adventure, nature, travel

Memories of Scotland

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Do you see the little white farm-house sitting on top of the cliff? I used to live there back in the 80s. The US NAVY had erected a communication station about seven miles outside of Thurso on the cliff’s edge of the North Sea. When I arrived in February, it was dark, and ropes tied to base buildings allowed me to cross the compound without blowing away. The slapping of the waves upon the ancient rocks and the roar of the wind made it impossible for anyone to talk outdoors. The wind was a constant companion. At its best, it was breezy. At its worst, the rage of the wind would nudge and scoot my mini across the road. I gave up trying to comb my hair. The four-year, wet assault on my ear drums damaged my hearing. I was nineteen and naïve and excited to be stationed in the UK. For the first three years, I was a petty officer (E4), sending and receiving messages to and from subtenders. The last year, I was a “dependent wife”. I gave birth to my first son there.

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Scottish Sheep

To get to the farm-house, you had to open and shut the fence gates. The sheep would surround your car and wander up to the front door. Sometimes the big male would charge at you. On a clear day I went for a hike, and I explored out past the barn to have a look at the Orkney Islands and lighthouse. I stumbled upon a lamb which had died and cried; I have no idea why. Whenever I watch the film Silence of the Lambs, I see my silenced lamb as if it were yesterday. Corny, but true. Don’t ask me what I had for breakfast or remember the date of your birthday, but remember my time in Scotland? Clearly, with all my senses.

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One of the interesting aspects about Thurso is that it’s the happening place if you like to surf. The water is freezing, and I think they are mad, but every year tourists ferry across from Sweden or the Netherlands, bringing their bicycles and tents and boards to surf.

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We used to barter with the locals. We could get them tax-free liquor in exchange for North Sea salmon. After a mid-watch, we’d catch a taxi and head over to the Pentland Hotel, The Upper Deck, or The Central to have toasties with tomato and pints of lager for breakfast. Yum.  Scotland is where I learned how to shoot darts.

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The best time to be in Thurso is in the summer when the bag-pipers parade down main street and festivals of music and Highland Games are aplenty.

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It took me about six months to understand what on earth they were saying. The locals had a fun time teasing the Yanks by speaking their Gaelic. You knew they liked you when they finally spoke English. But even when they enunciated, it took time to understand their brogue. Drams and pints helped.

Above the highlands, the lonely beauty of the northern coast crept into my heart and settled. My Navy peers complained that the sun rarely came out, but I kept pinching myself to see if I were dreaming.  When the sun shone, we flocked to the roofs and exposed our white-white skin. If you want the fizz of palm trees and lights and discos and urban variety, you would not like Thurso. But, if you appreciate ancient history, authentic people, the fizz comes from the wind and waves of the coast line. Just remember to bring your wellies and brollies. I loved my time there.

travel, Uncategorized

My favorite things: Salzburg and Dublin

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When you visit enough foreign cities, they begin to blend in your mind. Who you are starts to exert itself to the forefront. My desire for the touristy stuff diminishes, and I crave “comfort” activities.

Take Salzburg, Austria and Dublin, Ireland, for instance. These are two perfect cities as far as I’m concerned. They evoke similar emotional responses. If I had disposable cash, a few months to spare, and any city to pick, these two destinations pop up rather quickly on my daydream list.

 

Dublin

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The pub doors in Dublin are open and music pervades the city streets, especially if you are in the historic district and near the Templeton Bar. In the pedestrian district, streets are cobbled and narrow. As you wander around, after every turn and corner you are greeted with the energy of elbow-rubbing, pint-sloshing, people-communing camaraderie. Yet, there is a quietness about Dublin that I love. The city is back dropped by the Wicklow Mountains. Christ Church. The Book of Kells. Oscar Wilde. The gardens. Jameson and Guinness. The river Liffey divides the north and south of Dublin and multiple bridges intersect the city. It is probably some primordial reaction, but the river calms me and I become introspective and at peace. Gray clouds are the norm and there is a moist sheen covering all surfaces. Embrace the gray and be glad you never need sunglasses; if you hate to sweat, this is the place for you. The gray helps you see the Emerald green. It is brilliant, and the filtered light makes Ireland an awesome spot for photography.

 

Salzburg

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If you get a chance to visit, Salzburg, take it! The Salzach River runs through it. The Austrian Alps are behind. What can be more relaxing than sitting outside people watching with a beer in your hand and the Hohensalzburg Castle for a backdrop while listening to Mozart? If you like to shop, the cobblestone pedestrian streets provide hours of shopping. When the tourists get thick, head to the edge of the things, the pubs, the river, and Mozart follows you wherever you go. It is a moist place with lots of green and clouds. In the summer, there is an outdoor concert series and it’s marvelous to hear symphonies play to you as you mull about window shopping.

 There’s a game I play when I travel in the states or abroad. Where ever I go, I have to find the Irish pub. Salzburg has four. I went to the Dubliner and felt right at home. The door is a portal from one strange land into another. One minute it’s Deutsch and Mozart and Weihenstephaner Hefeweissbier. Walk inside and it’s Celtic and the Irish Fiddle and Guinness. What fun! I’m going to Berlin in 2014, and I will be on the lookout for the Irish pub. Do you know of any?

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