Friday, June 26, 2009

inverness

if i lived in the UK, i'd totally have a cottage up north in the scottish highlands. the area is incredibly beautiful and stirring, even if it does rain all the time, and the pace of life is much quieter and more relaxed than further south in england. there is room to BREATHE, and the people are friendlier and not as rushed. i loved the highlands.




we left edinburgh after several days (and omg, i really could have spent another week in edinburgh it's such a great city!) and took another train north to inverness. it took about three or four hours, and we rode over a mountain pass with deep blue lakes and some scrubby brushy thing that was kind of brown and kind of purple, which we decided must be the heather when it's not blooming. cuz the land was COVERED in it. like scrub brush in the american west, but much much much denser and pretty much EVERYWHERE. i bet that must be quite a sight at the end of summer when the flowers actually appear!


we stayed at a cozy cottage a few miles outside of inverness, in a little village with a general store and a small playground down the road. it was just perfect: a little two bedroom cabin in the woods, with a hiking trail that led us directly to the "center" of the village, and followed the flow of a pretty tea-colored stream. adam would walk to the general store in the morning and get some fresh rolls, and a couple of papers for us to peruse over breakfast. (the headline one day in the inverness paper: "stifler" from the movie american pie was spotted at a pub in inverness and signed autographs for fans before relaxing with a couple of beers with some friends. haha! i love small town news!)





every day in inverness was different: on our first day in inverness, we went to go see the culloden battlefield, where bonnie prince charlie's troops valiently but unsuccessfully battled the english army. it was a terrible defeat for the jacobites and marked the end of scottish culture for several generations:


The government began to dismantle the structures of Highland society. Chiefs were deprived of their legal powers and clansmen of their weapons. Jacobite estates were seized by the Crown. The kilt and tartan were banned.



it was a huge battlefield, and EXTREMELY well organized with flags marking the places where each side stood, and with really thorough audio guides to tell you about what happened in each area of the field. there were several cairns standing in the field, each marked with the name of a particular clan which died in the battle of culloden. the visitor center was outstanding, too. really, an extremely educational and interesting visit. if you ever go to inverness, definitely check this place out. i learned so much!







after culloden, we wanted to take gracie someplace where she could run around and play for a while. so we thought, why not the beach? we drove to a village called nairn, and since gracie was asleep in her car seat when we got there, adam pulled the car around to the back side of some community center and we all took a nice little catnap in the car. it was really quite cozy, even if none of us could really spread out and relax completely. we were crammed in there pretty tightly, but the sound of the ocean and wind quickly lulled all of us to sleep.




after we all woke up, we bundled up as much as we could before heading out to the beach. good LORD it was windy and cold! but gracie didn't mind it one bit -- we had to nearly drag her back to the car when we were finished. and if one of us wasn't grabbing her tightly the whole time, i just know she would have run straight into the icy cold water. she loved chasing the waves and walking along the beach with her daddy!























later the same day, we all went into town to see the town and did a bit of souvenir shopping. we met a security guard who was closing up the covered market for the day, and asked him where a good place was to go to eat. he recommended the castle restaurant (read a few reviews here), right across the street from inverness castle. i was hoping for a mom-and-pop type of place, but the name of it made me think of something a little fancier, with dark wood and carpet and fake candles on the walls. but it turned out to be just perfect: it was indeed a mom-and-pop establishment, and it was PACKED. we got the last two tables in the place. (and by tables, i mean really we got the last two BOOTHS. bob and rae had to sit at a booth next to us, and the place was so full that we couldn't all talk to each other because of the noise! really popular!) gracie was sitting in the direction of the tv, which was showing the simpsons, so she was really entertained during dinner. (she really hadn't ever seen a tv before this trip, so they were really fascinating to her everywhere we went.) it was impossible to order anything healthy, because if anything was once fresh or low-cal, it was promptly deep fried and served with a side of something else deep fried. my kind of place! it was great! i wish we would have gotten a picture of it. that place was awesome!



the next day, the weather was wonderful. warm, sunny, calm. so we decided it would be great to go find the loch ness monster, since she was living in the depths of the loch only about half an hour away. we arrived almost at lunchtime, and since the cruise we wanted to go on didn't leave for another couple of hours, we chose to have a nice lunch on the balcony of the hotel where the boats were docked.










after eating and relaxing in the sun, we made our way down to the lake to catch our boat. we got tickets that gave us 30 minutes on the boat, followed by one hour at urquhart castle (at the deepest point of the lake -- over 750 feet! -- and where nessie is most often spotted), followed by another 30 minutes back to the hotel








it was a beautiful ride, and it could have actually been peaceful but for gracie who wanted to run around on this boat the whole time. it was a smallish boat, with only rails on the side and not really a wall, and we were all concerned that she was going to fall off and get eaten up by the loch ness monster. so she was forced to sit on someone's lap the entire time, which totally pissed her off. by the time we got to the castle, where i wanted to take a million family pictures, she just wouldn't have it. which is why in all of these pictures we're either chasing gracie or have her on our shoulders, or she's just not in the picture at all cuz she's either crying or climbing up on some ancient rock structure. all we could do was just roll our eyes and let her run wild and get all her energy out before naptime. kids. sheesh!










oh, and rae and i tried haggis that day. we had been talking and talking and talking about it for weeks already, but both of us were too chicken to try it. but we found a nice looking place that had it as an appetizer, so we figured if we didn't like it, then it's not like we would have spoiled our entire meal by ordering something gross. (and, incidentally, EVERY restaurant in inverness -- and many in edinburgh -- offered haggis, usually served as a topping for a baked potato!) it was served as you see it here, with a whiskey cream sauce, and was, according to rae, "surprisingly good." i've had haggis once before, at a family reunion ages and ages ago, and i remember it being not bad, but still i was too scared to order it on my own. thanks, rae, for trying it with me! it was actually kind of good!





the next day was pretty windy and rainy and cold, so we went to a whiskey distillery in the nearby town of tomatin (also the name of the whiskey). rae likes a good scotch whiskey and had been talking for a while about visiting a distillery, so of course when we found that there was one only a few miles away we of course had to go! it was the perfect activity for a rainy, dreary day, too! we got a very small tour that was led by a german woman, and the only other people on the tour with us was a couple from maastricht. i thought i was pretty cool when the tour guide would say a word in english that the dutch couple didn't understand, and then i could translate it for them. maybe tomatin should have offered me a job! that would be fun!

(note that in one picture you see barrels of whiskey that are 44 years old! wow! that must be some GOOD whiskey! they didn't let us try that batch, though. too bad!)





i think the rest of the day was spent napping and reading and relaxing back in the cottage, because the next day we were leaving for foggy london town. we spent two nights in london, and i was unfortunately sick for both of them, but we did get out to see the big ferris wheel along the banks of the thames river, and we also saw adam's best friend, dan. (the first thing rae said to me when we saw her in oxford was, "are we going to get to see daniel?" haha!)



but that's the next blog...

Monday, June 22, 2009

roslin

i'll say it again: ever since i was a wee lass, i've wanted to travel to scotland. somehow i learned that my dryden heritage, my dad's side of my family, emigrated once upon a time from scotland. and i learned that scotland was this far-away, magical place with castles and monsters lurking in deep lakes and bagpipes and mountains. and i was hooked. i've always wanted to go!





so when i was thinking about the things i wanted to do in scotland while exploring this land of my dreams, one of the things i had hoped to do was to go see my ancestral village. wherever that was.



so, i called my dad. i asked him where we came from. he had no idea. "but," he said, "you might want to check out the dryden family reunion website. i bet they'd have something on there." sure enough, they did! i checked it out, and it just so happens that the drydens came from a little village called roslin, near edinburgh! what a serendipity!



it also happens to be that rosslyn chapel, made famous from the da vinci code book and associated with the knights templar and the holy grail mythology is ALSO in roslin. omg, imagine that! that my ancestors might have at one time in ancient history been involved in the building of this chapel! maybe they were knights templar too, or protectors of the grail! how cool would that be?!






so OF COURSE when i discovered that rosslyn chapel was actually IN roslin village, and that my ancestors came from roslin, and that roslin village was just outside of edinburgh, and that we were going to be spending several days in edinburgh, OF COURSE we had to go to roslin! how could we NOT do that?!



so this was the plan: it was mother's day, and i was going to catch the bus to roslin to go to church that morning in rosslyn chapel. and everyone else was going to meet up with me later in the afternoon for some sightseeing. only problem: once i finally made my way to the bus stop in edinburgh (like a half hour away by foot!) i discovered that there were no buses to roslin that day. can you believe it? i came home crying, and was extremely disappointed. but then we went to holyrood house and had a cool bus tour of the city of edinburgh, so i got over it. AND it was GREAT that we actually had one more full day in edinburgh before we left for inverness. so it was decided that we would go on monday instead, our last day in edinburgh, and a regular work day with a regular bus schedule.




so the next day was monday, and i knew the way to the bus stop already (including the short cuts by this time!) so we all got up, got packed, and headed out. it took a good 40 minutes or so by bus to get to roslin, but it really didn't bother any of us: the weather was AMAZING and the scenery was incredible! rolling hills, sheep, pastures with wildflowers and hay, cute little cottages, distant mountains... it was exactly as i had pictured it!




we arrived in roslin, a sleepy village with one main street, a cafe, and a little war memorial along the road to rosslyn chapel. we made our way along the quiet roads to the chapel, which was under major renovations after centuries of disuse and neglect. pictures were not allowed to be taken inside the chapel, and the structure was covered by scaffolding and a metal roof to keep the rain (of which there was PLENTY in scotland) out of the already mildew-stained chapel. it was difficult to find any good angle of the church to get a decent picture of it, but guests were allowed to climb up on the scaffolding to get a good view of the surrounding countryside. it was from this vantage point that i could see the ruins of rosslyn castle (where william st. clair/william sinclair lived and he was the guy with this vision of building the chapel).




being the typical american out on an ancestral pilgrimage of sorts, i couldn't help asking the women in the visitor center a few questions about my last name. specifically, if they knew of anyone with that last name ("i don't know anyone by that name, but i HAVE heard it before") and if there were any road signs or anything with that name on it ("yes, at the end of the road take a right and you will see dryden grove and a bit further down there is dryden farm."). i know i looked like a dork asking these questions to total strangers, i'm sure i sounded like a real american after all, but i was so thrilled by their answers that i didn't even care how stupid i must have seemed to them. AND they were incredibly kind and patient with me, like virtually every other scot i met there.



rosslyn chapel is a working chapel, and we arrived right in time for the afternoon prayers. it was very moving to sit quietly and pray in the same chapel where my ancestors likely once worshipped. and where some of my distant relatives today still attend church services. i felt warm and rooted and heavy, like my feet were planted and my heart was vibrating. it was so amazing and beautiful, i wish i could have stayed there forever.



but time passes quickly, especially with a toddler; gracie was starting to fidget and it was soon time to go.



we set out in the direction of dryden grove, and found it quite easily as roslin has basically two roads: one going north/south, and one going east/west. it was along a quiet neighborhood street, right at the edge of town. in fact, i almost missed it! the walk was so peaceful and the area was so beautiful, that we happened to come across dryden grove before i even realized it. adam had to point it out to me, and i'm glad he did or i would have walked right past it!





just past dryden grove is a little footbridge along a path which many cyclists and pedestrians were using. i think there was a hiking network or something like that, and this road was one of the pathways in this route. it went past a cow pasture, a sheep pasture, and then through the forest before opening up into a clearing with a sign that read "dryden farm."




a bit further down, and we were actually IN dryden farm, which was a HUGE operation. aaaand, this is how cool my family is, dryden farm is actually the farm where dolly the cloned sheep lived for many years! no kidding! i'm not making this up, you can read about it online! just google "dryden farm" and it's like the second thing that pops up! isn't that cool?!



there was this big farm office building with a pretty garden in front, and so i figured why not look like a REAL tourist and ring the bell to introduce myself? i was soooo nervous -- what if they answered? what would i say? "hi, you don't know me but my last name used to be dryden and i think we should exchange emails so i can get to know you better." right. lucky for me (or lucky for them, or unlucky for both of us maybe) no one was around, so i didn't get the chance to look dumb. but that would have been pretty cool, i think. or pretty dorky. i still can't decide.


behind the offices there was another big lot with low buildings and farm equipment around, and off in the distance was a tower which i recall reading about on the internet when researching the town of roslin. it was called the dryden tower, and i don't know exactly why that is since the drydens were not really the type of people who back in the day would have had the resources to build a tower. i think the tower is actually not all that old (maybe from the 19th century) and is probably called the dryden tower because it's likely on the land that is owned by dryden farm. but yes, my family is that cool that they own a tower and it has our name on it. yes yes, i know, i'm awesome.


it was getting late in the day, and it was still another 40 minutes back on the bus before we got to edinburgh, and we had a few more things in the city that we wanted to see before checking out the next morning. i really could have stayed in roslin FOREVER, cuz it was SO CUTE and i was so moved to be standing there, walking along the same paths as my ancestors, touching the same stones as them, hearing the same wind in the trees as my distant relatives today. i feel incredibly fortunate to have had this opportunity, and to share it with the rest of the briggles who were INCREDIBLY gracious with their time and WANTED to come to roslin with me! (thanks, guys!) and how cool also to bring gracie, the newest dryden, and to show her the place where her people once lived. it was an amazing experience!