uk

Exploring Scotland

Edinburgh 1980

I am currently planning a trip to Eastern Scotland. It reminds me of the time I went backpacking in Scotland 40 years ago. I’m sure much has changed and my experience will be different. Here is a look back.

My cousin was studying in London that summer and I managed to talk her brother into going to Scotland with me. I flew in and spent a couple of days with her before her brother arrived. We didn’t really have a plan but just jumped on the next train to Edinburgh. Across from us was a family from Santa Barbara, California. The wife was British but hadn’t been back to the U.K. in 17 years. The man seemed bored to death and kept wanting to talk but didn’t have much to say. He was a carpenter. The guy sitting next to me was from the San Fernando Valley and very serious, no personality or sense of humor. Toward the end of the trip we got lucky and a Scotsman sat down across from me. When he found that we really didn’t know where we were going he started hauling out maps and planned an entire trip for us in the western islands. He told us about good places to go and it was great!  He was a really nice guy. Half the fun of travel is the people you meet.

Urquhart Castle on Loch Ness

From Edinburgh we took the train to Inverness. We couldn’t get into the youth hostel so we ended up in a bed and breakfast. The owner served us tea between 9:30 and 10 pm so we met the other person who was staying there, too. He was a teacher from Hong Kong. He spent his days taking organized tours. The following day we took the bus to Drumnadrochit and walked from there to Urquhart Castle right on the Loch Ness. There wasn’t much left of the castle because it was blown up to keep the Jacobites from staying there (long story). I did not see the Loch Ness monster. Big disappointment (haha).

Back in Inverness, we went to the Old Market Inn Pub and had a few beers. One drunk Scotsman sort of latched on to us. He mainly just wanted to talk – anybody would have done but we were willing to listen. He was interesting for a while giving us some Scottish history and his very strong opinions. After a while somebody got up with a guitar and started singing folk music, which we quite enjoyed.

From Inverness, we took the bus through the mountains past glass still lakes and beautiful forests to Fort William. The youth hostel was at the foot of the highest mountain in the U.K., Ben Nevis (4,400 ft.). A New Zealander latched onto us at the youth hostel, which was a good thing because he had dishes and silverware. We were totally unprepared. I think he was homesick. We ended up taking him into town and waving goodbye at the bus station like he was our son going off to war. Poor guy. We spent a couple of days relaxing and soaking up the beautiful countryside before heading out to the west coast.

Iona Abbey

We were lucky, it rained very little that summer. The only problem we had was on the Isle of Skye. The public transport was rather meager so we were trying to hitchhike but got nowhere and, of course, it started to rain and we got soaked. Back on the mainland, we worked our way down the west coast. We spent several days in Oban and took ferries to Mull and Iona. And finally found our way to Glasgow. I fell in love with Scotland and decided I wanted to go back and tour the upper peninsula on a motorcycle …actually on the back of a motorcycle.

Downtown Chester

On the way back to London, we stopped in the old Roman town of Chester on the Welsh border, and at Stonehenge and Salisbury. It was market day in Salisbury and there were people everywhere, crowding the streets, too many people. I was tired by then. Youth hostels are cheap but you don’t get much sleep. The woman above me had snored all night. Still, I was able to enjoy Salisbury Cathedral, finished in 1258 and an impressive Gothic building. We listened to the music at evensong. By that time, I was exhausted.

We took the boat from Great Yarmouth to the Hook of Holland and a train on to The Hague, the Netherlands. We got off at the wrong station and had to walk forever but finally managed to hook up with my parents and ended up staying in their new, empty apartment.

(excerpt from Expat Alien my global adventures)

This time the plan is to go to Dundee and Aberdeen. Any tips?

Book Excerpt

Moscow 1993

I always checked the bulletin board at the US Embassy and one day I saw an ad for a position at the British Embassy.  I called them up and went in for an interview.   This was 1993 and there were still very few expats in Moscow.  The first guy I met used to live in Nigeria so we hit it off.  Then he drove me to the Commercial Section, as it was in a different building in a different part of town.  I met with three or four people over there.  They had just purchased a Windows computer and needed somebody to learn how to use it and to type letters, do formatting and transcribe dictation for them.  I could type and I had played around a bit on Windows so they hired me on the spot.  I don’t think Nicholas was too thrilled because they didn’t pay much, but I was excited to have a job.

My first pay from the Brits was all in 5 dollar bills!  What a wad I came home with!  I felt really rich.  I was paid in cash so we had money without having to write a check and any extra went to American Express in Moscow.

I enjoyed working with the Brits.  In some ways I think I felt more comfortable with them than the Americans as they immediately grasped my humor (or sarcasm). The British Embassy was on the river, directly opposite the Kremlin in an old, beautiful mansion.  However, I didn’t work there.  The Commercial Department was in a separate building on the other side of town.  I would get a ride in the morning from one of Nicholas’ drivers and then I would take the metro home.

Soon after I started, I went to a reception at the British Embassy and met Ann, the Princess Royale and her new husband, Commander Lawrence.  We all stood in groups (assigned “clumps”) in a semicircle and the Commander and the Ambassador’s wife (who was an American) started at one side and Princess Ann and the Ambassador started at the other so they spent about 2 or 3 minutes talking to each clump.  The Commander seemed a little nervous but he was nice and Ann had on a bright green straight silk skirt and a fuchsia silk top. She carried a black silk purse with matching black shoes and sported long white gloves.  She was prettier in person than in her pictures and was very relaxed and charming. We drank Pimms out on the lawn and it was lovely.

 

Note:  photo and story are about the old Embassy.  They have since built a new one.  Pretty different, eh?