Monday, December 22, 2003

Well, I have finally finished my trip to Oban on paper.

My Trip to Oban

We left on Monday morning. It was a short walk from Nan's to Waverely Station. We ran into Nan's notetaker who was going to Glasgow. The train ride from Edinburgh to Glasgow was longer than I expected. Also, there were less towns between them as I expected. It was much like Western Washington with fields interspersed with small towns. I expected something like Everett-Seattle-Tacoma metroplex.

Once we arrived at Glasgow Queen's Station, we had to change trains. The station was nice and clean. A man was sweeping the floor while I waited for Nan who was in the bathroom. We then boarded the train to Oban (An t-Oban in Gaelic) and Mallaig. The interesting thing about the train is that about half-way to our destination they split the train into two parts. The front half goes to Oban while the other half goes to Mallaig.

The train left Glasgow and followed a salt water loch into the highlands. This was probably the most beautiful train ride that I have ever taken. It was probably more beautiful than the Everett to Leavenworth Christmas tree lighting train ride. Deep glens are framed by tall sometimes snow-capped mountains. Freshwater, lochs with small villages perched along the shores. The lochs were seemingly endless. Mile after mile of water which reflected the clear blue sky.

The train would stop from time to time in one or another of the small villages. We talked about mountain inspired poetry since a friend's discretion is on the symbol of the mountain in Gaelic poetry. I found out that the pacific northwest has a poet. We came to this topic because I was complaining that the PNW had no poet like Scotland's highlands did. Gary Snyder was the one Nan pointed me towards. While we were discussing this subject, the train stopped at one of the small villages in the highlands. During this stop, a golden colored hawk flew out of the trees and perched on a pole with something in its talons; we were truly in a wild place. Then just as quick as it happened, the train lurched forward and continued on to its destination.

We arrived in An t-Oban as the sun had begun its journey to the edge of the ocean. We disembarked then walked around the small harbor to the Esplanade, which follows the coast line to the West. It took about fifteen minutes to walk to the youth hostel, which is an old mansion next to the cathedral of St. Columba. The cathedral is a large bulk of a building with the bell tower next to the sea. It is mostly square so it does not have the grace of some of the other churches in Scotland.

We checked in and the man behind the counter showed us where the dining room and kitchen were. We then dropped our stuff off in each of our rooms. The woman's section was on the third floor and the men's section was on the second floor. The room I stayed in had five bunk beds in it. There was another person's bag in the bottom bunk across from mine. Once we returned to the main hall we went down to the Oban Inn for dinner. We went up stairs to the lounge since Nan does not like the slot machines which seem to be in every Pub from Edinburgh to John O'Groats. They had just opened so we waited while the woman behind the counter set up. We ordered food and a friend of the bar keep came and they talked while we ate. Since we needed food for that night and in the morning, we asked them how long the Tesco's stayed open. After eating, we went down to the Tecso's. The Tesco's in Oban is much different than in Edinburgh. This was first much larger then the one in the center of Edinburgh. Second, this one had a clothing and music section like Fred Meyer's. We got food then went back to the hostel.

We arrived back at the hostel and got some of the brochures there to figure out what we were going to do the next day. Nan went to talk to the guy at the desk. After a while, I went out to see what they were talking about. We talked about where we were from and how empty the hostel was. We decided to go out to Mull then to Tobermory. The day after the next. We decided to stay in town and explore stuff for the next day.

I woke up about 8:45 am and got dressed. I went down to meet Nan in the reception area. She was not there so I started to watch TV in the lounge. It was the most TV that I have watched since I arrived. After about thirty minutes or so she finally poked her head in to the room. She explained that she had over slept a bit. That was fine since I was in no hurry.

We then fixed breakfast with tea, scones, strawberry preserves from France, orange juice, and double thick cream. We then decided to go to McCraig's folly, which is a half finished coliseum on Oban hill over-looking the town. We had to take this rambling walk up the hill. The signs did not exactly give the most efficient route to the monument. They have a very nice park in the center of the folly. We sat and watched the fishing ships and ferry boats glide in and out of the harbor. Three young men arrived shortly after we did. They looked like they were up to no good. After a little while we started walking around the inside of the structure. We found a platform which was attached to the outer edge of the building. We walked out to find the young men. They looked as if they wanted to be anywhere but we were not so they left and we walked around a bit more then took our own leave.

We then went to a tea room near the center of town. They were having a private Christmas party so we could only have tea. We talked to the hostess for a while about places to see in the US.

After that, we went around the charity shops looking for sweaters and a hat for me since I did not have one and it was cold, raining, and blowing. We ended up finding a pure cashmere sweater for four pound fifty. I got a hat for about the same at Pitlochry Knitwear.

We then returned to the hostel, after obtaining an alarm clock and a deck of playing cards. We fixed and ate lamb tikka marsala and cleaned up. We then began playing cards. After a few rounds, we decided to move into the lounge. Another person staying at the hostel then came in to watch the evening news. This was the same man whom was staying in the dorm with me. A female friend of his came into the lounge while he watched the news.

The capture of Saddam Hussein was then announced. He began ranting and raving that all Americans were evil and that Saddam was a saint because he was the only one to stand up to the Americans. He not only went after the administration but he said that our lifestyle and our people were evil. His friend tried to temper his invectiveness but that only drove him to more wild claims.

It was the largest test of my resolve ever in my life. To my credit, I kept my mouth shut as he kept talking. He knew that we were Americans because he had been around while we were talking. I think now that he wanted to get a rise out of us but we were not going to give him the satisfaction. Throughout our stay there, he never openly acknowledged our presences there nor did he talk to us directly.

After a while he left the room, we kept playing until the end of the news report. I suggested that we go out for a drink at the Oban Inn. We talked about the crazy guy at the hostel while we walked to the Pub. We spent some time there then returned to the hostel.

When we returned, I heard the manager talking to him (the crazy guy) and he was still ranting about it. I went to bed shortly after checking my email since the ferry left at 8:00 am the next morning. I discovered upon entering my room that the crazy guy's stuff was gone. It seems that the manager had moved him since there was plenty of room at the hostel.

I woke up at about 6:45 am even though we could not get the alarm clock to work correctly. I went down stairs and waited for Nan. She appeared just as I was sending the morning manager up to wake her. We packed a breakfast to take with us of apple pie, hard boiled eggs, and scones.

The ferry was ready for passengers when we arrived. So we boarded right away. We stood on the deck while they loaded the cars for our journey to Mull. Once all the cards had loaded we descended to the cafeteria for some tea to have with our breakfast. We looked out the window as the ferry went out to sea. It was dark so you could not see much but by the time was reached Mull (about a 45 minute journey) it was light enough to see.

We disembarked at Craigmore and head over to the buses, which were lined up perpendicular to the dock on the left hand side as you disembark the ferry. We boarded the bus for Tobermory. An older couple joined us and we waited a few more minutes. Then we started to Tobermory.

The road leaving Craigmore is a "duel carriage way" as they say here or in the American way a "two-lane" road. After about 500 yards, it turns into a single lane road with small pull-outs so that people can pass. Our first stop was Fishnish, which is just a ferry berth with a fish and chip shop. Hardly what I would call a town. While we waited for the ferry from Salen, another bus arrived and another couple got off the bus then got on our's. Only in Scotland would another bus company drive people who missed their bus to Fishnish just so that could go to Tobermory. In any case, we continued down the single track road. Along the way, we were going around a blind corner when a small blue car flew around it. It was amazing how we did not cream that car. We then continued until we reached Salen (yes, there are two salens in the Western Isles). There another man go on the bus with us. He seemed to know the bus driver quite well. He was probably a local.

We finally reached Tobermory and the bus dropped us off in the lower part of town which abuts the harbor. The lower part of town has all of the buildings painted bright primary colors. It makes for a very cute scene. We walked down the main street and looked at all the shops. We stopped for a while in the town's gift shop which is located in an old converted church. I got some postcards to send home from there while Nan got some other items. When we were at the counter Nan could not find her twenty pound note in her jacket. She finally had to pay buy debit card. About thirty seconds after that she found it. We then turned the rest of the harbor-line. Believe me there is not much to it but it has a charm that will never leave you. Especially, if you grew up in a small town like I did.

We then took the Argos park walk which goes along the coast-line North of the town. There are beautiful streams just like you would think of when you think of the Highlands of Scotland. We walked for a while then sat on a picnic table which looked out over the other island in the area. While we were sitting there, two women and some dogs walked behind us. Of course, the dogs had to find out who we were and what interesting smells we brought with us. One of the dogs was so excited that he climbed up Nan and licked her face. Fortunately, they left me alone.

We walked for a while longer than returned to have lunch at the Pub. Some locals were sitting around talking. It was interesting to eavesdrop on their conversation. After we were finished eating, one of the young women said that she was afraid of learning how to drive. I told her what it was like driving on I-405 in Seattle. I don't think that made her any more willing to learn how to drive.

After all of that, we went down to the post office to mail off our postcards. It took us a while to figure it out but we got the stamps we needed. We then went over to the Tobermory Chocolate store (if you want to help out a small community in the Westen Isles and get some good chocolate too, please check them out) and had hot chocolate. We listened to two men who came in for some tea. After talking for a while, one turns to the other and says, "Shut up Steve can't you see I'm working?" While he sips his tea. I nearly fell out of my chair.

We stayed for a while after the two guys left in their van, which was parked just outside the shop. We left then started to beach comb because the tide was out. There was a ship wreck in that area a long time ago and the ceramic cookware still washes up on the beach. We found a few interesting bits but it wasted a good half a hour because there is not much beach to speak of.

we decided at that point to climb up to the upper town. The views were great of the islands just off the harbor. The houses are separated from the cliff down to the mail street by the road. Just on the edge of the cliff are the gardens which are owned along with the houses. We had a great time analyzing the owners of the houses by the state of their gardens. We then descended to the main street after walking west along the cliff.

We then walked along the mail street one more time before we made our way to the bus. On the way, we ran into the bus driver who brought us there in the morning. He told us just to get on the bus and he would be along shortly. Again only in Scotland would they tell you how to get on the bus and leave the keys in the ignition and fully expect that the bus and the keys would still be there while he got a cup of tea.

We started to talk to the older couple who had come out with us. They were from the North of England and were looking to retire to Tobermory. The man had been there thirty years ago and he said that it had not changed since. There is something to be said for consistency. He was a police officer who was about to retire. He did not have much nice things to say about the immigrants in his area. He also love the American South, which for me was a bit disconcerting. In due time, the driver showed up after much talk about food.

The ride back to Craigmore was rather uneventful. Some sheep had found a hole in the fence and were walking along the side of the road. I, like the way there, was falling asleep. It seems that the rolling hills that the single track road goes over put me to sleep. I was having a hard time staying awake.

We boarded the ferry back to Oban. Again uneventful and we were both quiet for the duration of the trip. The ocean was a bit calmer and it was dark by the time we got underway so you could only see the sole lights of houses on the different islands as we made our way back.

Once we got back to Oban was walked back to the youth hostel then walked back to Tesco's for some food. We ended up talking to the girl cashier and she had lived in Nebraska. You are never quite sure who you are going to run into on your travels. We went back and cooked food with some Australians from Sydney.

After we ate, we broke out the whiskey which was had bought earlier in our trip. While we drank, we played cards. It was a very silly evening by the time we finished the three small bottles. We decided that we liked the "Highland Park" 18 year from Orkney the best. You can get it at OddBins for forty-one pound fifty pence. If I had any more, I probably would have had a hang-over the next day

I woke up at what they clock said was 9:00 am. When I got down stairs, Nan had already finished breakfast and it was 10:00 am. Well that clock sucked anyway. I had breakfast and checked email. We then took our bags to the train station and left them in a locker while we toured town one last time. We ended up having lunch at the Lorne Pub, which was recommended by the manager at the hostel. It was definitely well loved by the locals. We made our way to the book store and spent time browsing the books there. After exhausting the selection, we made our way back to the train station to make sure my pocket-watch was on the same time as the trains. We then went over to the fish stand, which Nan swears is one of the best in Scotland. We got a couple of sandwiches for the train. They gave us one more for free since they were closing in a few minutes.

We then went back to the station to await our train. After a short while, we boarded for the ride to Glasgow. It was pitch black so there was not much to see while we returned. I started to write the report you see before you and Nan drifted in and out of sleep. We did play a few rounds of cards while we rode home. I have to say that traveling by train is one of the best ways to travel. You are not cramped like on a bus or in a car and you don't have to concentrate on the road.

When we reached the outskirts of Glasgow, we gathered our things since we had a tight connection with the train to Edinburgh. We got of the train and ran up to the board to see what platform our train would be on. The train was there but the platform was not listed. We asked an attendant and they said it would be up in a few minutes. We waited. The train showed up late on the board. Then they moved the time of departure. When a train finally came they called for paramedics to the train. They then said that they train was delayed indefinitely. A few minutes later they cancelled the train.

The next train was only a few minutes away. We all ran over to its platform. Everyone packed on the train. Nan and I were lucky that we got seats. Many had to stand even as people got off at Bathgate.

We finally arrived safe and sound in Edinburgh. While walking home to Mylnes' Court, I saw some small channels of water. Thinking that this was strange since it was not raining, I looked up and to the left where the source of the water was only to find a man pissing on the side of a building in an alley way. He was fully lit and fully visible. Home sweet home where they piss in the streets. After a pit stop of my own at Nan's apartment, I went home and after a quick update on my blog, I went to bed myself.

posted by Chris  #6:28 PM | 0 comments |