocked down a house of Mary, Queen of Scots’ to build? Sheesh.

Anyway. I have yet to find anything manmade that’s really interesting here. I’m staying in a fantastic B&B, though. The room is huge, the owners are incredibly friendly (they let me use their computer to check my email), and for what I’m getting (en suite, satellite tv, two twin beds – I really like to stretch out – breakfast and lots of space) £30 is really rather good. But aside from that? Not so much. I’ve only been here a day, so I won’t damn the place based on just what I’ve seen in town, but man… I’m not optimistic.

And then I did what I came here to do: I went walking along the shore. They have an esplanade along the beach – an ugly cement and brick walkway that was built in the 1930’s and 1940’s so that some people could have employment. A good thing, I think. And I think it might also be a good idea to provide some more employment and give it a facelift. The sea was choppier than usual and waves slammed against the cement wall with sprays that sometimes reached 30’ (I’m guessing – I didn’t have a tape measure or anything). Since the wall was curved if you looked to the left you could watch the spray move up the length of the wall as the wave progressively crashed into the barrier. Highly cool.

The esplanade ends and then you can walk on the sands (when the tide is out, of course). Eventually the beaches become rocky, and if you keep going there’s a ruin of some old fort or lighthouse or similar. It has a fence around it, but the path just makes its way carefully around it. And it’s there where great slabs of rock jut out of the sea and OH it’s spectacular.

And – this is where it gets interesting – I saw a seal! Yeah I did! On the rocks! I wasn’t sure at first, but watched carefully for a while and then I saw the head move. And even though I’d been ready to head back (this had been going on for some time, but I kept thinking I’d see “just what’s around the next corner”) I clambered over beautiful red striped sandstone filled with pockets of water just to get a closer look.

It was cool. S/he had a sweet little face and watched me as I walked in closer. Being on a rock surrounded by water I could only get so close, but man. So neat. The odd thing was that s/he was lying with her/his tail sticking up in the air. I’ve never seen such a thing. A surprise, given all my experience with seals. Which consists of seeing them at the zoo a couple of times. I’m almost an expert.

I took pictures and headed back. A lot of people were out walking – many with dogs who would trot up to me and say hi and ask for a skritch before heading off again. Everyone I passed said hi, which is highly encouraging.

Then I got Chinese takeout and beer and sat in my room. No, really. And it was great.

This morning (it’s now the 18th, by the way – I’m a little slow with this update) I had several hours after breakfast until it was time to catch my train. I walked up and down the main shopping drag because there just wasn’t much else to see. Here’s what’s listed in one of the town brochures:
1. Old Parish Church
2. Beveridge Park
3. Fife Ice Arena (not in town)
4. Kirkcaldy Museum & Art Gallery (the brochure wasn’t terribly inspiring)
5. Library
6. Theatre
7. Sailors Walk (an old house not open to the public)
8. Town House (headquarters of the Kirkcaldy District Council).
9. Pan Ha’ Dysart (apparently a street with old houses, not featured on the map)
10. Ravenscraig Park (not in town)
11. Ravenscraig Castle (near the park, and so not in the town, damn it, because I would’ve liked to go there)
12. Swimming pool
13. Shopping streets/malls

There you go. Those are the highlights of this town. Oh, and 14. the esplanade.

With exciting prospects such as those I spent an hour at the library. I joined their ranks so I could use their slowest connection ever, then hopped my train and went home.

And oh lordy what an evening. But I’m going to bed.
I’m back in Inverness. It’s again weird to go to a place that should be totally unfamiliar and yet have an idea as to where I’m going, and recognize things around me. Weird!

It’s really gorgeous around here, sunny and clear. I got in and found a place to stay for a bit. Dropped my stuff and walked around for a while, which was a big part of why I came back here. The clouds were pink and lovely and you know what I did? I’ll give you a hint: it rhymes with “left my camera in the room.”

Had dinner, and then enriched myself culturally and definitely did not sit around for three hours watching Zoolander and various Scottish tv programmes that I didn’t fully understand but laughed at anyway. Ahem. And I signed up for a tour. Oh, I’m a tourist now!

I didn’t quite realize it’d be so focused on Nessie, but whatever. Went to Loch Ness (a different beach! Wowsers!) then went on a boat ride on the lake, and up to a cairn (circular rock grave-style thing). The guide was funny and I got some information about Scotland that will inevitably leak out of my brain at the first sight of television.

As the guide was talking about the Nessie legend and one theory is that it’s a fish. A big fish, certainly, but a fish none the less. He said that there’s one person on the tour who might know what kind if is. He looked around. And then looked at me.

Fish? Some kind of potentially American fish? Not a shark, not a whale… I turned red and said I wasn’t all that familiar with fish. Koi? He said I might be kicking myself when I found out what it was. Do you know? Cause I sure as hell didn’t.

He showed a photo of a close up of something that was, as far as I could tell, gray and slimy.

Give up? I did.

A sturgeon. Of course! Why in heavens name didn’t I think of that? So entirely possible it’s a giant old sturgeon. And not a plesiosaur, as the classic finned Nessie is represented.

Also, every picture you’ve ever seen of Nessie is a fake. Just so you know.

Now I need to decide what I’m doing this afternoon and also what I’m doing tomorrow. Going to Kirkcauldy? Going back to E-burgh? Staying here? I’ve got nothing. But it’s nice to get out again.
Train ride (good pictures this time!)

The tour:
A different view of Loch Ness

On the road

Some cairn

Friday, October 14, 2005

Another day spent inside! Whee!

I actually did get out today. I had three things planned: 1. top up my cell phone (this means to put more money on my pay-as-I-go plan, which takes 2/3 of my daily budget – rock!), 2. see if I can’t return my recently purchased copy of Deception Point because I thought it was Digital Fortress (as I’ve already read Deception Point and thus have read every single book in my room – oh yes. All six of them), despite not having a receipt, and 3. buy me a rail ticket to get back to Inverness because the leaves are almost done changing here, and I need to move fast if I want to see them up yonder. Plus there are walks where you might see seals up there! Seals, guys!

I was about a quarter of the way up the hill to Prince’s street, where all these things were located in a highly convenient fashion, and I was already sweating and hot and gross and cleverly thinking to myself that hey, I don’t think I’m fully well yet. I am nothing if not observant. I made it though the irrationally slow line at the Carphone Warehouse and was about convinced to just go home when I passed the bookstore and decided it would be in my best interest to go in. This would surely be a quick exchange, if they let me exchange it at all!

I spent over an hour in there. Erk. They let me exchange the book right off and then I spent ages wandering the shelves, and ended up purchasing a copy of Pride and Prejudice and Bill Bryson’s Notes from A Big Country. I didn’t mean to get both, but I must’ve not been at full brain capacity yet because I thought I was 5p short of buying P&P because I forgot that I had pennies (or whatever they call the copper 1 and 2p coins here) in my pocket and a £10 note in my wallet. And I couldn’t very well put £1.50 on a credit card (yeah it was that cheap – I win), so I grabbed another book.

Isn’t that interesting? Not really, no, I apologize.

And I didn’t buy rail tickets because the line was stupid long and I decided instead to just check it out tomorrow, which is way more sensible. If, you know, I’m well tomorrow. But I need to go out of town again.

Today’s notes being that 1. it is ridiculously impossible to find chicken noodle soup here. I went to two corner stores and a fancy-pants mini-Italian-style grocery store and all I could find was cream of chicken soup. Heinz brand. Did you know Heinz made soup? I didn’t. 2. Heinz brand vegetable soup is gross. 3. I’m teaching Introduction to Blues on the 27th. Oo. Aah. They want me to advertise for it. I have about one idea as to how to do that, and it doesn’t go beyond opening my window and saying hey, I’m teaching a blues dancing class. I’d yell, but I don’t want to make my throat hurt anymore. 4. I haven’t been to the Royal Theatre Pub in ages. I keep intending to do that, and get sick or make other plans. It’s no good. 5. I’m just babbling now. I’m so bored.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Sick. Can't get computer to internet. Am using flatmate's internet. Will post later. Back to bed.

Friday, October 07, 2005

In which I talk about being sick! Yay!

Not so many entries lately. First not a whole lot has happened, and second, I have caught death. Bad death. Serious, mean, cruel, body-aching death. I am not altogether pleased about this.

Well. Okay. So. This weekend Andrew Sutton, an American swing dance teacher, came to teach workshops. Good. Came all the way over here to learn swing dancing from an American. Fantastic.

I missed Saturday’s workshops because I felt that sleeping in was the better option. I had not yet acquired death, but was thinking about it, what with having some Tireds and Vague Sore Throat.

That evening, however, I took a cab to the rendezvous place. Taking a cab? So expensive! £6 to get across town. Crikey. But I couldn’t walk there fast enough and I still don’t get the bus systems here, so that was my option. Unless I wanted to run across town, and really, not so much. I piled into a car with some dancers – only one of them local – and headed off to Galashiels, where a big band was playing. For dancing! Yay dancing! I dance.

All the dancers felt off in their leading or following that night – except Andrew, being so professional that he never has an off night. Which is not cool.

And guys, they played a waltz and I had no one to dance with. Do you know how long I’ve wanted to waltz? So long! So I cried. Not really. But I looked enviously out at the people dancing and got myself into a huff.

Huff huff huff.

Excuse me. I’m sick. I’m working at about 20% brain power.

I started feeling decently about my dancing at about the time that we were getting ready to go. And I got dropped off and went to bed. Oo, exciting.

Sunday I hauled myself up for dance workshops and was exhausted by a quarter of the way through. I got good information, so it was worth it, but man I was tired. When it was over I went home. Sensing another trend here? I am! Thanks, 20/20 hindsight!

And Monday I had level 3 death. Lots of tired. Managed to get out of the house for a bit to try and find trousers and –

Okay, y’all? I am fated to never, ever, ever find well-fitting trousers. Ever. I have spent two days searching – even searching at places where I find trousers at home – and my options are 1. too tight (I have plenty of options here), or 2. humorously loose. I hate women’s sizes. Sometimes 14 is fine, sometimes 16 is fine, and sometimes 18 is too tight. Explain that one too me.

I’ll explain it – it’s a conspiracy. Bitches.

Anyway. I went out to see Pride and Prejudice with a friend of mine and realized that I was feeling of level 3 death, which seemed, at the time, to be level 2 death. So I went home after the movie and went to bed. And all was well.

Tuesday! Was fine! Felt fine. So went dancing, naturally. Oh. I felt good about my dancing and I was having fun chatting with people and working on my balboa and I was sure that all was right with the world. I even got a ride home from Jacqi who very conveniently lives around the corner from me.

And then I got home. Cue stomachache. And achies. I went to bed and woke up early-early with miserable stomachache, splitting headache, stuffed nose, and body aches. And I couldn’t get back to sleep, so I tossed and turned, occasionally dozing. Noon rolled around and I couldn’t be bothered to drag myself out of bed. Eventually I worked up the energy to put on a movie (thank god for my computer and movies) and stayed mostly comatose all day.

I got out at one point to get meds, because I didn’t really have anything with me. Had worked through all my advil and boy howdy did (do) I hurt. I spent £11 on meds and crawled back home. And I’ve been in bed since. I’ve had crackers and grapes today. And the Scottish equivalent of Gatorade, which is called Lucozade. Hee. I’m completely dehydrated, which is likely a key source of my problem.

The cold/flu meds I got don’t let you take other painkillers with them. That is so not cool. I want to drug myself until I sleep through the sickness and wake with sunshine and bluebirds and little deer strolling around my room.

And now I hurt and am tired and have been complaining to various people all day. And now I’m complaining to you folks! Hi guys! I feel like crap!

I’m running out of movies and things to watch. This is a problem. I feel like reading would make for more headache (writing isn’t doing me so much good but god I’m bored), and I’ve seen all my movies a million times.

So tomorrow, more cabin fever and no dancing for me. Man. Someone come over. Bring movies.
How can so much happen when I don’t really do anything?

I am, to start, not altogether convinced that I am completely healthy. Remember how I felt like lead? Apparently that feeling also went on holiday in Inverness, and now it’s back. Hi!

Having the same mindset as I did last time I felt so tired I walked halfway across town. I’m ignoring Wednesday. I didn’t do anything. Seriously. The day’s highlight was finding a new grocery store.

My place is located in the northeast section of the city, and I walked all the way down to the southwest part of the city. Why? To try and find a knitting and/or embroidery store. I need an embroidery hoop. Stop looking at me like that.

I walked up Prince’s street (the main locals’ shopping drag), listening to my music, and then a woman with blond hair and a nose stud stopped me. I knew her. My brain went into overdrive, trying to figure out HOW THE HELL I KNOW THIS PERSON! DEAR GOD, QUICK, BEFORE SHE NOTICES!

I haven’t the faintest idea what her name is, but I met her in Inverness of all places. She was playing at the Ceòl Beò1 sessions and was at the big dinner following. We had a lovely talk about Edinburgh and I highly enjoy her. She was in Edinburgh for the night, and now shopping for a half hour before heading to the airport to go to Sweden, where she’s from.

Y’all, it is so weird to run into people I know. The other day I saw Aussie Swing Dance Ben but didn’t say hi because I’d forgotten his name. Yesterday I saw what’s her name from the Royal Theatre Pub.

You know what this is like? It’s like the end of my freshman year at Guilford where I barely felt like I knew anyone, and as my parents and I were driving to lunch every single person we passed knew me and waved. And I was all, where the hell have you people been?

That is what this is like.

So I continued on my way and walked down into a churchyard and admired the old, old graveyards that were split into small sections and are now being used for storage of things like plywood and road barriers.

And then I ran into a man who talked my ear off about something that I couldn’t quite figure out but he was staring at my shoes and telling me about his life and parents and how he has been walking and is now away from home and woe and now he is starting to have a bit of a panic attack and so I stopped him and asked how I could help. He was asking for food or money. Nice. I gave him some change to make him stop talking and let him continue on to the church.


I finally found the store I was looking for, and boy was it crap. The good part of the wandering was that I found a theatre where, on Oct 30, they’re playing the original Nosferatu with live organ music! How cool is that? So cool!

And I walked back and slept for some undetermined amount of time, then went out for dinner and internet. And on the way back I ran into Rita in front of a little convenience store.

What the hell.

She was there with a friend of hers. They were coming back from the swing dance class where they’d gotten kicked out. Turned out to be a complete beginner you had to start those classes four weeks ago. Oops. We stood and talked a while about swing dancing and other such things. A man came out of the store carrying a pizza. He came over to us and said something I didn’t quite catch.

“How much?” he asked again.

It took me a second to figure out what the hell he was talking about, but when I did I punched him in the face and then kicked him in the nads.

I didn’t really, but that’s way more interesting that what I did, which was to say “No,” in a variety of stern and disgusted ways. As he walked away he turned back and said he was kidding, ha ha!

So I bought a car and ran him down.

If the three of us had looked even remotely like we might’ve been in the sex business (if we had, for instance, been wearing gobs of makeup – or any, even – and/or had been at all scantily clad, or perhaps been wearing some sort of “Prostitute” badge) then I might’ve understood why he thought that, but we were all wearing trousers and long sleeved shirts and sneakers and generally thick jackets.

Maybe that’s what they wear around here when they’re strolling down the streets, looking for customers. I wouldn’t blame them. It’s cold here.

Anyway. I went to the swing dancing class (the third of three on Thursday nights)(I can go because I have the basic down). I got to talk to Ben and Helen (the couple from Australia and Sweden, respectively)(I think she’s from Sweden).

Dance, dance, dance.

When it was over I saw Jacqi – the woman who showed interest in me teaching a blues class. She asked if I’d said anything about it to anyone, and I said I hadn’t. She took my hand and tucked my arm under hers and brought me over to Michael and oh… um… damn. L--? …Liam? Some British name like that. She said I wanted to teach a class, and they said great! How about next week?


I mean, yes! Of course next week would be just great! I am not at all terrified!

Ben and Helen invited me out to get food with them. I agreed, even though I was a little tired because I would like v. much to get to know them better. Turned out there were 10 of us going. So much for a personal invitation, but whatever. We piled into cars and drove to – get this – the southwest of the city. Yes, right where I’d walked earlier that day. Har har har.

I ended up sitting next to the aforementioned Michael and the Norwegian, whose name we spent the car ride trying to figure out. All the younger swing dancers that I was hoping to get connected with were sitting at the other end of the table. Blast.

Kathy gave me a ride home. Ben and Helen rode in the back seat with someone, and they laughed and chatted. I talked with Kathy in the vein of “Those Kids Today,” referring mostly to the drunk people wandering about the city. And yet I wanted to be one of the kids in the back seat. But it was good to talk to her.

Aaaand… yes. Swing dancing this weekend. That's all for now.

1 I would like to note that Gaelic is a weird, weird language. Ceòl Beò sounds like Kill Bill. Ceilidh = Kay-lee. Eilidh = Ay-lee. How is that at all ever logical? It’s not, that’s how.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Loch Ness.
Train to Inverness. (Warning: bad pictures ahead).

Ceol Beol music session. This was where I ran into J&H. More less-than-good pictures. I blame the lighting. And also my camera.


Inverness Islands.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Before I left the States, as we Americans-Abroad call them, people told me extended stories about how, during this trip I would Grow and Change and isn’t life the most amazing thing, with the Growing and Changing on this trip that will allow Growth and Change?

I scoffed at them. I freely admit this. I scoffed. Sometimes audibly, when their backs were turned and I could blame it on the dog.

And damn it y’all, they were kind of right. You know me, yes? You all have some idea as to who I am, and if you don’t, I will let you in on a highly classified secret about me:

I dance all the time. I don’t mean in the grocery store or anything (necessarily), but I am known for driving an upwards of three hours to go dancing. When in the correct geographical area (that I cannot, for the life of me, ever, ever locate on a map) I will often dance three, four, or five times a week, depending on how many dances happen to be scheduled.

This is really all you need to know about me for this to make any kind of sense.

There is a dance of the swing variety happening at this very minute and I am sitting on my bed typing to you people (though, to be honest, mostly to myself).

Let me repeat: there is a dance right now and I am not in attendance.

I don’t know what happened. A major reason that I left Inverness today was so that I could go dancing. And then I came back here and had dinner and a beer and oh my does sleep sound good. And if not sleep, then just lying in bed under the covers will do just fine, thank you.

Maybe it’s waking up at 8:30, or the four-hour train ride, or less-than-good sleep the past two days. Or maybe I’m just a lazy bum who doesn’t feel like walking to the dance and back again. Whatever. Either way, I’m pretty glad to be sitting on my duff.

Monday, October 03, 2005

It’s been a trip of last-minute plans. This morning, for instance, my plans ended after “breakfast.” I find that I’m much happier having plans about a day in advance. Here? Not so much. Tonight? Jamie and Hans are playing a concert, and then…? There might be beer happening. I feel like there should be food ever. But I don’t know where I’m sleeping. Which is awesome.

This is actually a good place to be in that situation. There seem to be about 10 bed and breakfasts per square foot, most of which have vacancies. If I’m not crashing with J&H again then I shouldn’t have a problem finding somewhere else.

When Jamie asked B&B Lady if I could stay with them he said I was just saying for one night. I’m not sure if I should take that as a hint or, as Hans proposed, that Jamie didn’t know what would be happening tonight – if I’d be staying.

I guess I’ll find out!

(Much, much later)

Yes! So. Um.

Jamie and Hans had workshops at a school – Inverness Royal Academy, which Invernessians call the IRA. Being as I would have a whole lot of not much to do there I opted to wander around the town, which I was keen to do anyway. Would be a little silly to go all the way up there (it’s way up north, if you were wondering)(waaaaay up north) and not explore. Hans gave me directions back to the B&B from the pub where we had been checking email, and I set off!

I don’t know where I was heading when I started wandering, but it was in the wrong direction. Imagine! No set destination and I still went the wrong way. But I managed to find myself at the loveliest used bookstore I’ve ever seen. There were shelves upon shelves in one great room with a second-floor walkway around the walls. It had the organized disorganization of a good used bookstore and a café up the spiral staircase.

I walked in and out of their little (and sometimes these were tiny) nooks, mouth agape in wonder, because I am a giant nerd.

I ended up settling on a small book, having very little space in my bag for the stacks that I would’ve preferred to take with me, and purchased it, like any good citizen would. I was on my way back outside when I turned around and asked Front Desk Lady, “I have about an hour before I need to meet some friends. Where’s a good place to walk to from here?”

Because as fun as it is to wander around the train station (as I’d done just an hour before)(inadvertently, thank you) I’d like to find something, you know, else.

She didn’t hesitate before drawing me a rudimentary little map to the Inverness Islands. About an hour walk if I didn’t dawdle, and apparently lovely. And it’d put me right where I need to be to head back to the B&B! Jinkies!

I looked at the pencil-drawn map. “So I go out of here and turn left?” “No, you go out to the right.”

Right. Check.

And I did. And holy god, y’all, it was intensely gorgeous. Inverness has a giant river running right through the middle of it (giant is a subjective term here – you should keep in mind that this city has about 60,000 people in it and has only recently been upgraded from “town”), and the Islands are, in fact, little islands that are reachable by footbridges. Bridges that bounce when you walk on them! Oh, it’s fun.

Five minutes in and you can barely see the road. To the left is a perfectly clear stream, and to the right is the river. The trees and foliage is lush and the air is clear. The paths are easy, and there are rough paths where dogs run nearer the water. The second island was overwhelmed with the smell of pine.

It was just amazing. My photos, which will follow within the next three weeks if I continue in the same time frame that I’ve been working in, don’t do it justice. It was incredible.

I finished the loop with plenty of time to meet back up with Jamie and Hans, and set out for the B&B.

Now. The thing you should know about my directional sense is that I don’t have one. I really don’t. It’s kind of embarrassing. I went to the bathroom twice in the pub bathroom (this is on two different days, mind you) and both times – not one time, both times -- I managed to turn the wrong way exiting the bathroom. I can barely find my way around Philadelphia and I lived there for 17 years, and then off-and-on for another six years.

I can’t find my way out of a paper bag without a flashlight, a map, and a pair of scissors.

Well. The directions that Hans gave me? Down Greig st., curve right and take the first left? They were wrong. Really wrong. And he suspected that might be the case and had told me that I would be in about the right place if I followed those directions.

Ho ho.

As I may have stated previously, I am not always the cleverest of people. If I was I might’ve taken with me 1. the name of the B&B, and/or 2. the street name on which it was resting.

Not so clever, me. In my defense I didn’t know I’d be coming back to the hotel at all.

Anyway. I walked for an hour (this is, of course, after having walked for the previous three and a half hours in bad shoes) (I really need to get new shoes) (different shoes – the ones I have are new, but just don’t seem to like me very much). The only thing I knew was that it had a large front yard, the driveway was gravel, there were violet autumn crocuses growing on the left side of the driveway, and it had a black metal gate. That was it. I was screwed (see: 10 B&Bs/sq ft, paragraph 2 – imagine finding one in all of them).

Persistence paid off, as it does occasionally, and I found it and rang the doorbell. Jamie answered. “Where’s Hans?” I asked, “I need to go kill him.” I went upstairs and gave him good-natured hell for his crappy directions, and once that was taken care of we settled in to chat while Jamie practiced in the living room.

We all went off to the church where their concert was taking place, and I snuck off for some dinner, as I was too busy trying to find the B&B to do anything like stop for food. I went to Mr. Chips (which is right next to Mr. Rice) (no, I’m not kidding) and had a healthy order of salt with a side of grease. I think they sprinkled some chicken on top, but I really couldn’t be sure.

They had southern fried chicken there. The south’s culinary contribution to the world! Well done, south!

Their concert was, as always, magnificent. Man, they’re fun to watch. They have a sweet, playful chemistry between them on stage. Hans’ guitar playing has this charged restraint to it, and then it explodes out and through the whole thing you can tell that it’s his favorite thing in the world. And Jamie – he could set a fire with a fiddle. The power in his music is a language unto itself.

And they’re funny! Just watching them play off each other makes me laugh.

I get to hang out with them, they feed and house me and give me beer. And they wonder that I show up to their gigs so often?

They mingled with the audience after the show. I didn’t really have anything to say or anyone in particular to talk to, so I walked through the church and outside. I had a lot on my mind and so enjoyed the quiet.

We went to Promoter Keith’s after the show for some rather late dinner. I didn’t eat much of my salt-and-grease, so I was still pretty peckish. His wife (whose name I’ve forgotten. Sorry, Mrs. Keith!) made us dinner and we – the three of us, plus Keith, Mrs. Keith, their daughter, and another fiddle player – sat around the table and talked. There were off-color jokes. Hurray, awkward half-laughter and alarmed glances!

My things still being at the B&B I went back at the end of the evening. I still wasn’t sure if I was welcome. Hans said I was, of course, but I was wondering if Jamie wasn’t a little keener (did you know keener was a word? I sure didn’t) on some slightly-more-personal time. It being 12:30am I asked Jamie if I could presume to ask if I could spend another night. He smiled and said, “I should think so.”

Oh, good. The thought of waking up B&B Lady and asking for another room (or even wandering the streets for another B&B) was not, as you might guess, tremendously appealing.

There had been talks about what was happening the next day. J&H wanted to see Loch Ness (because, of course, how can you be in this country and not go there?), and given that it’s 8 miles away that seemed as good a time as ever. Keith promised to be guide.

I wanted to join them (see above paragraph on situation appropriateness). However, when the plans were discussed my name was kind of… not mentioned. It was like being with Stephanie and Sarah again. I didn’t know if I should just assume that the invitation was extended to me (Jamie had said I was welcome to hang out with them as long as I was around), or if I should casually make other plans.

I decided to take the passive-aggressive route and just wait and see what happened. And so I ended up joining them. Which I continue to assume was fine all around.

The roads in the city are ridiculous. Going three blocks takes ten minutes by car. Going the eight miles to Loch Ness took 20 minutes.

I had this theory that the popularity of the place would mean scores of hideously out-of-place shops and cafés touting horrendous Nessie paraphernalia, whiskey, and blasting bagpipe music into the world.

And y’all, I was totally right.

Okay, not really. I was completely wrong. The beach where we – Mr. and Mrs. Keith, J&H and I – stopped had a charming stone hotel. The only indication of the pervasive Nessie-culture was an overgrown van parked at the edge of the beach that purported to be a station for the search.

The lake is calm, surrounded by misty blue mountains. The beach was all round white stones and driftwood. It was blustery and chilly, the sky overcast. Clouds were low and streaked the sky with understated blue and white. Twenty-three miles down you could see through the mountains where the river wandered on. All you could hear were the gentle waves and the wind.

We threw stones and driftwood in the water, our group splitting and rejoining as we made our way up and back. Took some pictures and headed to the cars.

Back in town we said goodbye to the Keith duo, picked up our things from the B&B, and there my plans ended again. I’d been talking about my continuing sober thoughts with Hans, and he told me to get into the car when they were heading off. I climbed in and we went back to the internet pub.

When that was done I said goodbye to them and dashed over to the train and took the four-hour ride back to E-burgh.

It was strange coming back. I’m in Edinburgh, climbing out of the train station and I know where I am? How is that possible? Surely I don’t live here or anything, do I? Why does this look familiar? I was on holiday and I left. Why am I back?

I stopped into the Theatre Royal pub for dinner and talked a bit with Graham and, um, what’s her name. They were a little busy so I called greetings to Manager Zoë and immersed myself in a newspaper. Swing Dance Alan called and I have a date for Friday (whoa). And now I’m back in my room. Where I live. In Edinburgh.

How the hell did that happen?
Salisbury Crags (more!)

My place as it was when I moved in, plus my street. Note the couch cushions on the bed.

Palace of Holyroodhouse

Around Edinburgh

Visitor Count (hi!)