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Hello Scotland!

Aberdeen, Scotland

Aberdeen, Scotland

I have arrived in Scotland!

The Journey

From Jeju Island I flew to Seoul where I spent one very luxurious night in a hotel room, my first non-hostel experience in a month.  Having my own space is not something I will ever take for granted again.  My typical nightly expenditure for a bed in South Korea and New Zealand was about $20.US, so this $50.US/night room felt like a night at the Ritz.  My own shower!?  No bunk beds?!  A TV!?  Wow!  Nice.

After my walk on Jeju Island I am incredibly sore, my calves are solid and tender and my feet feel crushed.  It’s ironic that I have discovered my love for walking at a time when my body seems to be breaking down.  In any case, I hobbled my way through Seoul Airport (the biggest airport I have ever seen) and onward.

The next day I flew from Seoul to Frankfurt on a business class award ticket.  This is the second time I’ve flown business class and now I am ruined for life.  Being able to recline your seat to an almost flat position takes all the pain out of flying.  And the meals, served in courses, are quite good.  It surprises me how many little children fly in business class.  I wonder how their parents got so filthy rich and if those children will ever appreciate what the “common man” goes through.

I stayed one night and slept about four hours in Frankfurt before catching a flight to London and then Aberdeen, Scotland.  Fortunately, it was easy to get a shuttle from Aberdeen airport to the city center where I found a bus to take me the two hours to Braemar.  The bus driver greeted me with “Hello love” and I quickly realized I was in Scotland.  From the stop in Braemar, a short walk took me to the youth hostel, which ironically is loaded with people over sixty so for once I am the young one.

About Braemar, Scotland

I am in an area called Royal Deeside, which has long been the Scottish getaway for the Royal Family.  Balmoral Castle, purchased by Queen Victoria and Prince Albert is just seven miles away from Braemar where I sit now having my scone with clotted cream.

Robert Louis Stevenson house

This house, right down the street from my hostel in Braemar, is where Robert Louis Stevenson wrote “Treasure Island”.

My exploration of Braemar took about five minutes.  It’s a tiny village with hills surrounding it (called “munros” if they are over 3000 feet) and the River Dee running through it.  I found a cafe and ordered soup which was served with delicious bread that I so missed during my time in South Korea. “California Dreamin” by The Mamas and The Papas played in the cafe.  Out on the street an old woman walked past me.  “Lovely day, isn’t it?”

I forgot to pay at the cafe and was hunted down by the cafe owner on bicycle.  I made a fool out of myself by profusely apologizing to the point that I looked incredibly guilty of purposely stiffing them.  Just one of the many embarrassments that I endure every day whilst traveling.

At the grocery store, I was thrilled to see the price of food is about half of what it was in New Zealand!  I’m still going to have to watch my pennies, but not having to eat beans every night is something to look forward to.  Cheese, for example, costs about 75% less than it did in New Zealand.

Walking around town, there are many elderly couples.  I have yet to walk past a single traveler but surely there must be another one, right?  Preferably that other solo traveler is a man of 45 years old with an Adonis-like build, a sweet disposition, a great sense of humor, a brain like Einstein, a kilt, and a penchant for strange blonde solo travelers that look like me.  Too much to ask?

In the evening I attended a Highland Dance show in the Village Hall.  The dancers ranged in age between five and 18 years old with all levels of ability.  Unfortunately, the dancers outnumbered the audience which forced me to stay an hour longer than I would have liked in the freezing cold hall.  It was very cute to see these young kids who had not yet learned to hide their natural expressions (grimaces of determination and weariness) with smiles.  They performed many dances but especially focused on the sword dances where their little feet jumped about and between two crossed swords on the floor.

River Dee in Braemar, Scotland

River Dee in Braemar, Scotland

I did learn that Highland Dancing originated with a practical purpose.  As the presenter told us, originally only men danced and dancing was used to assess the suitability of men for war, by measuring their stamina, balance and precision.  One way of accurately assessing this was to make the man dance atop a circular disc, a targe shield about two feet in diameter.  In the middle, a 6 inch high iron spike.  One wrong move or slip could be disaster.

Highland dancing looks much like Irish dancing except the Scottish have their hands held high above their heads with splayed fingers (perhaps to imitate antlers on a stag) while Irish dancers keep their arms down at their side like bilateral stroke victims.

Today, I spent a great deal of time sitting on a park bench watching older couples stroll by.  I went to the visitor center and found little help in trying to plan my onward journey.  It seems that no buses leave Braemar so I am going to have to walk my way out of here or return to Aberdeen by bus.  The one walk that I found is 25 miles straight through and I don’t think I can hack that having not walked that distance since a very difficult day on the Camino.

I visited the sight of the Games which appear ready for the celebration.  I walked to Braemar castle, (which is supposedly haunted) but it was closed. On the way sheep grazed in green, green fields.  I found the area where people are allowed to camp during the Games and set up my tent there, clearing my area of sheep poop.  Tiny midges in the field caused me to slap myself like I was possessed by an abuser.  I visited the cemetery.  One man buried there had been the assistant to Queen Victoria for 25 years.  If only the dead could speak.  I also noticed how many people died so young.  How lucky I am to be 43.

In the evening, I visited the Fife Arms Hotel in the center of town and ordered the Special: an 18-year-old Glenfiddich having no idea what type of alcohol this was.  It’s Scottish Single Malt Whisky and it’s damn good.  As I sat and sipped it, I looked around at all the proper grey-haired couples and I wondered if tomorrow night might be a bit more exciting.

Tomorrow, depending on the weather forecast, I will leave the hostel and get to camping or not.  And Saturday, I am so looking forward to the Braemar Gathering, a tradition since 1832, with activities including tossing the caber, putting the stone, throwing the hammer, sprinting, relay, hill races, long leap and tug of war, and a children’s sack race.  And an appearance by Her Majesty the Queen.

Photos of my First Days in Scotland

3 Comments

  1. Damn, I’m always playing catch up. I was in Aberdeen in January 2002…cold!!! I think of England and Scotland and I think boring, but you turned it into an interesting read. Did you meet your Adonis? I’m sitting in a cafe right now and I know that feeling of finding an oasis in the middle of unknown territory…I particularly like your comment about Irish dancing and bilateral stroke victims. Not that having a stroke is funny or anything.

    • Haha. Not funny at all but funny anyway. I didn’t meet my Adonis. I didn’t meet anyone! Suffice it to say, Scotland was not one of my favorite destinations. And I’m being diplomatic there. 🙂

  2. Your sense of humor here made me laugh! I hope the good weather continues and a Scottish man of your description materializes.

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