Sunday, December 6, 2015

Magic, Monarchs, and Malt: Thanksgiving in Scotland

For me, the hardest day to live abroad is Thanksgiving. 

Knowing my family is together, celebrating a holiday that for us has always been about togetherness, and not being there is heart wrenching. This year I even looked into plane tickets to make the trek back to Rochester for the four-day weekend, but by the time I got home I would have had to turn right back around. Anyways, lucky me gets to distract myself from the sadness with fabulous adventures! I loved my trip to Edinburgh, which had the perfect mixture of wandering and history.

This cutie little dog has a super sad story, and is a symbol for Scottish loyalty. When his owner died, he made a trip to the graveyard every day for years, spending hours sitting on his owners grave, until his own death. Poor little guy :(

I loved this. "Light" has been a major theme in my thinking
lately- see my previous post for more!

What I connected most with from Scotland was the element of storytelling that is so prevalent in the culture. 

As one of the last nations to adopt written language as a method for recording their history, the Scots have a passion for the spoken word. It was evident in almost all of my interactions with the Scottish people that my friends and I met throughout the trip.

On our first night, we went to "The Dark Side Tour," which covered Edinburgh's dark and spooky side: mausoleums, murders, witch hunts, and folklore. 

Our guide had our rapt attention for hours, hanging on his every word- he was incredible!

I love mythology and folklore, and was excited when our guide told us some stories that I realized many of my favorite books were based on. We wandered up a dark, spooky hill, where we learned about kelpies and silkies, as well as "Arthur's Seat," a hill some believe King Arthur was buried on. However, that isn't the case at all. The land was supposedly once roamed by giants, and the last giant in the area (Arthur) use to people watch while sitting on the hill. Hmm. 

Scottish folklore is like other fairytales and myths in that it is meant to explain things. However, it is typically much scarier and darker. 

For example, kelpies are water demons that take on the form of beautiful horses. They lure you to their side at the shore with their beauty, because who doesn't want to pet a beautiful white horse, and then they eat you. Brownies were good little beings who clean up your house at night in exchange for food and little gifts. They're happy to help as long as you don't abuse their generosity; if you do, they retaliate and burn down your house. Interesting way to keep children away from the water, and keep their rooms clean!

At Doune Castle, the filming location for Monty Python and the Holy Grail, Game of Thrones (Winterfell!),
and Outlander! I am in heaven!!
Rich, royal colors!

We went on a second tour the next day through the Heart of Scotland Tours.

Ours was Tour Two: Stirling Castle, Highland Lochs, and Whisky. The first stop was Stirling Castle, where Mary Queen of Scots was crowned as an infant. This was the beginning of my TV-show-fan-girling, because one of my favorite shows (Reign) is about her! Ahhh! While roaming through the castle we came across a woman dressed as a lady in waiting. She explained that the king's bedroom was completely bare because after his death Marie de Guise had every reminder of him removed. The queen's room, on the other hand, was completely decked out in rich colors, tapestries, and ornate decor to remind visitors of her regality. In fact, though there was a bed in the room, she didn't even sleep there; the bed was in place to give important visitors the feeling of intimacy with the queen.

These tapestries took years for three women to
complete! The craftsmanship was incredible!

I enjoyed hearing these details, but the woman/actress/storyteller in the next room blew me away. 

She was completely in character as a maid the entire time we listened to her, telling story after story, fact after fact, in a seemingly natural way. She'd connect little stories to details she pulled from the crowd. At first I was a little disappointed to hear that most of what we saw a replication, but then realized how incredible that was. The tapestries on the wall took three weavers years to make, working all day, side by side. The oriental rug was made using the same exact techniques that had been used that was used in the 1500s, and the Italian wallpaper books that were admired during the time were used to inspire the designs painted during the castle's restoration. I was astonished by the connection we still have to the past, that there are people spending years of their lives recreating artwork using original techniques. It's just so cool! But as amazing as that was, for some reason I got choked up when she told the crowd that the door to the room we were in was the original- Mary, Queen of Scots used that door! Crazy! (I cry over everything, don't judge me).

My buddy Fiona and I have the same hair :) 

Just your average Scot, frolicking through the highlands. 

The storytelling wasn't just limited to tourism, though my next example is from a tour guide. 

Every day conversation was embedded with stories and history. While making idle chatter towards the end of the tour, I asked our guide about typical mealtimes. We had noticed the night before that our 9:00 dinner reservation at The Witchery (AMAZING restaurant, btw) left us as the only late-night diners, while in Italy 9:00 would be peak dinner time. Instead of simply responding with "6:00pm" or something, he launched into an intense discussion on the class system that hasn't quite disappeared yet, and how mealtimes and the number of meals you ate a day depended on whether you were working or middle class... whew!

Enjoying our mulled wine at the Christmas market!

I left inspired to go home and write (clearly, since this is post #2 since my return, and I have been slacking since August!), and I'm not alone. 

J.K. Rowling wrote the first of her fabulous series in the first cafe my friends and I stumbled across in Edinburgh! I was absolutely in awe! When she was living in the lovely city, she didn't have a lot of money to spare and would look for free things to do- after seeing the boarding schools, castles, and being immersed in the folklore (Care of Magical Creatures/Defense Against the Dark Arts with Lupin, anyone?!), it's easy to see how the magical city inspired her. And she wasn't the only author who gathered name inspiration from wandering the graveyards. A certain Mr. Dickens passed a grave in Edinburgh marked, "Here lies Ebinezer Scroggie, a mean man," and based his own Scrooge off of this idea of being so cruel, people couldn't even be kind or gracious on his headstone. Years later, however, he discovered that the grave actually read, "Here lies Ebinezer Scroggie, a meal man." Turns out Scroggie was a  well liked, charismatic, slightly licentious corn merchant. Dickens felt terrible for blackening his character by associating the gregarious Scroggie forever with  the mean-spirited Scrooge!

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