The British Isles

DestinationsScotlandThe British Isles

Saying goodbye

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I left the lovely place I called home for a year just as the season they call summer started to change into the chillier winds of the upcoming autumn. For the longest time, I’ve hesitated to put feelings into words into this entry just days after I had handed in the biggest work of my life (s0 far!) partly out of sheer laziness, but because of the overwhelming sadness and the newly minted loss that’s churning deep in the tummy at the moment as I type this in yet another place which I should know like the back of my hand but is still to me so foreign.

The happier memories keep coming back still – the recent and most vivid yet was the day TC and I decided to take a leisurely drive across along the Fife eastern coastal trail some time last week or so.

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It was a neat, compact trip just as we planned it that took us onto the Forth bridge and onto the East Neuk. Poor TC had to endure my whims for stopping time to time just so I could use his camera for a shot that seemed somewhat picturesque. We breezed through the quaint and pretty fishing villages under angry looking skies and blustery winds (those make fantastic pictures under the rare and occasional burst of sunlight) and finally made a photo-stop in Pittenweem, which somehow landed us in a chocolate cafe with a cup of unbelievable hot chocolate and a huge box of pralines to go.

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Well, then – who knew Cocoa tree Chocolate also had self-catering holiday flats?

Anstruther was literally a stone’s throw away in the rented but rather trusty Astra, where apparently the most famous Fish and Chips store in the UK could be found. It got TC’s finicky and reluctantly-given approval after a couple of bites, so it must be worth something, never mind the press reviews.

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St. Andrews was our last stop and a little walk down its main streets was sufficient. The Scottish equivalent of Cambridge as I would call it, minus the snobbery of the upper class. Or maybe that was just not evident in the summer absence of the above-mentioned.

And then it was my turn behind the wheel of the car: riddled by mini squabbles, a rushed 20 minutes in Dunfermline, unmarked country roads, and the most infuriating traffic I had ever encountered in the space of 45 minutes in the Edinburgh city centre.

My last week was spent in a frenzy of non-stop packing, rushing to Edinburgh Fringe Festival activities between the free slots of time, returning library books and just simply….trying to live. The crowds on the High street and the Royal Mile were obviously insane, but there were always the beloved crag trails if TC and I needed to escape the summer crowd. Climbed them again, we did, if only just to look at the sprawl of the city for the last time.

And then it was all over. We piled as much as we could into a rented red Nissan March and headed for Glasgow Airport, navigating through the treacherous road signs that confused us tremendously. But somehow we made it, with several directional scares along the way along city bypasses.

I remember little after that. The flight was god-awful, with loads of screaming children, crowded terminals and endless duty-free shops. Then came the reality check: the unfamiliar familiarity and the rush of fatigue and the tangled emotions that accompany every trip.

 

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Damaged in Newcastle

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I’m talking about my poor brolly at least, that took a fair amount of beating in the blustery winds and heavy rains that accompanied my visit down south to Newcastle – a less than perfect backdrop for the famous 7 bridges across the River Tyne.

Newcastle, suspiciously run-down and dreary from the train on a sunny day, looked like an industrial wasteland whose construction was abandoned in the 1800s after the Revolution in the rain and cloudy weather. But a step out from the Central Station and onto Grainger Street where the urban centre begins and the atmosphere as I imagine it would be minus the bad weather, would have been nothing short of electrifying.

Newcastle’s brilliant, as the Brits themselves would say. But now that its FC has been relegated for the next season, I wondered if the thrill’s diminished somewhat, judging from the tragically empty stores selling the club’s gear.

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The urban square is confusing at first, and the sheer number of shops, inter-looping shopping malls can drive one crazy. But the river Tyne provides instant navigation access, and soon I found myself trudging across the famous Tyne Bridge while wrestling the high winds and an increasingly flimsy umbrella in the hopes of visiting Baltic, the converted warehouse now a contemporary art gallery sitting at the foot of the Millenium Bridge. Essentially a glassed-up white cube many storeys high overlooking the river and its bridges, the Baltic’s views and its rotating exhibitions of the most famous names in contemporary art left me overwhelmed.

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The walk back across the river was equally excruciating and I passed a mix of Geordies (you are either cursed or blessed with that accent, depending on whose perspective you are speaking from) revelling in the rain, or looking plain miserable. From a distance, I saw a man start to strip. A stag-night party  looked as though it either started early, or ended really late when a group of males (not men) made the presumably-groom-to-be run around in the wind and rain clad only in black briefs. He returned soaking wet to hoots and cheers and most probably, yet another pint on the house for such bravery.

I boarded an incredibly filthy National Express East Coast train on the way back (coming up from London Kings Cross) where the seats in front of me were taken by American surfer-jocks who yakked non-stop in the Quiet Coach.

They were stunned speechless by the waves of the North Sea hitting the rugged coastline, and expressed it the only way they knew how:

“Wow!”

“That’s cool. That’s so cool.”

“I dare you to swim in that!”

Smirking, I simply toed off my shoes, peeled off the wet socks, dried my clammy toes and prayed that my feet smelled bad enough to make them pass out.

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Wandering (part of) the Black Country

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I found out not too long ago from a quick perusal of the trusty Lonely Planet Guidebook that the Black Country was another name for the West Midlands area of England, the blue collar championing area where the ‘real’ people toiled and laboured at work before celebrating hard in a pub with tons of beer, and spoke (according to some websites that had forums) with the ugliest accents.

A last-minute journey required me to go all the way to Walsall via Birmingham and I practically pounced on the opportunity to do something else other than travel the eastern Coast as I’ve been wont to do so much these days.

The train tickets were so costly, but still less than Flybe that went into Birmingham International – for this nearly 5-hour journey. Only when the train passed Oxenholme, Preston, and the stations in between did I realise I was so close, so close, to the Lake District but couldn’t stop there.

I was collected at Walsall’s train station by my host, an Orthodox priest who had kindly arranged accommodation for me, and insisted on paying for everything else – not normal in the country, or in the Western world, as he deemed. Walsall was anything but familiar. A high percentage of immigrants who led simple lives, working in their corner of their world.

“To die naturally is all I can ask for,” said the manager of the Indian Restaurant when we went for dinner. “After seeing my father die, my grandfather die – all of illness, best to go naturally. Best way to end life.”

It was not a perspective I am familiar with once again – dying ‘naturally’ as he said, somehow had always occurred to me as going gently into the good night. Conditioned from goodness knows where to rage against the dying of the light, this rather placid view seemed to call for all-round defiance.

The place I was to stay in for the night was an old Victorian house just behind the church, tucked away neatly deep into Walsall.

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It had a staggering number of rooms (many of them for tenants), and a slowly but surely decaying interior that made for fantastic shots. I learnt that the rooms were specifically meant for people doing church work, or had some connections with the Parish – to them, I was probably the curious outsider who did not know how to respect people’s personal stuff.

Much of the time for the best part of the 2 days, was spent just listening to the wealth of information this priest had to tell me of the Orthodox tradition and its practices. He spoke a lot, and I wondered insanely at times, if discipleship in the ancient days of the philosophers meant doing the same exact thing, just in togas and sandals.

I left for home the next day via Birmingham New Street station. The length of transit time wasn’t long, but permitted me a quick walk through the jaw-dropping shopping streets – now that was unfortunately something I could relate to better after the Walsall experience – shallowness and superficiality. But it was also overwhelmingly cosmopolitan, modern and sleek, and packed with people and the comfort of anonymity.

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An exhausting trudge through the streets lugging a laptop and my overnight stuff (enduring unpleasant verbal abuse from a mad man out of nowhere as well) later, I felt more than ready to return to Edinburgh.

Now a tiny diptych of the Theotokos and the Christ Pantokrator now sit on my work table, courtesy of my host – in faded colours, a reminder not just of these icons meant to contain the presence of their prototypes, but of the surreal experience of the Latin West meeting the ‘mysterious’ East.

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Heat in the Granite City

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Yet another train journey, in a pale, pale imitation of Paul Theroux’s penchant for them. Only that this left me with an aching bum (never mind the rather nice countryside obscured greatly by fog that lined the North Sea east coast of Scotland), and a lingering bit of train feebleness (read: motion sickness). It was however, fantastically quiet in the Quiet Coach – that’s not really the norm by the way – and I tried to pacify myself by bringing a large book to lug around in the hopes that some academic distance might be gained in recompense for taking a day trip when it seemed just unnecessary.

“Did you read about us?” trilled the lady inspector as she made her way down the carriage. “We’re busted. The government’s got us.” A fantastically fatalistic way of beginning a journey to the Granite City – or Aberdeen.

Then came the train driver, who made a woefully funny announcement which I think only tickled my funny bone as the train pulled into Inverkeithing.

“Ladies and gentlemen…passengers in Coach B are requested to alight from other coaches. This is due to the national express train being longer than the platform.”

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Britain is in the middle of a sweltering heatwave, and for some insane reason,  a city as far north as Aberdeen wasn’t spared the heat and humidity, made worse by granite, granite and more granite. Stately buildings vie for visual priority, and seem determined to create an urban jungle sort of beauty on its own aesthetic terms. It makes for a strange feel though, almost Nordic, but not quite.

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Travel guides don’t seem to be able to know what exactly to say about its atmosphere, industrial, made rich and thriving by its night life and North Sea oil industry. Union street is where the visitors naturally head for, a long, long shopping street to indulge every fashionista – but without the crowds of London or Edinburgh or Glasgow. To my disbelief, I had never seen Primark so empty. H+M was in comparison, dull with the lack of people around. People seemed to have forgotten that Topshop was smack in the centre of it all. Even the Scottish accent mellows out here, vowels pitching and rounding and flattening when you last expect it.

But I loved it all – what do I not, really? There wasn’t much to do except to duck in and out of shops, wandering in the tiny streets off the arterial one, and popping into the Art Gallery. Somehow that passed the 5 hours rather easily that I had there.

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Elitist Boundaries

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The airport bus was late, so the irate faces of the would-be passengers told me. The driver however, did apologise for the lateness, on the grounds of “people not being able to drive properly”. And then it was yet another 50 minutes from London Stansted to the town centre.

Cambridge seems to typify the posh bit of the so-called ‘Englishness’.

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I found that its open spaces achingly beautiful, its grounds almost sacred (almost like Edinburgh with Hyde Park built in) but infuriatingly elitist, its city centre small and after a while…dare I say..boring.Punting is the highly-rated pastime and the order of the day. One punter tried to imitate a Venetian gondolier’s sense of romance (and failed miserably) by singing a cloister song in Latin.

Maybe boredom really does drive one to do crazy stuff.

Many colleges were closed because of exams and the more famous ones like Kings College and Trinity College, now charge for admission because of the wealth of history they carry and the number of tourists who regularly flock to soak it all in – those buggers.

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But with so much history and such academic vibes floating around, the tourists keep coming and will definitely pay, at least that’s what Archway Bed and Breakfast’s owner Mrs Skingley says. I was given a room that overlooked their gorgeous garden, courtesy of her husband. It was definitely nicer than what I had expected, and rightly so, seeing as the hostel I was supposed to be putting up at, had actually caught fire the day before  in a case of suspected arson.

By the time the next day rolled around, I had probably covered its centre 4 times by foot, and have entered and exited its circular core as many times as it has its entrances. (The heavy rain made it even more English-ly unpleasant) But this trip was after all, meant to be a research trip and there I was, standing at the cusp of …well, I hoped desperately that I wouldn’t embarrass myself after having caught a bad throat infection the day before. I croaked loudly miserably – it was toadlike, I swear – , testing the voice many times during the morning, wishing for some kind of a healing miracle.

I resolutely marched down to Huntingdon Road (where the famous professor RC and his equally famous wife live, both of whom teach in Cambridge’s department of classics), only to find the interview interrupted by a security set-up man. Their house had been burgled and in Cambridge, so said the prof, “they go after computers”. I was ushered into his study – an amazingly large room with wall to wall bookshelves and a harpsichord – and was surprised to see how spry he was with a computer despite his advanced age. He said he was just starting to learn the harpsichord, and had to practice everyday.

Talking to him was like talking to an encyclopaedia. I just couldn’t imagine the amount that his mind holds, and how much the years of study have added on. His wife, a sharp-tongued, somewhat brassy and confident, well-spoken middle-aged (and rather intimidating) woman with no qualms about swearing, walked in half-way and demanded his opinion about the security man.

I think I am starting to become her tentative fan. Let me read her blog first and then decide from there.

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A better version of London

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The Travel Companion (TC) was with me once again this month, and we decided to make the 5-hour train journey to London from Edinburgh. I was adamant that he should be the one to write this entry because our last trip to London last December was pretty much accidental. My own memories of London spent in the summer of 2007 were exceptionally good, and I had desperately hoped that TC would have at least enjoyed that same privileged experience which I had.

This meant packing a heck of a lot of activities in the 3 days we were there (the majority of them consisting of visiting galleries in the day, in between sightseeing, and watching West End plays at night) and TC surprised me by enjoying the gallery visits as much as I needed to look at them for work’s sake.

It was even more pleasantly surprising to learn that TC had developed a fondness for art by Titian and Jacopo Bassano. In fact, he could not stop exulting their artistic techniques and the textures, happily stepping into the Scottish National Gallery after we returned to look at more.

Here, recounted in TC’s own words, are his feelings and memories –  eccentric, weird, mutedly funny and sometimes plain cynical.

It all started with a rush – which pretty much characterised all of our trips.

The journey to the train station consisted of The Babe (TB) and I running through the streets of Edinburgh to the train station, in pelting snow.

“Great”, I thought to myself. “A brilliant way to change my impression of London”. For those wondering why the title is what it is, my first visit to London was an absolute nightmare. On my way out of Edinburgh at the end of last year, my flight was cancelled and I was rudely diverted to Heathrow (which I had tried to avoid due to its infamous reputation for screwing up flights and luggage – and now to no avail). What followed was a mad dash from gate to counter to counter with an ill TB in tow, as one thing after another went wrong until both of us nearly ended up spending the night sleeping on the floor in Heathrow.

I decided there and then, that I was never going to watch the Amazing Race ever again, having just lived through it in the worst possible way. We eventually ended up getting back to our intended destination one day late, with our luggage still in limbo in Heathrow. Having decided that this first, foul tasting morsel of London was not a fair impression, I therefore declared this trip to be the “good” version of London. Thus far, the weather did not augur well.

As the National Express East Coast moved from Scotland to England (Berwick upon Tweed, Newcastle, York, Durham, Doncaster, Peterborough, and finally, London), the weather actually improved. Instead of the expected dull, dreary grey skies topped with steady drizzles, the sun actually made a rare appearance. By the time we reached King’s Cross/St Pancras, it was evident that the weather was doing its penitent best to improve my impression of London.

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1. By and large, transport seemed decent. The tube was, predictably, small, crowded and expensive with the occasional line breakdown (we had to make 2 transfers on 3 lines to get to our hotel because the line we needed to take was down for maintenance). It was fast, if nothing else. We soon discovered that taking certain buses at the right time of day was much cheaper and a much more pleasant way to travel – route directions were well laid out and easy to follow.

2. London House Hotel lived up to its reputation. The room was clean and fairly comfortable, the staff friendly, and breakfast was decent (although not fantastic). The only quibble I had was the noise from the workmen and other vehicles on the lane just below my room, a compromise for price and a central location in London (we stayed near Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens).

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3. Oxford Street had its range of interesting shops. Never much of a shopaholic myself, I nonetheless discovered the wonders of Primark. I ended up buying a number of things which cost a total of about 20 quid. At such prices, the shop was an absolute madhouse of people from various countries. TB and I ended up returning in the morning in order to get any shopping done at all. As usual, the stuff we needed to find was in fact, way nearer than we needed to go.

4. Our trip to two museums had mixed outcomes. The National Gallery was quite a surprise for me. The amount of famous paintings left me a bit stunned. It was rather surreal. I found myself standing next to the real Sunflowers by Van Gogh. I nearly ended up slapping myself to ensure that I was not dreaming. What I also discovered was that the various paintings by famous artists actually were in vivid colours. Prior to this, my visit to the Uffizi gallery in Florence left me convinced that the old masters only painted in a dull olive green and dirty yellow, with a very occasional grudging blue. I had just realised that the lazy buggers in Florence never cleaned or restored anything.

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The British museum, on the other hand, was overrun with tourist groups and school children on tour. The quality and variety of the exhibits on display was unquestionable. However, the fact that virtually everything was probably looted left an unpleasant taste in my mouth. With the crowds filling nearly every corner (they all showed a fascination with ancient Egypt), TB and I decided to leave there early, taking off for the customary sights of Westminster and the (gag) London Eye.

5. Meals were a strange thing. We went from eating takeaways at a kebab store to having lunch at a small quaint café frequented by locals.

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6. We naturally paid homage to Fortnum & Masons and Twinings.

I suppose London did its best to redeem itself in my eyes. I can say that this really was, London (good version).

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Englishmen in (Old) York

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I decided that England is a dreadfully dismal place to be in the whole of God’s cheery earth, as the National Express East Coast wound it way southwards towards York. Clear skies in Edinburgh soon became a memory as the train chugged through England – and fog intuitively seemed to roll in at the Scottish borders after Berwick-upon-Tweed, hugging the coast line and passing Holy Isle en route to Newcastle, Durham, Darlington and finally, York.

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Even the weather hates the English, I thought childishly. Thankfully the 2.5 hour-long journey to York was mostly without incident, save for screaming children who got excited over sheep and inconsiderate parents sitting in the quiet coach. I gratefully got off the train, straight into the fog and right into the old town of York. Light, misty rain followed soon after. Despite the abysmal weather, York has history spilling out from its very name, and admittedly does pack quite a punch. 3-miles worth of the York walls still encircle the old town, and a short walk around half of it (they are actually wide enough for running on them) gave me the view that the Romans, Vikings, Anglo Saxons, and Normans had as well.

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A detour en-route to the old town took me along those walks, past Micklegate, and past the last bridge across the river Ouse, and finally into the heart of the town, where all the shopping is concentrated on Coney street and the lanes that grow haphazardly around it.

York Minster, a gothic cathedral that rivals Cologne, dominates the town, and stands at the end of the spidery tourist roads.

It so happened that my day visit coincided with the Jovik Viking Festival, a week’s worth of brutal Viking debauchery (and some educational talks for good measure) which I strangely did not get to experience as all the exciting events will only be taking place in the weekend. Even the queue to the Jorvik theme-park museum (which promises an actual reconstruction of Viking life in the 10th century right down to its cesspits) was regretfully too long – in winter. One takes what one gets – a small Viking stand near the Jorvik Museum that is meant for educating children about Viking daily life.

Even the obligatory ghost tours start only at night. Instead, I found myself walking through a farmer’s market, and nursing a necessary hot cup of tea while resting the legs in a bookshop/cafe combination along Micklegate.

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In a town of ancient history, archaeology and artefacts, perhaps the biggest irony was the stroll through York Gardens, around ruins of St. Mary’s Abbey that led to the city art gallery.

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Winter of (Dis)content

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TC and I congratulated ourselves on the relatively fuss-free and brilliant KLM internet check-in procedure as we were ensconced in the Airport Shuttle (also pleased that the driver found the pick-up location) en-route to Edinburgh Turnhouse Airport, replete with our bagfuls of gifts and other stuff sitting behind us.

Once more, the security checks and baggage drops seemed effortless, as we found a nook adjacent to the gate that had reclining chairs on which no one seemed willing to lie. Near-slumberous repose overtook us, until an announcement for our flight woke us into anticipation, and catapulted us into dread and unprecedented panic as we were told that this flight to Amsterdam had been cancelled due to technical faults – its obvious repercussion being that we would miss our long-haul connection back.

A horrendously long queue formed quickly behind the KLM ticket desk, whose harried and hassled staff worked to sort out 105 different connections that arose from this cancellation. A young man behind us was obviously upset at having missed his flight as well to the same place we were flying back to, and spoke with expletives peppering every sentence as he made call after call in escalating desperation, seeking other alternative flights.

A 90-minute wait in the ticket desk queue had us re-scheduled on a BMI Flight to London Heathrow, which would thereafter give us a 45-minute to an hour’s dash to another Terminal to catch the British Airways (BA 11) flight back. BMI brought us to Heathrow with no issues, or so we thought (having passed through Edinburgh’s security yet again). A 10-minute bus-ride from Terminal 1 to 4 led to a mad dash to a premier lounge that told us the BA 11 gate was closed and a boarding pass might possibly be obtained at the gate itself – and the outcome speaks for itself – where the flight was fully booked, and the computer system had either apparently bumped us off, or we were in fact, never really booked on BA 11 at all.

The hunt for KLM’s Heathrow office began before the office shut down for the night, in a version of what TC described as “The Amazing Race gone so terribly wrong”, taking us through wrong turns, closed offices, false directions, a reverse route through the surly immigration desk, (telling our story as we go along, each step lengthening it all the more) explaining why we are going through customs not having left the UK at all, and finally, the ticket desk in the departure hall.

The explanation of the missteps so far (that was starting to become the default explanation to every person we met) ensued once again.

The customer service officer booked a room with breakfast in the Hilton Heathrow without preamble, an admission that nothing more could be done for the night, and she was gone for an amazingly long time after which she had arranged everything rather pleasantly for us. Possibly pitying our ragged, vagabond state, she frankly told us that Edinburgh Airport made no mistake in the booking, but as all airlines are overbooked, British Airways had given up our seats as we had probably reached the gate too late.

An available flight next morning was to be our lucky card. TC was grudgingly impressed with the overhaul of the BA/QF flights, and while griping about the recent safety record (or lack thereof), admitted that the leg room and the entertainment system were decent – until we were told by the pilot rather apologetically that it wasn’t working. Only 3 movies could be shown at a time and while TC busied himself with “You Don’t Mess with the Zohan”, the only excerpt I watched throughout the long, long flight was the last 20 minutes of “Kung-Fu Panda”.

Our bags’ location however, remains a mystery still after enquiring exhaustively at every turn.

Commiserating people have come and gone, but it was horrifyingly mind-warping to hear the family talk about this absolute nightmare as if it were a ‘good’ learning experience.

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Out of Skye

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In many ways we were anxious to retrace our route back to Invergarry to finally see the landscape in the daylight, and take in all that we missed on the way up to Skye. The car was frosted over and we realised that for much of the day temperatures would hover at -3 to -1 deg under the deceptively sunny skies.

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In many ways, we weren’t disappointed. Skye’s Cuillin Hills (its Himalaya lowland equivalent) dominated the Southern landscape as we headed towards Kyle of Lochalsh and the Skye bridge. I alternated between marvelling loudly at the hills and protesting in fright as TC wrestled with slow vans, Royal Mail trucks and annoying drivers.

Back on the mainland, Eilean Donan castle’s (literally: Island of Donan Castle) romantic air was spoilt by the reconstruction of its bridge, but its location on the picturesque Loch Duich made it a breathtaking stretch to drive through.

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And then it was back up into Glen Garry, the scenic route that was covered in snow, onto Dalwhinnie for lunch, a place people stop over for its whisky distillery more than anything else. It was from Invergarry to Spean Bridge that our route differed – this time to Dalwhinnie, down to Pitlochry, Perth, Dunfermline, the Forth Bridge down to Edinburgh.

The default mode of stopping and taking more shots kicked in.

It was an organic cafe – something TC has always sniffed at – but it offered all the fuel our bodies needed for the rest of the way home. The photo-taking pretty much stopped after Dalwhinnie when we got onto the M9 back to Edinburgh – both exhilarating and terrifying to drive and overtake at 140 km/hr.

Of course, the trip would not have been complete without yet another round of getting lost in Edinburgh itself.

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Skye unravelled

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The morning in Portree began with a frenzied photo-taking session of the harbour from the room window.

Sated with Charlotte’s vanilla plums and the generous breakfast a little later, Bill proceeded to tell us that hordes of tourists queue up in front of their door, taking photos of the harbour.

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“The second game we play is figuring out where they come from,” he smiled in glee.

Breakfast was heavy, and we were soon on our way once more. A855 towards Staffin from Portree is a single carriageway (and at times a single road!), and an RBS truck and other larger vehicles hilariously overtook our leisurely romp in the Vectra as they looked in danger of tipping sideways.

I finally understood why so many people laud the ethereal light and its shadow-effects on Skye.

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The Trotternish peninsula’s coastal drive exceeded our expectations, and we marvelled at the unfairness of the location of some Leadership training camp in Staffin as we made our way up the hairpin turns of the Quiraing, an spectacular and alien landscape of rock formations, stopping to guess at the kind of animal that could have made bean-like droppings. Somehow, the occasional scatalogical nature of our conversations never did diminish.

My words do the pictures no justice. We continued around the peninsula, and the highland bulls finally came into view. It excited me greatly, and TC was highly disturbed by my ‘unholy fascination’ and excitement with them.

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Lunch took place at Dunvegan Hotel (we were the only visitors in this low season) and in the setting sun at 2pm, after which it was a short route to Dunvegan Castle, the traditional seat of the Macleod Clan for several centuries.

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But we had more to look. Up from Dunvegan Castle lay a dirt track road to Claigan that was supposed to lead to Coral Beach, something that Charlotte promised was a nice and easy walk. What she did not mention however, was that it seemed to be a shingle beach and its walking track smelled overwhelmingly of dung.

“Gallantry is dead,” I remarked casually as TC hopped past a stream and ambled on. He turned immediately and grimaced, holding out his hand.

“That was just once! All the other times I did so, it went unnoticed!” He protested gamely.

The setting sun promised good pictures, but also meant that we couldn’t finish the walk in order to hit the road back in time. It was only later when we were back in Edinburgh did we realise Coral Beach had indeed a sandy portion, but we needed to walk 2 miles to reach it.

Bill commented that it was “quite a drive” that we had done for the day. Indeed it was – the route back was a single track road for 9 miles, a rather remote area uphill on which we saw a passing taxi (!), a lone walker and several other trucks.

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