Renewing Our Vows in Scotland – Part 3: Edinburg

After our deeply moving ceremony in the Ring of Brodgar, I expected that we would have a long trip back to Edinburgh, play tourist for a little, and leave. Instead we had the most spectacular time in Edinburgh, a gem of a city.

The morning we left the Orkneys we got up at 5 to drive our car to town and take a ferry to the mainland. Then we took a cab to the train station and headed off on the train for our 7 hour ride to Edinburgh. Three trains later and a few hours early due to a happy connection we emerged.

Deb had booked us a room at 94DR, a truly wonderful B&B run by Paul and John. The inimitable Paul and John were just one of many great discoveries we made in this beautiful city.

Introduction to Edinburgh

We got in about 7pm and so had time to have a real dinner. Paul worked some magic – something which he seems to have no end of – and got us a table at the Outsider. Now generally the food in the Highlands and Orkneys was fine, but with the exception of Kylesku, it wasn’t anything noteworthy. And we had prepared ourselves for that. This first night in Edinburgh, though, we had a sumptuous dinner of lamb, steak and venison. And yet, it was not even the best dinner we had there.

The next morning we got up and went to breakfast. Paul and John told us that they expected that we had had enough of the “traditional Scottish breakfast” – eggs, bacon, Lorne sausage, black pudding, grilled tomato, and mushrooms (and sometimes haggis). Indeed, we pretty much had that in every place we stayed.

Instead, they made us the most amazing shakshuka, a Middle Eastern dish with eggs, tomatoes, peppers and onions. After that, we went on a 7 hour hike around the city and surrounding hills. It was a mix of urban, historic, and even rugged, hilly terrain.

Hiking the Hills

Edinburgh had a history of volcanic and glacier activity in the distant past and you could see in the surrounding “hills” which were part of the city.

DSC02329

The Cliffs Above Edinburgh

We headed out first on a long hike up a few thousand feet to Arthur’s Seat in Holyrood Park. From there, we had a 360 degree view of the city and its surrounds. We could see the Edinburgh castle, Scott Memorial, Firth of Forth (a “bay”), the “old town”, the “new town”, the downtown and everything else.

DSC02354

The “Road” to Arthur’s Seat

DSC02342

A Partial Panorama of Edinburgh

We hiked among the cliffs and hills for a few hours. It was an amazing opportunity to capture photos and we occasionally spotted a bit of ancient history among these hills.

Edinburgh - Holyrood Park

A Hiking Friend

Edinburgh - Holyrood Park

Tower Ruin

The Old and the Older Still

We came down from the hills to one of the more diverse cities we’ve experienced. It’s actually a second Scottish UNESCO World Heritage Sites. There are several different centuries of buildings and the Scots take as incredible care of them as they do their history. We haven’t seen a city that is as good at blending the past with the modern. And it seems that there is an old castle, manor house or church on every street.

Edinburgh

Ancient and Modern

Edinburgh

One of Many Incredible Churches

As we literally circumnavigated the city, we also found ourselves circumnavigating the impressive Edinburgh Castle, sometimes closely and sometimes far away. It is built on a cliff and is impregnable from at least two-thirds of its circumference.

Edinburgh Castle

The Imposing Edinburgh Castle

Along the way, we found many nuggets, like the Hanging Bat, a brew pub that makes (and imports) some of the best brews we’ve had, and that’s saying a lot for us Pacific Northwesterners.

Another favorite was Princess Street Gardens. It was fun watching kids come out after school in their uniforms, playing in the grass. Of course, there were statues everywhere.

horse pigeon statue - Edinburgh

Statue and Friend

We rounded the castle and came to a must-see attraction: the Scott Monument – a memorial to the legendary Sir Walter Scott. It’s a most amazing piece of Gothic architecture, though as Deb says, “It needs a bath!”

Scott Monument

The Scott Monument

We climbed 371 steps to the top, up spiral stairs that got narrower and smaller. It is not for the claustrophobic. By the time we got to the top, it was more like a tight cave passage. There was no room to pass and the doorway at the top was narrower than my shoulders (and I’m only 5’7”).

It was adorned with a large number of “gargoyle-like” ornaments both inside and around the outside. Many of these were of dogs and Deb found a greyhound friend among them.

DSC02409

Deb and Friend

For the end of our hike we headed to Calton Hill. We saw his rather eclectic assortment of structures when we first arrived in Edinburgh and wanted to check it out more closely. It has an Egyptian Obelisk, a Parthenon-style structure, an Observatory, and a Tower among its many features.

DSC02321

Calton Hill from the Train Station

Interestingly, John (of 94DR) told us that Calton Hill is viewed as #Edinburgh’sDisgrace since they evidently had much grander plans for the site but ran out of money. While some of the buildings were fascinating, it was rather an amalgam of incongruous things.

Finally we headed off to a real treat for dinner – the Gardener’s Cottage. Once again, Paul had worked his magic and was able to get a seating at this incredible restaurant experience. Gardener’s Cottage serves 7 course meal of amazing dishes, each created with locally grown or farmed ingredients. Among the tasty dishes we had tempura scallops, hedgehog mushrooms and creamed corn with sourdough bread, razor clams (or “spoots”) with fresh greens and the most amazing apple sorbet.

Gardener's Cottage Partridge

Partridge at the Gardener’s Cottage

Dinner was a truly wonderful cap to our Edinburgh experience. We didn’t really expect much from Edinburgh beyond it being a large city. That’s generally been our experience in other large, commercial, metropolitan cities. And indeed there was a long street with the typical high-end shopping. But there was so much more to Edinburgh as we learned. Had we known, we would have stayed longer. You can bet we will next time! A big thank to our “hosts” – Paul and John. Thank you for pointing us to some memorable experiences. Pura Vida.

More Photos

andyinField

A Man “Out Standing” in his Field (sorry – I had to do that!)

DSC02346

Having Fun

debbie beauty panorama

A Surreal Panorama

DSC02327

Pollock Hall

DSC02324

Old Buildings

DSC02369

A Unicorn at the Queen’s Palace (in Scotland)

IMAGE

A Imposing Silhouette of Edinburgh Castle

gargoyle - Scott Monument

A Gargoyle on the Scott Memorial

Calton Hill

The Observatory Cottage at Calton Hill

Edinburgh

Deb Against a Painted Backdrop (not really 🙂 )

Renewing Our Vows in Scotland – Part 1: The Highlands

Debbie and I renew our vows every five years somewhere new. For our 20th anniversary, we did something very off-path. We travelled to the far north of Scotland to one of the oldest stone circles in the world. We renewed our vows in a pagan handfasting ceremony. At twilight. On the equinox. It was a truly magical event. Here’s our story in three parts.

It’s been awhile, yes. Not that the summer hasn’t had its share of off-path adventures, including teaching in Costa Rica and buying a new house – well more accurately, a fixer – in Fall City. And the house has indeed been greedily consuming every spare moment of time it seems. Nevertheless, shortly after we moved in, Deb and I headed off to the Scottish Highlands.

Deb had spent several months planning this amazing trip, which included a number of adventures including our vow renewal – or as one of our friends mistyped, our “vowel renewal.” The name “Cargile” is Scottish and so I thought it appropriate to get remarried in the full traditional Scottish kilt kit. I could not find a kilt in the Cargile tartan of “Clergy” so I settled for the more common “Black Watch”, though I was fortunate to find a handfasting cloth in the Clergy tartan.

Suitably prepared, we headed off with our Tortuga backpacks of course. We only use those for travel now and surprisingly my kilt and all of its accessories, along with the rest of my clothes, fit. Deb’s gown also fit along with all of her things.

Our first day involved a lot of flying and a long train ride from Edinburgh to Inverness. There, we rented a car for our trek through the Highlands. We knew we’d have to drive British-style and joked that it would be more challenging if we got one that was “stick.” We did! It actually was not difficult at all to master British-style driving (including driving stick with the stick on the left).

Debbie Drives UK

Deb’s First Drive

The Bonnie Highlands

Over the next several days, we took a long tour through the Scottish Highlands. What a beautiful country. I could describe just how beautiful it was, but I’ll leave that to the photos. There are a lot more at the end.

Scottish Highlands

Looking West near Unapool

Scottish Highlands

Some Locals in Lochinver

We spent our second night at the Kylesku Hotel, the Scottish Hotel of the Year, in the northwest of Scotland. Sonia and Tonja, our innkeepers, welcomed us like family. It was right on the loch (lake) and we had amazing fish that literally came off the boat. The dock was right next to the hotel.

One of our first fun adventures was an unexpected rescue. As we hiked around the hotel, we came to an overlook on the loch. Deb spotted an odd sight – a slowly undulating white arm touching some plants by the edge of the shore. We went to investigate and found that a fairly large (compared to what we’ve usually seen diving) octopus was stranded in a shallow hole surrounded by plants. This loch is attached to the sea and the tide had gone out. The poor thing was listless and was feebly moving its arms. I went down and had to pry its sticky arms from some plants and then lift it up. It was about two feet long and was much heavier than I would have expected. I was able to toss it into the water. Then the most amazing thing happened.

The octopus, which I thought was nearly dead, sprang to life in the water and zipped around in a circle in front of me and then jumped out of the water and back in before swimming away. Its “happy dance” touched me. It felt like it was saying “thank you.” I never knew octopi could, or would, breach. I just wish I could have gotten a picture. It was a pretty amazing creature.

The next day we had a gorgeous hike through the Scottish Highlands near Lochinver. We started off in a forest by a river and then ventured out into the hills. We were the only ones around and felt that we had the entire world to ourselves. The heather was rich in the hills and the views were spectacular.

Scottish Highlands

Scottish Staples – Heather, Rocks and Mountains

Scottish Highlands

My Love in the Heather

The Highland Games

From Lochinver, we travelled east to Invershin where we stayed at the Invershin Hotel. We had a fantastic time there and met new friends from Canada and Germany along with our wonderful innkeepers, Cheryl and Angus. We chose Invershin because we were attending the Highland Games.

The games were the finals for the year in Scotland so we got to see the best of the best. It was one of those moments that really distinguishes an experience in a country – like watching an Arsenal vs. Manchester United game in a British pub in London, or dancing in a jammed samba club in the middle of Rio de Janeiro until 2am.

The games have been going on for 2000 years and all events take place on a grass field, including the track and cycling events. But those were pretty ordinary compared to the “heavies” competition. They threw stones and hammers in a variety of ways and also did the caber toss. Essentially, they pick up a large tree, run and then flip it so that, ideally, it does one half rotation and lands straight in the opposite direction.

Highland Games

The Caber Toss

Highland Games

And a Flying Kilt

Yes, kilts were flying. But these athletes did not wear their kilts the “traditional” way; they had compression shorts underneath. The bagpipers, not so much, as one of our Canadian friends learned!

The games also had a dance competition, a bagpipe competition, and a parade with full pipe and drum corps.

Highland Games

The Sword Dance

Highland Games

The Pipe and Drum Corps

And of course, what games are not complete without Tug of War? This was serious. They were (highly) competitive teams. The matches would take 10-20 minutes with lots of grunting and an occasional plumber’s butt.

Highland Games

“Cracking” Under Pressure

Before we left, we visited the Invershin castle. It has a sad story like many Scottish castles as we learned. After many generations, the last heir of the castle willed it to a hostel group with a stipulation that the castle be preserved as a hostel. That hostel group had it for several years and ran it into the ground. In need of repairs, first they sold off all of the 57 acres of land and then all of the paintings and sculptures inside. Even after netting several million pounds, surprisingly, they seemed unable to spend the 500K pounds to keep the castle maintained. The locals led a valiant battle to save it. It was offered up for free if you could demonstrate that you had the necessary cash to fix it up and keep it in its original condition. A group of investors bought it and is now trying to turn it into a 5 star hotel. Sadly, it’s not a unique story in Scotland.

Invershin Castle

The Gates of Invershin Castle

Dunrobin Castle

After Invershin, we had a free day and decided to visit the beach town of Dornach, located on the east coast off the North Sea. The gem there was Dunrobin Castle. There were countless paintings of Earls of Sutherland (12 I think) and their kin. But the highlight was the castle and grounds itself. The castle was “Disneyesque” (in a good way) and the grounds were spectacular.

Dunrobin Castle

Dunrobin Castle from the Grounds

dunrobin castle grounds small

And the Spectacular Castle Grounds

From Dornach, we drove back to Inverness to catch a plane to the Orkneys and our big day. While in Inverness though, we found a shop and looked up the Cargile crest. It was a pretty funny experience. With our genealogy historian there, we found the proper crest for the name “Cargile”, spelled as we spell it. The crest was ermine with a red “X” across the front and a martlet over the top. Interesting? Well, “Cargile” was originally a youngest son. The “X” means that he had no title or holdings. The martlet, which had no feet, meant that he also had no land. Poor guy. So, there’s the story of Cargile clan.

cargile crest

The Cargile Crest

Fortunately, our adventure doesn’t end on the sad origins of us Cargiles. It doesn’t even end after our amazing vow renewal in an ancient, powerful place. But you’ll have to check back shortly for more. Pura Vida.

More Photos

Loch Druim Suardalain

Fisherman on Loch Druim Suardalain

Rock Wall

One of Many Ancient Stone Walls

DSC02127

More Pipers

DSC02171

A Shetland “Pony” in Invershin

Invershin Castle

Invershin Castle from the Trail

Invershin Castle House

The Caretaker’s House at Invershin Castle

Dunrobin Castle

Dunrobin Castle Above the Grounds

Andy and Deb at Dunrobin Castle

At the Hedge “Gate” of the Grounds

Deb at Dunrobin Castle

Debbie Framed

Funny Deb

Having Fun in an Inverness Pub

Barcelona

We are officially off now on the second stage of our new adventure – Europe for 5 weeks of fun, unschooling and new experiences. Our first stop on this journey is the city of Barcelona.

We had a long, two-legged flight to get here which included a full dash between two very far gates at Schipol airport in Amsterdam. It started our travel journey and warmed up the young adults to five weeks of travel. Fortunately we settled into our nice apartment in Barcelona and recovered fairly well from jet lag.

Getting to our apartment, we got a reminder of how important security is here with all of our stuff. We had 4 locks on the door, three of which were multiple bar deadbolts. Barcelona, like many cities, has a number of opportunistic thieves as well as regular break-ins of uninhabited apartments.

cargile00026

Our Apartment’s Door Locks

This prompted two of the first key discussions with the young adults about travelling. The first was how important it was to always keep your bag (backpack) in sight and even if you are sitting with it, to wrap a strap around your ankle. They got that one down pretty quickly. The other one, which they are still working on, is that in travelling, everyone is responsible for their own bag and their own stuff. So, for example, I won’t magically know where someone’s socks are. J

We spent the first few days recovering and exploring the city and its wonderful restaurants. Barcelona is an amazing city – a fusion of old world Europe and modern Europe. We stayed most of our stay in the older area known as El Born, which I highly recommend. The buildings were almost a century old and the narrow streets, fountains, and open spaces were wonderful.DSC00029

cargile00028

cargile00050

cargile00099 cargile00043 Castel de Tres Dragons

Some Elements in El Born

Tapas are a highlight of Barcelona and “Chef” Aidan was very interested in trying all of the different tapas. We started with Double Zero, a sushi tapas place. It turned out to be one of the best places we’ve tried and where we had the most incredible, and well-deserved, dessert medley. This prompted Aidan to come up with an idea of creating a dessert tapas restaurant. We think it’s a good one!

Asian Albondingas Double Zero Dessert Sampler

Double Zero and its Amazing Tapas

We had another memorable experience at an Argentine grill.

Squid Ink Risotto

Our Argentine Grill Experience

I personally was very excited to rediscover Patxaran. It is this wonderful liqueur that is distinctly Basque. I had a good friend from Barcelona who once brought me a bottle. He said it was very hard to find outside Northern Spain and extremely rare in the US (at least a few decades ago). I had tried to find it a few times without success. Somehow I managed to remember the name (and exotic spelling) and found it here! Everywhere. What a treat. Patxaran is a liqueur created with various herbs blended with anise.

The Spanish timetable was very different from Costa Rica. Everyone seems to get up later. Most shops don’t open until noon and when they are not open, they all have these roll-down panels that are covered with graffiti. All of the graffiti has a creative flair and some are spectacular from an artistic perspective. Here’s just one example (some better ones didn’t make it).

cargile00083

Graffiti on a Shop Roll-Down Door

At night, it is almost as if you are in a different city. The shops open after noon but stay open until very late. All of these roll-down steel doors turn into fantastic shop windows, restaurants, pubs and heladerias (ice cream shops). The streets become a hive of activity. There are lots of people wandering around and the energy is palpable. They city stays this way late into the night. The most crowded dinner times are 9-10m and that’s when you see the peak of activity. We adapted fairly quickly to the Spanish way of life though – getting up later, eating late, and staying out late. This actually served Aidan and I well for a side adventure after Barcelona which I’ll tell you about another time: Portaventura.

One of our favorite things about Barcelona is the ability to get around. Without cars. Like most European cities, they have a good and well-organized metro system within the city and an excellent train system between cities and countries. It’s a dominant form of travel for Barcelonans. The bus system, which we did not try, seemed very ubiquitous and simple. The surprise though was the system of bikes. They have a whole “subscription” bike system that is somewhat similar to the various emerging “subscription” car systems in various US cities like Zipcar. They have “banks” of bikes at most major intersections and you swipe a card, grab a bike, and then return it to another bank. The bikes have special bars that “plug in” to a simple locking system. I’ve not seen a better version of this implemented.

Deb and I had several logistics-related things to do when we first got here (like getting Eurail passes validated, getting train tickets, trying out the metro, etc.) and so Aidan and Nev had more time to hang in the apartment and “study up” a bit on Spanish history, the city of Barcelona, Gaudi and Montserrat – all things we planned to include in our Barcelona “curriculum.”

What became clear to us pretty quickly, though we should have anticipated this based on Nev and Aidan’s history/religion project this summer, was that like most kids and young adults, reading about history was boring for them. Indeed, that’s why we wanted to come here – to see some of the incredible historical places of Spain and Italy. It was a bit like digging a deep splinter out trying to get Aidan to read about Sagrada Familia and other places we would explore. Deb and I would be in lines for tickets and Aidan would text us about how much more he had to read.

We settled on having him find some YouTube videos while we were away. He tends to learn better when he can hear and see vs. read. What was pleasantly surprising, though, was that both Nev and Aidan liked it better when we would tell them things about history orally.

We had some great discussions about religion, especially Catholicism, organized religion, and even what a saint is. I noted for the record that Brazil is rightly affronted because they only have two saints and tens more in the queue for review.

We also had some great related discussions about why people value gold (which is a tough one to really get into as it is not obvious indeed), why currencies are based on it, and also supply and demand economics. These weren’t incredibly deep or thorough by any means. But they were engaging and that was more important to us. Nev even said that one of Deb’s descriptions of Roman history was clearer and better than anything anyone could read in a boring textbook.

In the end, we all have been learning a lot about learning history here, but more importantly, I think we and the young adults are learning about how to learn about history. Nev and Aidan are clearly digital native. They learn differently and have different experiences of learning based on the technology and other tools they are exposed to. We even had a great discussion in a cab about this.

I basically said that if they have kids, their kids will probably be experiencing holographic information and “shows” the way they watch YouTube and Deb and I watched TV in our day. They noted that we are tech savvy and “get” YouTube, but I pointed out that even so, one tends to fall back on what’s comfortable – the media one grows up with. It was a surprisingly insightful conversation, like one we might have at a tech conference. This all “counts” as unschooling in our book, by the way.

After a day of logistics, Deb and I stopped at a Catalan wine festival. We love wine, especially Spanish wines, and so it was wonderful to experience Catalan wines. We had some amazing, and generously-poured, wines and some incredible cheese. It was a fantastic date night.

Catalan Wine Festival

The Catalan Wine Festival

Arc de Triomf (Barcelona)

Arc de Triomf (Barcelona-Style)

This brings up another interesting thing about Barcelona, the heart of Catalonia. As you may know, Catalan wines, like much of Catalonia, is similar but very distinct from Spain. The Catalonians take very definite pride in this. Catalan, as a language, is similar to Spanish, but then again about as different as Portuguese and Italian are from Spanish.

When we arrived, all of the signs had as a primary language Catalan. The secondary languages were Spanish or English. Everyone speaks Catalan first and many seem to prefer English to Spanish. It took us a bit to adjust but we can begin to read Catalan now. Mostly. As we travel to Seville, I expect our Spanish will be more useful.

What’s pretty amazing about Barcelona and Catalonia is the intense national pride – Catalonian, not Spanish. You see Catalan flags everywhere, hanging from balconies, on cars, and on futbol jerseys. Of course, FC Barcelona is here and you really can’t go anywhere without seeing a store or a person sporting FC Barcelona clothing. While very European, and certainly similar to Spain, Barcelona definitely feels like a different country. We may be wrong; we’ll see shortly as we adventure to Seville.

We took a wonderful little trip to Güell Park in Barcelona. It is a work of Antoni Gaudi, the famous architect of La Sagrada Familia which I’ll get to later. Tickets to the sculpture park were sadly sold out, but we took a stroll through the grounds which he also designed. It was an enchanting experience. We sat and listened to harp music and then explored the structures he created. It gives you some insight to the way he integrated nature into his architecture.

Guell Park Debbie at Guell Park Guell Park

Güell Park

After the young adults had studied up a bit, we took a day trip to Montserrat, the famous monastery up in the mountains. Wow. The monastery and mountains were incredible. I’ve never seen that type of topography before.

cargile00119

Montserrat

Monserrat

The trip to Monserrat involved a train, a tram, and a funicular. It was a bit of a trip, but well worth it. I’m not sure if I was stunned more by the mountains or the monastery. The monastery was beautifully minimal from the outside. True to most Catholic churches, it was beautiful and opulent inside.

Montserrat Basilica cargile00145

Montserrat Monastery

The mountains were mesmerizing to me. They were so natural and yet so alien given the sedimentary rock composition and the very organic forms the mountains took. The architect Gaudi, whom I’ll mention more in a bit, must have been inspired by these mountains, especially as he was an aficionado of nature. I could have spent all day just in those mountains taking pictures.

Montserrat Mountains cargile00260

Montserrat Mountains

On our final day in Barcelona we visited one of the most magical places I have ever been – La Sagrada Familia, Gaudi’s masterpiece. That is saying a lot given that it is a church and given that I have had the fortune to see many magical places.

I truly don’t know where to begin, so I will begin with Gaudi. He started this architectural feat in 1882 when he was 30. He died in 1926 and had several generations of craftsman following his legacy since then to complete this great church. It should be complete mid-century. When you see the images, you’ll not only see why it has taken so long, but also what a genius he was, particularly given that this was started in the 1800’s.

La Sagrada Familia

DSC00575 DSC00591

La Sagrada Familia

construction construction

Constant Construction

I was certainly impressed with the architecture, which took inspiration from nature as you can easily see.

Tower Stairway

Tower Stairway

Columns Inspired by Trees

Columns Inspired by Trees

Interior Columns

Interior Columns

Natural Inspiration

I was even more impressed with Gaudi’s command of math and geometry, which is also nature at its best. Imagine the columns in components ranging from 6 to 12 vertices. Now twist each of these components (e.g., an extruded – or “3D’ – dodecagon) 30 degrees. Now create a mirror image of it and superimpose the two. That gives you the geometry of one section of column.

The stained glass (a Barcelonan artists created these), statues (a Barcelonan sculptress created these), architectural details (such as the tree of life or the apostolic symbols), were all incredible. I could have spent days wandering and exploring here.

DSC00566

Seal of Marc

Seal of Marc

Tree of Life

Tree of Life

Turtle "Gargoyle" Sculpture

Turtle “Gargoyle” Sculpture

Architectural Elements

I was never a huge architecture geek. I was never ever moved by architecture or much else created by people. I was here.

La Sagrada Familia was a perfect end to our Barcelona adventure. Thousands of miles away we started our journey in Costa Rica, where the locals have the term “pura vida” which I’ve mentioned often. I get the sense Gaudi would appreciate that sentiment. As would much of Catalonia I expect. Pura vida.

PS: In case you like photos, I’ve included a lot more below, especially of La Sagrada Familia, Montserrat and the mountains.

DSC00253

 

Montserrat Basilica

Montserrat Basilica

Montserrat

Montserrat

Montserrat

Montserrat

cargile00215

St George

St George

Looking Down a Tower

Looking Down a Tower

Turtle Column Pedastel

Turtle Column Pedestal

Spire Tops

Spire Tops

View of Barcelona construction DSC00572

Guell Park

Guell Park

Gaudi's House

Gaudi’s House in Guell Park

Guell Park

Guell Park

The Passion Facade

The Passion Facade