Saturday, August 25, 2007

A Thousand Shades of Green

A pleasant companion reduces the length of the journey. -Publilius Syrus

I found my pleasant companion at the Glasgow Airport one early July morning, just a couple of days after the attempted bombing. I was never so happy to see my sister. I had been feeling a wee bit homesick up to then; but, she quickly caught me up to date on all the happenings of back home while we ate a delicious and enormous breakfast.... so great to eat well again.

Friends of friends, who have since become our Scottish parents, hosted us and catered to our every whim in Port Glasgow, showing us the sights and amazing scenery, including Loch Lomond in the western lowlands of central Scotland. I still can't get that song out of my head... you take the high road and I'll take the low road and I'll be in Scotland before ye.... Chandra was a wee bit annoyed with my constant humming.

This was taken outside Inverary Castle. Chandra pointed out our Campbell tartan. She's done loads of genealogical research and has gone the furthest back in Scotland. Yep, we're Campbells... 10 generations or so ago??. For actual facts of any of the Scotland info I've given or about to give, check out my sister's blog -
'I'm cold. Hug me.'
The weather was dreich (that's Scottish for sucky weather). However, all that moisture is certain to be good for the skin.
An exciting car ride took us from Glasgow to Edinburgh in just twice the amount of time it should have taken. I'm sure it had nothing to do with my driving, her navigating, or the roundabouts (traffic circles), but we made it safely... eventually. My pleasant companion was very brave to be the passenger (a few days later I had my turn - much scarier than driving on the left).
Edinburgh is very much worth the trip, though. It's beautiful and quaint with a grand old town... a place I'd love to revisit.

Andrew, a 5th? cousin and fellow family-tree researcher, took us on a customized tour of Edinburgh and a drink at the Last Drop... which name actually refers to 'last drop of life' since that's where they used to view hangings.

We took a highland tour one day... one very long day. The guide was scunnering, but the scenery fabulous. This is the castle outside of Loch Ness. No monster sightings, unless you count that guy taking a whiz into the lake.
Is it just me or does everyone see guys whizzing all over Europe?
Rosslyn's chapel, made famous in the Da Vinci Code movie is absolutely stunning. The visitors were entering non-stop and the guide told us that they were going to have to limit it after this season due to challenges with restoration challenges. Even with all the other people there, it was extremely peaceful and serene. My photos certainly don't do it justice. It's a must see!
We spent a lot of time wondering through cemetaries, castles, abbeys, churches, cemetaries, monasteries... did I mention cemetaries?

Love that Scottish thistle.

We found family! Nice to see some live ones for a change.

We popped by a 'Fisher' place just in time for dessert and felt immediately at home. They live near where we were staying in Newton Stewart, Southern Scotland.
The next day my new favorite person, cousin Ivie, took us around to meet more family. They're all farmers... like us!
I felt really sad saying good-bye to Ivie. He really did make us feel like we were home.

This abbey is located about a mile from my great-grandmother's home. It was really special to be there and easy to imagine what it was like for her as a young girl.
Chandra and I left the next day for England but we were both sad to be leaving and wished we had planned more time there. Aye! It's a bonny, bonny place.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Starting from Estonia

Long time no write. I know. I've been busy... busy exploring more of Europe. I really love Europe, but I sure found it expensive after living on meagre teacher wages of late.

So I'll get started where I left off at the end of June... midsummer to be exact. After an all-nighter (which was weird since it never really got dark) in Helsinki with an American and some truly hospitable Finns, I hopped a Ferry to Tallinn, the capital city of Estonia.
Instantly charmed, I a spent a couple of days exploring the old town.

It was fun to get lost in the narrow, winding, cobbled streets. With less posh and glam of the Western European cities, Tallin, with it's 14th Century churches, is enchanting. It was also a pleasure to have customer service with a smile again, rather than a scowl.

Now an EU country, although they haven't changed from 'kroons' to 'euros' yet, it wasn't as cheap as I had thought it might be. Unfortunately, my newly published guidebook was completely out of sync with the true costs.

The tower walls have only one side intact, but a few other towers still form the outline of the old town.

Further exploring led me to Kuressaare on the island of Saaremaa. Upon arrival at the bus depot, it seemed I was the sole backpacker in on the deserted streets. Luckily, I bumped into Kristina, a Finnish migrant, who was looking for weary travelers arriving after the close of the Tourist Information office. She had a spare flat to rent. I was pleasantly surprised with the zen-decorated apartment and all the little creature comforts it offered inside... a great place to unwind.

Kristina, who is 61, independent, and beautiful, is a truly inspirational woman. I can't believe I didn't take her photo. At the moment, one of her jobs is a gym trainer at one of the resorts. She took me through an amazing work-out, which took me two weeks to recover from. Then she booked me the best massage of my life. Estonia is famous their therapeutic spas.
This majestic castle and moat make it easy to imagine this place as it was 500 years ago.
The island was off limits during the soviet era since it had a rocket base station and radar system so it limited industrial development. Now it's a charming, rural get-away for city dwellers. .. and me.

Wildflowers are everywhere. They seem to have been intentionally put around the borders of the grain fields and completely cover some grassy areas.

I rented a car to tour around, but it would be a great place to bicycle. Almost all the roads are paved, it's flat, and the signage is clear as a sunny day (not that I saw many of those this summer), with directions to every landmark possible. There were old wooden windmills, stone churches, meteor craters, giant beer mugs and 'cliffs'. The cliffs weren't so impressive... even I could dive off them, but for this flat, flat land I guess they thought it was worth a toot. It's amazing how vastly different this former soviet country is to another I know. Truly progressive and very tourist-friendly.
One night I camped on a beach - the camping is free, complete with firewood. Most spots were completely empty (maybe due to the rain??). The next night I slept in a hostel I found a few miles away because I was afraid camping alone, even though it barely got dark. This was taken around 2 AM. Can you see my swans?

More wildflowers... because they're pretty.