Edinburgh Travel Journal: Day 4

This week I am publishing my travel journal from our trip to Edinburgh which  took place this past week, June 1-8, 2015. I am posting my journal entry and pictures from each day in chronological order.

While Wendy slept I found my way to Starbucks on the Royal Mile to journal and have some coffee. I stopped by the La Barantine patisserie on Victoria Street to grab Wendy a chocolate croissant on my way back to the hotel. Upon my return Taylor texted to ask if I wanted to have coffee with her. We met me back at the patisserie for a cup of tea while Wendy got ready and we enjoyed a little father-daughter time together. It was nice to just sit and chat. We’re blessed to have enjoyed Skype and FaceTime calls this year, but there’s nothing like talking in person (especially when you’re in a quaint French patisserie in Scotland)!

Today was the day Taylor and planned a little adventure for us outside of Edinburgh. It was cloudy with light rain as we headed to the Waverly transport station to get tickets to Stirling, a medeival town and hour’s train ride west of Edinburgh. Stirling was an important gateway town to the highlands marked with a castle atop its prominent castle hill. It was about a 45 minute train ride and it was still raining when we arrived. We immediately walked to the bus station that was next to the train station and grabbed a bus for a 20 minute ride outside Stirling to the small town of Doune, home to Doune Castle where Monty Python and the Holy Grail was filmed.

The Stirling bus station reminded me a lot of the Greyhound station in Des Moines growing up. Unlike the major metropolitan transport stations we’d gotten used to, there was no doubt that we were in small town Scotland. There was a tiny corner news stand and very little cafe. The station was filled with locals. There was one gentleman who was mostly deaf (you could tell by the huge hearing aid behind each ear) who was conversing in his thick Scottish accent with such ear splitting volume that I think you’d soon join him in deafness if you stood to near for too long.

The bus to Doune was not going to arrive for about 20 minutes so we took our leave of our loud Scottish friend in the terminal and waited by the stop, under the awning. The bus ride to Doune was another 30 minutes and I think both Wendy and I were wondering, “where in the world are we going?” Taylor had never actually been to Doune Castle, so we were kind of flying blind. When we got off the bus Taylor asked the driver about where to get to the castle. An older local gentleman who was departing the bus gave us instructions though I’m not exactly sure what he said given his thick Scottish brogue. Nevertheless, he pointed down the street and mentioned something about signs.

We walked in the rain through the picturesque little town, following the somewhat cryptic signs pointing us towards the castle. We found ourselves at a small gate that opened onto a field. We were laughing so hard at this point because we didn’t have the slightest idea where we were going and the idea that we would have to walk through an unmarked field continued to fuel our fears that we would end up completely lost in an on-going downpour (with only one umbrella). To make matters worse, there were two paths in the field with no markings as to which of the two led to the castle! We chose the left path which turned out to be the correct path which led to another gate though the path continued past it and we weren’t sure if the gate led out of the field toward the castle of if we should continue on through the field. We could kind of see the castle through the trees, so made our way out the gate and down a steep embankment to the road which led to the castle.

It was cold and rainy as we made our way up to the castle. Seemed apropos for some reason. We paid for tickets and our audio tour. The small personal players with headphones included narration by Terry Gilliam of Monty Python. It was actually quite entertaining and he described where different scenes were filmed. We did a lot of laughing and when the audio players cut to some of our favorite parts of the movie I’m sure that the three of us were quite a site laughing and mouthing along with the timeless lines.

The castle was a lot of fun and we enjoyed the relative freedom you had to explore. I was surprised by how big it was and how much of the castle was open to explore. This included long winding stone staircases that led up to the battlements. We agreed that they would never have had so much of the castle open to tourists in the States for fear of a turned ankle and a lawsuit. The castle, despite the difficulty in getting to it (and perhaps, in part, because of it), ended up being one of our favorite experiences of the trip. By the time we finished our audio walking tour the sun was trying to come out and the rain finally subsided, allowing us to walk around the exterior of the castle and enjoy the breathtaking view of the Scottish countryside.

“My dad introduced Monty Python and the Holy Grail to Madison and I at a very young age and it has been quoted in our household for years. Therefore, its no surprise that I particularly loved the day trip we took to Doune Castle just outside of Stirling where most of Monty Python and the Holy Grail was filmed. The audio tour was equally historic and hilarious. Plus, it completely made my day that they had coconut halves available so you could gallop around and re-enact scenes.” – Taylor (from her blog: Love, Taylor)

We retraced our steps back to town and Taylor said she was hungry. We just happened, however, to catch our bus coming up to the bus stop and so ran to grab it while we could and headed back to Stirling. Upon arrival we hiked up the quaint medeival streets towards the castle, stopping at Holy Rude (derived from an old word meaning “cross”) church. The church has been there since the early middle ages and the roof is made of hewn oak timbers held by oak pins. The stained glass windows were gorgeous.

We enjoyed a stroll through the ancient graveyard and made our way to a “high place” with a commanding view of the surrounding region. It was so beautiful. We then started making our way back down the hill. There was an art center we were going to visit, but time was slipping by, Taylor was hungry, and a quick view of the art center’s website revealed that it wasn’t something we were really interested in seeing. So, Taylor stopped by the shopping mall to grab a quick bite to eat on the train, we used the loo, and caught the 4:07 back to Edinburgh.

We hiked back to the hotel room for a little breather and enjoyed a glass of wine in the room as we watched Serena Williams play in the French Open for a bit. We then made our way up to the top of Victoria Street to Pizza Express for dinner. Despite the name sounding like a fast food joint, Pizza Express is kind of an upscale pizza place where Taylor could get gluten free pizza. We were all hungry from our day’s adventure and enjoyed a leisurely meal together. We each ordered a pizza along with a bottle of wine and an appetizer of “dough balls.” We treated ourselves to a yummy dessert to cap off our adventurous day.

It has been enjoyable to catch up with Taylor. It’s been such a transitional year for all of us. For Taylor, it’s been a year of post-divorce searching, grad school, and blazing a new path in life with all the excitement, anxiety, and fear that goes with it. For Wendy and me it has been a stressful year of building, work challenges, and new directions. So, amidst the sightseeing we have really enjoyed just catching up and talking about our respective life journeys.

By the time we were finished with dinner we were all beat. We made plans for climbing Aurthur’s Seat on Friday morning. Taylor hugged us good night and caught the bus back to her flat while Wendy and I walked back to our hotel. I wrote a few postcards, but it wasn’t long before we were both sound asleep.

Edinburgh Travel Journal: Days 1-2
Edinburgh Travel Journal: Day 3
Edinburgh Travel Journal: Day 4
Edinburgh Travel Journal: Day 5
Edinburgh Travel Journal: Day 6
Edinburgh Travel Journal: Day 7

Edinburgh Travel Journal: Day 3

This week I am publishing my travel journal from our trip to Edinburgh which  took place this past week, June 1-8, 2015. I am posting my journal entry and pictures from each day in chronological order.

Day 3 (June 3, 2015)

We were on our own as Taylor was working at Steampunk Coffee in North Berwick where she’s been employed for most of the year. It was probably a good thing as Wendy and I were still quite tired from our travels and slow to get moving.

I was up before Wendy and went to the hotel cafe downstairs in a search for coffee. Unlike the U.S. where coffee is considered a God-given right and every hotel has fresh coffee in the lobby for free, I’ve found that in the UK they make it really hard to get just a cup of coffee in the morning. You have to go to the cafe and be seated where they will be happy to provide coffee as part of the expensive continental breakfast or bundled with your ordered meal, but just a cup of coffee is something they don’t really do.

I journaled and checked my e-mail before returning to the room expecting that Wendy would be up and showered and ready for the day. Instead, I found her still asleep and struggling to wake up. I helped her get out of bed and into the shower and then went for a stroll while she readied herself for the day.

I walked up Victoria Street and then over to the Royal Mile. I did a little window shopping as I walked a good long ways down the mile before turning to make my way back up the other side of the street. The Royal Mile is packed with tourist shops, restaurants, whiskey shops, kilt makers, and pretty much any other kind of vendor catering to the whims of the large tourist trade. I found everything to be pretty expensive compared to the States, especially considering the exchange rate which meant that one pound cost us about $1.60 on average.

I returned to the hotel and found Wendy close to being ready. Once she was we headed out and made our way back to the Royal Mile, stopping at a small French patisserie, La Barantine, on Victoria Street to get Wendy a delicious chocolate pastry. It would prove to be a regular morning stop during our entire stay. We headed to the transit station to get our bus “ride cards” and then did some of our touristy shopping for postcards and such. I’ve been doing a little reading on my Scotch-Irish genes from my mother’s maternal great-grandfather who was a McCoy. It appears from my research that McCoy is a sept of the McKay clan and so I bought myself a McKay tartan scarf.

We toured St. Giles cathedral and I paid the 2 pounds for the right to take pictures inside. The stained glass windows were amazing as was the ornate decorative architecture. Wendy and I spent a good long time walking around and looking at everything.

We made our way up the Royal mile to Edinburgh Castle which sits on a tall hill with an expansive view of the city and the area. We opted not to spend the money to take the tour but looked around the entrance area and looked out at the scenery around.

It was getting to be mid-afternoon at this point and we were getting a little hungry. We made our way back to Grassmarket where our hotel is located and had lunch at the White Hart Inn Pub across the street where we’d had a pint with Taylor the night before. It was traditional pub fare but the food was good and they had the French Open playing on the telly. Novak Djokovich was taking it to Rafael Nadal while Andy Murray was making pretty quick work of David Ferrer.

After the leisurely lunch we walked a good hike to a Tesco grocery and got a few things to enjoy in our room. We returned to our room, stopping on the way inside an interesting little hat shop, Fabhatrix. We tried on a lot of hats and there several that looked adorable on Wendy, but we were just looking. Once back in the room we relaxed with tennis on and waited to hear from Taylor. She texted us to meet her at Waverly station at 6:15 and so we made the 15 minute hike to the station to meet her.

The weather had been much more pleasant. The sun was out most of the day with a high around 60 degrees. Wendy and I decided that Edinburgh reminds us a lot of Chicago as the wind off the North Sea feels a lot like the wind off Lake Michigan. When the sun was out it felt warm and the breeze didn’t bother us so much, but if the sun ducked behind some clouds the wind suddenly felt very chilly. I was amazed at how it could rain in fits and starts all day, even when the sun was shining.

Taylor had made reservations for us at a new restaurant called Maker’s Rest but upon our arrival and a view of the menu Taylor wondered what happened to the pizza that looked so good on their website. She inquired to find out that they changed their menu and, as the rest of the menu didn’t strike our fancy, we opted out and headed to the bus stop. Taylor led us to her favorite pub in Edinburgh, the Queen’s Arms where we had planned to have an after dinner drink. We ate there instead and were glad we did.

The Queens Arms has a warm, hospitable atmosphere and feels like a place you’d find on Diagon Alley. Edinburgh, by the way, is where J.K. Rowling lived and wrote Harry Potter, so the city is full of Harry Potter references wherever you go. The atmosphere she creates in the books in places like Hogwarts, Diagon Alley, and Hogsmead feel very reminiscent of Edinburgh.

The food was upscale pub fare. Wendy and I enjoyed some really good bread with dipping sauces (oil/vinegar, hummus, and salsa verde) which was very good. We split a delicious burger with Scottish cheddar. Taylor had some very interesting lamb bites on a bed of greens and hummus. I enjoyed a wee glass of Caol Ila  12 year single malt Scotch which was really potent, but extremely good. As with the day before we enjoyed conversation with Taylor. For me, the highlight of the week was simply to be with Taylor and to catch up on her year in Scotland. Her path has had some major twists, turns, inclines and valleys over the past couple of years and it was good just to hear her talk about the condition of her heart and how God has been growing her up. As the conversation flowed, dinner gave way to an after dinner bottle of wine and we found ourselves embraced in the Queen’s Arms a good long while that evening.

“It was really fun to have the ‘rents in the ‘burgh this past week. If you are lucky enough to know them personally, then you know that one thing they do very well is dinner. It is never a quick thing. It is an event. This is something I have especially missed about them: the way they engage in sitting around the table, filling stomachs and emptying wine glasses, laughing and sharing good conversation for hours late into the night. I was definitely thankful to partake in a lot of that while they were visiting.” – Taylor (from her blog Love, Taylor)

It was 10:30 when we finally left but the last light of day had not yet expired. The sun is up about 17.25 hours of the day at this time of year in Edinburgh which is a little hard to get used to. We walked back to the Hanover bus stop, said good night with a warm embrace and caught our respective buses. Wendy and I made it back to the hotel contentedly tired and ready for bed.

Edinburgh Travel Journal: Days 1-2
Edinburgh Travel Journal: Day 3
Edinburgh Travel Journal: Day 4
Edinburgh Travel Journal: Day 5
Edinburgh Travel Journal: Day 6
Edinburgh Travel Journal: Day 7

Carry On

From one ancestor he made all nations to inhabit the whole earth, and he allotted the times of their existence and the boundaries of the places where they would live, so that they would search for God and perhaps grope for him and find him—though indeed he is not far from each one of us. Acts 17:26-27 (NRSV)

A few weeks ago Wendy and I were driving through Des Moines and she was handling the DJ duties on the radio. Carry on My Wayward Son by Kansas came on and we rocked out to it together. A flood of memories came rushing back to me. As a boy, Kansas was my favorite rock group and I wore out the needle on my cheap record player with their albums and 45s.

One of the things that I remember loving about Kansas was the meaning I found in their lyrics. Kansas was the first group that I remember truly paying attention to the lyrics and in Kerry Livgren’s spiritual groping I found a kindred spirit.

Masquerading as a man with a reason
My charade is the event of the season
And if I claim to be a wise man,
Well, it surely means that I don’t know

On a stormy sea of moving emotion
Tossed about, I’m like a ship on the ocean
I set a course for winds of fortune,
But I hear the voices say

Carry on my wayward son
There’ll be peace when you are done
Lay your weary head to rest
Don’t you cry no more no!

As I read Paul’s message to the people of Athens, my memory was suddenly stirred to my days of spiritual groping, setting my soul’s course to seek after God in song lyrics and wherever else I might find a hint of God’s presence. As Paul testified, I eventually found that God was not as far from me as I thought. It was a cold February night in 1981 that I opened my heart and began my relationship with Jesus. I stopped groping for Him and started growing in Him. I’ve been carrying on ever since. At times I merely stumble along, but I keep pressing forward none the less.

If you’re groping, carry on. He is not as far as you think.

Greyfriar’s Tombstone

Greyfriar's TombstoneCall me strange, but there’s something I’ve always found peaceful about a cemetery. Greyfriar’s cemetery in Edinburgh, Scotland is an amazing, picturesque cemetery with ancient tombstones and gorgeous scenery. I loved this celtic cross headstone surrounded with wild vines and set against the prison-like bars of the fence.


Edinburgh Travel Journal: Days 1-2

Over the next week I will be publishing my travel journal from our trip to Edinburgh which  took place this past week, June 1-8, 2015. I am posting my journal entry and pictures from each day in chronological order.

Days 1-2

Wendy and I left Iowa on a gorgeous, cool, early summer afternoon. We flew United out of  Des Moines to Chicago O’Hare at 2:20 p.m. Had a 2.5 hour layover in Chicago before boarding a United 757-200 for our 6:00 p.m. flight to Edinburgh. We were in the next to last row of seats but thanks to a snafu there was no third traveler in our row so we were able to spread out a bit!

We both watched movies on the way over. Wendy watched “Still Alice” and I watched “Fury.” We tried to get some sleep but were largely unsuccessful. The result was that we landed in Edinburgh and our bodies were experiencing 12:30 a.m. ready for sleep but it was 7:30 a.m. in Edinburgh and we had a full day ahead. Hoo-boy! Here we go.

It was rainy, very windy and chilly when we arrived. The airline pilot in his final comments at descent said, “If you are golfing today I hope your tee time is in the late afternoon. Otherwise, it’s going to be a very windy round!”

Wendy and I collected our luggage and took turns cleaning up a bit in the airport loo. Per the excellent, detailed instructions Taylor sent us, we grabbed a tram from the airport to St. Andrews Square. Taylor texted that she might not beat us there and to hang out in the square to wait for her. It was very windy and chilly so we took up standing behind the square’s small cafe building for a wind break. It was only a couple of minutes before we spotted Taylor running towards us. Big hugs all around. It was so good to be hugging her.

We made a generous, up-hill hike towards our hotel. We stopped at the bus terminal to get a week “ride card” but there was a long line and the computers crashed, so we opted to stop later. We walked up castle hill against the wind pulling our suitcases. It was the best workout we’d had in a long time! Dropped our suitcases off at Apex City Hotel. The hotel is on Grassmarket, an old street at the base Edinburgh Castle known for being the site where people were executed. It’s not a gorgeous street lined with pubs and restaurants. Once our bags were dropped off for safekeeping we ventured out into Edinburgh for the first time.

We were both extremely impressed with Taylor’s knowledge of the city. She was an amazing guide and seemed to know every shortcut and back alley in the city. She said that most of her friends from Edinburgh laugh at her as she knows the city better than they do. Later in the week Wendy, Taylor and I were musing about the way we travel. I tend to be given to simple exploration rather than lots of detailed preparation. Taylor said that was how she learned the city. For weeks she simply walked, and walked, and walked everywhere and explored every nook and cranny. She obviously found a lot of cool things.

Our first unexpected stop was Armstrong’s, a vintage clothing store just down the street from our Hotel. It was like a crazy, huge costume shop filled with all sorts of historic and vintage clothing from different periods. We were stunned by all that they had and had a lot of fun exploring the shop.

Our next stop was a hike through Greyfriar’s graveyard. Taylor at first was going to walk past it, and then remembered that a couple of the graves in Greyfriar’s were how J.K. Rowling named a few characters in the Harry Potter books. We went looking for them and didn’t find them, but we enjoyed walking through the graveyard. It was so interesting to look at the different gravestones. At the top of the hill outside Greyfriar’s is a statue of a small dog known as Greyfriar’s Bobby. The story goes that the dog guarded the grave of his master for 14 years until his death and the locals would feed and care for him. His statue is a popular tourist attraction now.

We walked some more and Taylor led us to Dovecot Studios which is an old bathhouse now home to one of the world’s foremost tapestry studios. Master weavers at Dovecot team with the world’s leading contemporary artists to design and make some really amazing tapestries. We started by going through the gallery and then took a break for a cup of coffee in the coffee shop. By the time we were done the observation gallery was open and we were able to walk around on a balcony that surrounds the weavers’ studio and watch them work. It was fascinating. I’ve never really considered weaving tapestries as an art medium. Shame on me. I could have sat and watched them all day.

The sun was making intermittent appearances as we made our way to the Royal Mile. I needed to exchange some currency so the Bank of Scotland referred me to an exchange on the Mile. We found it and then decided it was time for lunch. Taylor led us to a pub just off the mile called Arcade Bar, Haggis, and Whiskey House. It was a lovely little pub. Taylor and Wendy had fish n’ chips. I opted for lighter fare and had a cup of cream of garlic soup. I was SO excited to find they had Amstel Light on tap. Amstel is one of my favorite beers and you can’t find it on tap anywhere in the U.S.

Wendy and I were starting to fade and needed a little break, so we headed back to the hotel to check-in. It is a nice boutique hotel and our room was very comfortable. Wendy found the French Open tennis tournament on the telly and the three of us curled up on the king sized bed for a cat nap. Taylor introduced us to an Irish comedian on YouTube which we really enjoyed.

It was enough of a rest to give us a second wind. We headed back out to visit the Camera Obscura museum which was more fun that I thought it would be. At the top of the museum is an antique camera obscura. Mirrors and lenses mounted on top of the tower project an image of the city onto a concave table many feet below. The operator can rotate the mirror/lenses which rotates the image on the table and you get a 360 degree view of Edinburgh. Each floor from the street to the tower is filled with different optical illusions, camera tricks, and hands-on exhibits which were a blast to experience.

It was late afternoon and both Wendy and I were feeling a bit zombie-like. We stopped at the White Hart pub across from our hotel and enjoyed a pint while we sat at the bar together. It was so good just to be with Taylor and to have conversation with her. We nursed our pints as we talked. It was 7:30 p.m. and Wendy and I had essentially been up and going without sleep for about 30 hours. We hugged Taylor good-night, staggered into our hotel room, and slept for 12+ hours.

Edinburgh Travel Journal: Days 1-2
Edinburgh Travel Journal: Day 3
Edinburgh Travel Journal: Day 4
Edinburgh Travel Journal: Day 5
Edinburgh Travel Journal: Day 6
Edinburgh Travel Journal: Day 7

Contrasting Events; Contrasting Outcomes

prison2Suddenly there was an earthquake, so violent that the foundations of the prison were shaken; and immediately all the doors were opened and everyone’s chains were unfastened. When the jailer woke up and saw the prison doors wide open, he drew his sword and was about to kill himself, since he supposed that the prisoners had escaped. But Paul shouted in a loud voice, “Do not harm yourself, for we are all here.”
Acts 16:26-28 (NRSV)

Earlier in the book of Acts, Luke chronicled the story of Peter being held in prison by Herod. When an angel appeared to Peter and led in his miraculous escape Herod quickly executed all of the guards for letting Peter escape (Acts 12:19). Justice in the Roman Empire in those days was swift, severe, and not always just. If your job was to guard a prisoner and the prisoner escaped, the penalty was death.

It was interesting to read a contrasting story in this morning’s chapter about Paul and Silas being thrown into prison in Philippi. When a violent earthquake frees them to make a run for it, Paul and Silas choose to stay in prison. They were, in effect, saving the jailer’s life, and their unexpected act of grace leads to the jailer and his household choosing to become followers of Jesus.

I find myself pondering the differences and the outcomes of these two stories this morning. Peter followed the angel to freedom and all of the guards were executed. When given an opportunity for escape, Paul and Silas chose to stay as an act of love and grace towards the jailer. Why didn’t Peter stay as a witness to his captors?

The situations were different. Peter was instructed to leave by the angel and was under heavy guard. He was in Jerusalem and being persecuted by Herod who was a ruthless, violent, insane dictator. In contrast, Paul and Silas were in a relatively small backwater Greek town being held in jail with only one jailor being mentioned. The stakes were much lower and Paul held a trump card which he plays at the end of the chapter. He was a Roman citizen which came with it a host of privileges that were being denied him. Despite the momentary suffering of incarceration, Paul knew that he actually held an unknown advantage.

Along life’s road I have observed that the institutional church and many Jesus followers desire faith and life to be simple and one-size-fits-all. As I wander through God’s Message I am reminded time and time again that following Jesus isn’t always that simple. God through Paul was merciful to the Philippian jailer, but all of Herod’s guards were summarily executed. Where was the mercy for them? Different time. Different place. Different circumstance. Different stakes. Different outcome.

Today, I’m pondering the reality that God sometimes chooses to move in different ways in different times, places, and circumstances. My job is not to try and categorize, confine, and control what God will do, but be open to the fact that God, His intentions, and His actions are beyond my categorization, confine, and control. My job is, by faith and obedience, to continue following where I am led and let God work as He wills.