May 20, 2012

Wedding at Kailzie Gardens

We did come to Scotland for a wedding, after all. Though with me, and especially with my mountain-bike-mad sweetheart, it doesn't take much of an excuse to head for a place that has always felt like home to me, from our first sight of it 40 years ago. In the past 10 years, largely due to the pioneering efforts of our equally MB-mad friends in the Borders, Scotland has arrived on the world stage as a mountain biking heaven. Put it all together: a wedding, friends, mountain bike trails, hills to walk, trees, tea and cakes, lots of sheep and the odd garden, and it was a must-do.

Plane tickets were bought last July. Dinner invitations began coming in for our stay. The Best Man was recruited. My sweetheart, at age 61, bought his first suit ever.

Belatedly, I realized that I too would need some new garment of the posh frock variety. Plaid flannel shirts and elastic waist gardening jeans weren't going to cut it. Found just the thing in Ashland a month ago, opting for the middle-aged, dignified look rather than bright spring floral print. Sorry, no photo, you'll have to use your imagination. In the end it was a good choice, because the weather was cold and my outfit afforded lots of room for layers of fine woolen undergarments to fend off the frisky spring weather.

Friday, the day we arrived, having left The Stupids (we hoped) back in the States, was wedding prep day for the Best Man. While I and our friends Ben and Serena settled into our flat, he and the groom set out to decorate the Burgh Hall on Peebles High Street for the reception and ceilidh.
Buildings of various ages surround a courtyard, with the Hall itself in the back. Here's the cenotaph for World War I soldiers:

The manly lads soon had it looking festive:

Andy and Ros had decided on a 'cakes' theme for table arrangements.

Find your name on the list under the photo of a delicious dessert,

then match it to the centerpiece on one of the tables inside:

They are big on 'cakes' (catchall term for sweets, pudding, dessert) in Scotland.

After a lovely dinner with the groom's family, we crashed into bed. The wedding day dawned sunny and clear ...... but as usual in Scotland, the clouds soon moved in and small wettish objects began to fall from the sky. Some were white. Uh oh. Undaunted, we headed to the outdoor wedding site with the groom and his brothers, to put up signs for the wedding.

Kailzie Gardens is a lovely private estate garden that is open to the public. Here is a photo taken in high summer.
Imagine it without the flowers, the leaves on deciduous trees, and sunshine. Erm.

The groom and best man got the rings sorted

and more things checked off the list
At the bottom of the list someone (?) had added:
____ Get married
____ Live happily ever after.

That was it. The tent was set up, the hall was ready, the weather was changing its mind every few minutes, and the cast and crew retired to their chambers for lunch and the donning of wedding apparel!

May 14, 2012

What is the difference ......?

Classic joke: what is the difference between an American and a Brit? The American thinks 100 years is a long time, and the Brit thinks 100 miles is a long way to travel. This was a good enough joke for the Best Man's speech at the wedding, but it is absolutely the truth.

The first time we drove from England to Scotland, we were amazed to see the signs on the motorway (Highway) headed: To the North, as if in warning against polar bears, or maybe barbarian hordes. In the western States at least, it might conjure up visions of an arctic journey by dogsled, perhaps to the Klondike gold fields, or even across ice floes to the North Pole.

In England, though, it just means 'to Scotland', and driving via the A1, it is just over 375 miles from London to the Scottish border. For us, it's a drive to Seattle, which we do without much fanfare. I guess the Scots were the barbarian horde, once upon a time. But in a country as small as England, Scotland or most places in western Europe, (especially back more than 100 years!) it is a journey of some note.

So we American tourists blithely drive all over the countryside to look at old buildings, or in some cases, old trees.

I love the classic stone buildings I see around the Scottish Borders. I don't know enough about architecture to say how old they are, but the ones I am drawn to are 19th century and older. Beautifully cut local stone buildings with a distinctive chimney style and, astonishingly to those of us who live in a colder winter climate, plumbing pipes attached to the outsides of buildings! No doubt many are from their
Victorian mill town heydays, and while we drool over the look of such historic buildings, surely the residents of many tiny, drafty, not to mention damp dwellings would trade them for a boring new house with all mod cons including insulation.

At Home in Peebles

To make up for all the verbiage in the last post or two, I offer lots of photos and minimal words. Having never attempted blogging on my iPad before this trip, I am having a few ... Issues ... Mainly lack of a decent app for iPad blogging, or possibly the right app but lack of knowledge in how to use the ones I do have. But I digress.

The Stupids arrived safely in the lovely Tweed Valley town of Peebles. Recently described as having 'the most vibrant retail center in the Borders' -- small, local shops here suffer the same fate as mega-stores like Tesco, and Asta (owned by Wal-Mart) move in -- Peebles has reinvented itself several times since its oldest remaining building, the tower of a church destroyed by Henry VIII, was built in the 12th Century.

Medieval market town, woolen mill center, health tourism center, and now bedroom community for Edinburgh and mountain biking hub.

Our upstairs flat in Peebles, #7 Young Street
Peebles High Street
Classic view of Peebles, church tower, town bridge (original bridge 15th century), the River Tweed
St Andrew church tower ruins
Back gardens, the view from our flat

May 11, 2012

May the Force be with you

Our friends Andy and Ros in Scotland were planning their wedding, and invited us to come, with my sweetheart as Andy's Best Man. A high honor indeed. And an excellent excuse to head for one of our favorite places in the world: The Scottish Borders.

Preparations began in earnest last July, 10 months in advance, in order to get flights on FF miles. Even so, they weren't the greatest flights, including as they did a 5 hour layover in Seattle on the way over, but they were made, and a self-catering flat booked for our stay by Ros. I scheduled my teaching year around the trip, we lined up housesitters, plant waterers, chicken tenders and kitty huggers.

All seemed to be going smoothly, even for the ultimate travel panic/grouch (me).

Monday evening, less than 24 hours before we were scheduled to drive to Portland to catch an early morning flight to Seattle, we went out for dinner to celebrate our anniversary. Over dinner I casually said, "we should see if we have a few Euros" (for a meal during our Frankfurt airport stop) "and, oh yeah, get out the passports."

This is where the Stupids woke up and had their shining moment in the sun. As I took out the passports, I made a joke about checking the expiration dates, and then .... I actually screamed: my passport had expired in 2010. Not last month, or a few months ago, but 2 full years ago.

When I screamed, my sweetheart rushed in to see what was wrong. When he saw the impossible date in black and white, he too collapsed into a chair, holding his head and moaning, "you can't gooooooo!!!!"

It now being well past our normal bedtime, neither of us was thinking very clearly. However, we reached for our computers, Googled, 'emergency passport renewal' and found out that

1 There really was such a thing, but that ...
2 We had to go a regional passport center to do that, and that fortuitously,
3 There was a regional passport center in Seattle at which we could ...
4 Make an appointment for Thursday morning by calling a 24 hour automatic number because...
5. We had this stupid 5 hour layover in Seattle that we had been complaining about for months, that now was looking really excellent, since ...
6. After checking times and distances, it seemed just possible that ...
7. I might be able to buy a ticket on an even earlier flight, go to Seattle on my own, thus getting an extra 1.5 hours to ...
8. Land in Seattle, collect my bags, sprint outside, hail a cab, and make it downtown in time for an early appointment, get a fast renewal, catch another cab back to the airport in time to ...
9. Check in for my flight on time to board at 12:45 for my 2:00 flight to Frankfurt
10. With Don.

Sketchy, yes but just possible.

There were a few unanswered questions. Such as,
A how long would it take to get the passport, once it got approved (if it got approved)? Was it even possible in less than 2.5 hours?
B If the worst happened and I could get a new passport, but it would take longer than 2.5 hours, could I get a seat on another flight, and if so, what in the hell would it cost?
C If I couldn't get another flight within a day or so, then how would I get home from Seattle, when we had left our car in Portland? Portland is 3 hours by car from Seattle, then another 3 hours from Portland to home.
D But the biggest question of all was, how could Don show up at the wedding without me?!

We had to try.

After a short, fairly sleepless Tuesday night, I taught all day Wednesday, packing, cleaning and getting the gardens, kitties and chickies ready. We left Bend late, at 8:30 that night and drove through pouring rain to Portland. After a few short hours of sleep, we rode the shuttle to the airport and the saga began.

I won't go into all the details, but I will just say that there are extremely nice and helpful people everywhere you go, that I just had some of the best service from a government agency, ever, and obviously, miracles do happen.

Results? Practically perfect, smooth, effortless travel and timely arrival in Scotland. We were met at the Edinburgh airport by the bride-to-be (photo below - think she was excited to see us? And she didn't even know about the passport). We quickly settled into our rental flat in Peebles, after stocking up on breakfast food at the local Sainsbury's (porridge oats, local farm eggs and streaky bacon), visiting the town butcher for meat pies and a Selkirk bannock. We had dinner at The Tontine Inn (established 1808) with the groom's parents and brothers from Yorkshire, and fell into bed at a normal hour.

The other photo shows me looking rather dazed but happy, enjoying that lovely new passport smell while waiting for the train back to the airport in Seattle. It took exactly one hour from when I walked through the door of the passport office to when I walked out with my passport clutched in my sweaty little hands. And I have high hopes that the Stupids will be absent for a good long while.

The mothers of my students all heard the story as I taught my last few lessons, that day we left. I'm quite sure their prayers, good wishes and positive thoughts were instrumental in getting us here with bells on. One of them even said, "May the Force be with you.". Was it ever

May 9, 2012

The Stupids Travel

Do you know the Stupids? A marvelously dim-witted family at the center of a series of children's books. I discovered them when I worked in a bookstore in my 20's but initially thought they were just a cute kids' story. Ha ha, look at the Stupids, their dog and cat are smarter than they are. Little did I suspect that they were really us.

The Stupids once helped us thaw out the freezer (their technique? unplug it to use the wall socket for a drill or other hand tool, and then be surprised to find an amazing melange of foods all floating together in the bottom, days or weeks later) ... Go hunting (hit the deer with the car while driving on a deserted road in the middle of nowhere) ... And so on. Not that we don't have small stupidities happening all the time. But massive stupidosity is the specialty of the real Stupids. Just our luck, then, that they showed up last week to help us get ready for our trip to Scotland.