“Judy Lee reporting live from Edinburgh Castle where the temperature is a mild 60 below anything humanly tolerable.”
We stand at the top of a cold stone platform where for centuries crazy people have stood for one reason or another. We’re here to witness the firing of the cannon at 1:05 p.m. A Scotsman comes out of his little hut without a coat and lights the thing every day of the year. You can set your watch by this, I hear. Well actually, I can’t hear anything with the wind blowing up my coat and into my hood.
The effort of our planning for our 11-year-old grandchild’s trip to Europe has arrived. So why do we go at Thanksgiving, you ask? Because we always have. It was my husband’s idea. They don’t have Black Friday in Europe and I’m just now figuring that out.
Let’s back up a bit. How did this all begin? Was it because my father was in the military and we lived in England for three years? Or was it the year my daughter graduated from the University of Edinburgh and we took our oldest grandson to Scotland for the ceremony? He was 9 and not really interested. And then we had to take his brother to Belgium for no reason. He was 10 and hated the museums. And then our oldest granddaughter wanted to see Ludwig’s castles in Germany because she was doing a report for school. And she was 11. She loved it. And we did, too. So it began.
The plane ride over is so much fun. Michael, the little boy who cannot stop crying, always sits behind us, kicking our seat. His mother is asleep so I pass him M&Ms and that seems to work for awhile. Two rows up, a man has been trying the entire nine hours to cough up a lung. The lady next to us is talking about her last divorce with her new husband. We find it very interesting until she spills her vodka and tonic all over my husband’s seat after he stood to stretch. Could the airlines pack in a few more people so none of us can move?
We are so excited to once again share our past adventures with our new, unsuspecting pupil and fellow traveler of the world. We play cards, watch movies, laugh at jokes that make no sense and finally get to sleep for a split second when the airline turns out the lights. BOOM! It’s morning!
I open the shade that covers the tiny window. The sun is bright. Something we’ll not see again until we return to Texas. “Where are we now?” my grandson asks, trying to see the ground through the miles of dusty cloud. “Are we there yet? Are we there? Huh? When are we going to be there? What’s for breakfast?” Oh yeah, I forgot about all the questions.
It takes one adult child plus the little one for our trips to be successful. This is because neither of the experienced travelers, the funders if you will, can be trusted to read the transportation schedules. I’m amazed that we get the flights confirmed.
The non-stop train we pay for from Gatwick Airport to Charring Cross stops so many times we could have walked to London. And Bus 29 will take us to the end of the road, change drivers, and we ride back the same way. OK, that was my mistake. Once we took a bus through town to the top of a hill. The conductor told us to get out, that another would be along shortly. The bus never moved. The driver turned it off, drank his tea, then let us back on. English, who can understand them?
It’s 7 a.m. and here we are standing in front of that huge board at the train station with its constantly clicking and fluttering times and track information. “Why don’t we just fly into Scotland?” I ask.
“And what? Miss seeing the countryside?” my travel agent husband says.
The train picks up speed until nothing out the window is recognizable. Over the river and through the ancient tunnels we go. The games begin and the snacks come out. The tea cart arrives every 10 minutes and we get into the moment – after moment – after moment.
“Are we there yet? How ‘bout now?”
“Almost,” I say, having lost all sense of time.
At 11 a.m. we arrive in Edinburgh. Eyes bleeding, we head toward our place of rest for the next few days. We’ve tried everything from old hotels, B&Bs to youth hostels and have concluded that to get the full experience, we need to be right in the thick of things. Live the life of those before us. We’re not visitors. We’re adventurers!
“No dear, we’re not going there,” I say bursting a tiny bubble in my son’s head. “Only royalty stay at the Balmoral. It makes little difference, we only sleep there and no, there is no valet. Besides they don’t even allow pets!” I stick my nose in the air.
So up the ramp we go. Our first taste of the highland hills. Then we trod the winding cobblestone streets to the Royal Mile. There tucked between buildings is our hotel. Hotel, hostel, whatever.
“Here is where the commoners sleep. Here is where we meet the locals. Isn’t that what it’s all about?”
A magical place of kings and queens, knights and ladies, banners and courtiers, huge feasts and bloody battles of Braveheart and Mel Gibson.
And that’s that. Freezing cold in the rainy dampness of Scotland, walking in places that only the Scottish would allow, like Mary Queen of Scots’ old burned out castle. Not one rope, no railings, no walls, to the top of the crumbling towers that overlook the lake with a single swan dumb enough to brave the elements.
The dungeons, the secret passageway, “Oh did that DO NOT ENTER mean us?” The Crystal Skull mystery told by the curator of the museum or was that someone’s home? The scones, the pork n’ beans for breakfast (really?), black pudding we don’t dare try and of course, haggis. I think someone just made this stuff up for tourists. Then we’re done. Well done, I might add. Cheerio, tata, and SEE YE EFTER MA MUKKERS! (See you later my friends).