I suppose I should begin by admitting that I’m horribly obsessed with geography (as well as all forms of useless information). Ironically, it’s the only subject I didn’t take in school. If there’s a squiggly circle with a capitol, I’m all over it like a Pekingese on a rubber pork chop. I want to know what it’s called, why it’s called that, what they eat, what they speak, and how to speak it. Which is why I must begin with the subject of Scotland’s geography (all of you other geography addicts who find this elementary can skip this part if you must. There’s an interesting write-up on the origin of Slovakian county names that I could pass along).
Scotland is the northern tip of the isle of Britain. If England was a head, then Wales would be the beard and Scotland would be the hat. (Although, if I used that analogy around a Scot, they’d probably raise one gigantic eyebrow and say something like (Only to be read in your very best Scottish Brogue): “Eff hats were enter-teening, cap-tah-vee-ting, and more bloomin’ brell-yent than the person that’s wearing et!” Then, I would be knocked unconscious with the swift blow of a whiskey bottle.
When visiting any country that far North you can expect rain, drizzle, fog, and overcast. Now, I know that sounds unpleasant, but Scotland’s natural beauty and astounding architecture easily outweighs the occasional (and by occasional, I mean persistent, never ending, “Oh my word! When will it stop?!”) crumby weather.
While I may have spent a total of only four days in this kilt-clad country, I feel as if Scotland and I had some true bonding time (Now, we’re not close enough for me to call it ‘Scot’, but I think we hit it off pretty well). I was staying with a friend in Scotland (I never travel without some sort of contact. Staying in a hotel room reduces the potential of a country when you’re in a plush room with those little free shampoos and samplers of horrendous coffee). The only thing was, my friend worked full-time. So, at 5:00am there I was at the train station. Though I was by myself, I was overwhelmed with excitement. One of the best advantages to having a contact, is that they can give you the low-down on everything there is to see and do! So for the first excursion (keep in mind, I only really had two good days to explore) he told me (in a Scottish accent, of course) to take the train to the capitol city of Edinburgh.
Here’s a perfect opportunity to explain the British ‘gh’. You’ll find people that insist that it’s pronounced Edin-berg, or some will even suggest Edin-borough or better yet Edin-burah. They’re all wrong. If you want to be respected upon your arrival in the land of haggis and plaid then please make the effort to pronounce this city correctly, it’s the least we can do. As in everything said in Scotland, the “R” is rolled: “Edin-brrah”. Once you master the correct pronunciation of Edinburgh, you’ll then instantly be wearing a kilt, and playing a bagpipe with pieces of haggis scattered about your freshly grown Scottish beard.
This city was so great, I spent parts of two days here! (If you’ve read any of my other posts you’d know I only suggest spending one day in a city of any sort) In most cities, I’d recommend researching the sights ahead of time so that you can optimize your day (or days if you’re in Edinburgh), that is not the case with this city. Simply step off the plane or train and proceed to the cobblestone streets of this unbelievable place and wherever you wander, you’ll be rewarded with breathtaking views and a distinct cozy feeling. I never knew you could feel ‘cozy’ while you’re outside, but even the air of Edinburgh makes you feel like you’re wrapped in a blanket (plaid, preferably) sitting next to a fire with a hot cup of tea and a good book.
Originally most of the buildings of Edinburgh were light in color, but after the dawn of the industrial revolution, with its despicable smog and pollution, most of the structures were left blackened. That is what gives Edinburgh its distinguished, yet somewhat eerie nature, exemplified by the regal and slightly foreboding sentinel of the city, respectfully known as Edinburgh Castle. Even with this unbelievable Goliath of a castle, I still remained faithful to my three-step castle viewing process (as set out in the Northern Ireland page).
This lofty structure is built on a rock mass in the middle of town, making it an excellent landmark. Just about any street you’d peruse…there it would be…. the ever watching citadel breathing down your neck (which if you’re a hopeless ever-lost traveler like me, is a welcome relief. “I have no idea where I am or how to get back to the train station, but hey there’s the castle again. Whatever that means… “).
After miraculously finding my way back to my friend’s house, he informed me that we would be going on a motorcycle tour to a place called Loch Lubnaig. I was supplied a helmet and what looked like an oversized protective pajama suit and off we went. Since there was two of us and one motorcycle, I was, needless to say, sitting behind my friend holding on for dear life like a juvenile lemur upon his mother’s back through the high canopies of Madagascar. Not the most dignified position, I must say. There came a point along the journey where my oversized helmeted noggin would sway violently back and forth. The slightest movement and I thought my head would be thrusted underneath one of my armpits. I (very carefully) looked at the speedometer, (the round dial on moving vehicles that most cautious drivers look at from time to time) all I could make out was that the little orange stick was past the mark that read “100”. At that moment I was immediately filled with equal parts of excitement and utter helplessness. Imagine a kindergartener who wet his pants after just receiving a good grade for his macaroni art project…excitement and then helplessness. I have to say it was worth it. I apologize that it was too dark for a good photo but you’ll have to take my word for it. Loch Lubnaig was stunning to say the least. Before the perilous ride home we were rewarded with the classic fish n’ chips at the local pub, over which we discussed my plans for the next day.
My friend mentioned an airplane museum that was a ‘must see’. All I had to do was take a train to Drem (Thankfully, I finally found the correct name of this place on a map. Every time I told this story, its name would change. I never could recall the proper name of the station. It always seemed to come out ‘Grim’ or ‘Drip’ or sometimes even, ‘Phlegm’) and then once I arrived at this oddly named train station in the middle of nowhere, I needed to catch a bus. I thought to myself “I’ve got this. What’s one train and one bus? Piece of cake.” That’s where it all went down hill. I was told by the bus company’s website that the bus stopped at Drem Station, when in all actuality, they stop at some street corner outside of the station (and my view). So there I sat, waiting and waiting. I had to be back at a certain time, because I had a meeting to go to, so I was already cutting it close. After about 30 minutes, I heard a bus in the distance. Temporarily relieved, I made my way towards the entrance of the station anticipating the arrival of the bus. I walked just far enough to see the bus leaving! I had all of two international minutes left on my phone, so I called the bus company. In a thick accent I could barely understand, the representative said: “You twit! The bus comes to the street corner outside of Drip Station (oops, I meant Drem). You’ll have to wait another 1 1/2 hours before the next one comes! *click*” I, of course, didn’t have an extra 1 1/2 hours to wait. So I was faced with a tough decision, either go back on the next train or attempt to walk it.
Filled with intermittent bursts of enthusiasm, I’d push on down the road towards the air museum. Then I’d panic and worry about not getting back in time or worse yet, being abducted by one of those wild kilt clans. Forced to live out my days in a skirt and prove my manliness by hurling 12 ft wooden beams and screaming obscenities. So I’d run back to the station. Then, I’d muster up the courage and set out again, only to return with the proverbial tail between my legs. Finally, I decided just to go for it. I suppose I didn’t realize it was a five mile walk through one of the most sparsely populated regions of the UK. All of the roads were lined with 7ft. high hedges so you could only see what was straight ahead or straight behind. This proved to be quite a hazard, since at the most unexpected times rogue Scottish tractor drivers would come blasting down the roads at what seemed like warp speed. Thankfully the inside of the coat I was wearing was neon green so I simply flipped it inside out to alert oncoming (and by oncoming, I mean psychotic and unrelenting) tractor traffic.
On top of that, the winds were quite strong that day making it increasingly difficult to keep my hair in place. Then, out of nowhere, ultralights (tiny personal aircraft thingies) filled the skies. Apparently making good use of the air currents. Probably laughing uncontrollably at the sight below.
By the time I finally arrived at the museum I had bloodshot eyes and crazy hair from the wind, I was breathing heavily from all of the hiking, and I was wearing a fluorescent green coat that was inside out. I’m actually quite surprised they let me tour the place instead of, say, calling the police.
The museum was called the “National Museum of Flight”, however the sign was so badly worn, all I could make out was “nal Muse Flig”. A promising start! Once I entered the facilities I found that they were a perfect accompaniment to the welcome sign. Most of nal Muse Flig’s buildings had broken windows or the roofs had collapsed. “I walked all the way out here for this?” I thought to myself, “I could be in a skirt throwing logs right now!” The original reason for me journeying all that way was to see a Concorde they claimed to have hangared there. I was seeing no such thing. I didn’t even see a building large enough to properly house a VW Beetle, let alone a Concorde.
Figuring that I might as well tour the place since I made all the effort, I purchased a ticket. As I walked into the first hangar, my jaw dropped. There it was, the fastest commercial airplane ever built, the Concorde! Not only that, but it was fully open to tour. Like a giddy school girl, I ran up the steps screaming. I dropped my bottle of glitter in total amazement.
After that, the rest of the museum consisted of various piles of parts complete with a placard that read: “This used to be a…” Then I stumbled upon a random shed without a label or a placard. The windows were all busted and the roof was partially caved in, so I knew it must have been part of nal Muse Flig . There inside was a group of 80+ year old Scotsmen constructing a replica WWI biplane from scratch. As I stepped into the old out-building, admiring the beautiful specially imported Canadian Pine skeleton of the plane, an angry little old man shooed me out, “Get outta here, can’t you see we’re trying to eat?!”, he said. As I was respectfully exiting, another older gentleman rushed out, “Wait! Don’t mind Quincey. He gets prissy when he’s hungry. I’ll show you around.” After being lectured through just about every nut, bold, and screw of the aircraft, I was satisfied, to say the least. I kept trying to excuse myself, but my impromptu tour guide kept on going. At last, I made my way out of the building only to see the last bus of the day departing from the Museum. I had missed it again!
“Don’t worry”, said my new friend, “I’ll take you to Phlegm station” (doh! Sorry did it again). This is where it got interesting. He was standing near the passenger side of the car and was, what looked like, warming up to get to the driver’s side. The 90+-year-old airplane builder then burst into motion, but in the most peculiar fashion. “Hyper-tippy-toeing” is the only way I can word this obscure maneuver. Imagine the Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy at 10 times the normal speed, but the sugar-plum fairy had severe osteoporosis. After his mini marathon to the other side of the car, it took a good 5 minutes for him to stop gasping for air and regain his, slightly lop-sided, composure. Then off we went back to the station. I said my good-byes, thanked him for the tour, and then he drove away. I stood at the platform waiting for the next train, when unexpectedly he came back. Barreling down the road in reverse. Rolling the window down, he yelled out to me: “You’re on the wrong side of the station, you twit!” and just like that he was gone.
In your travels, give England’s “hat” a shot. You won’t be disappointed. I mean, come on, where else can you be called a twit twice in one day, and walk five miles with your coat inside out to visit an abandoned air museum in a town called phlegm?