Planes, Trains, and Automobiles

I’m home again. I’ve recovered from the jet lag, edited most of the photos, processed the time lapses, downloaded the sounds from the field recorder, gotten the apartment back in order, and shifted back into the routines of my normal life.

Vacation is weird. Coming home can be even weirder.

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Scotland is a brilliant place.  After the buzz and tumble of a night in grumpy old London, escaping the rush of the city by taking a train into the highlands was almost like coming home again. Are there friendlier people in the world than Scots? Because if there are, I’d like to meet them. Really.  The train guard from Perth to Inverness might have been Simon Pegg’s non-famous brother, the bus driver who took me to Drumnadrochit let me on while he was stopped at a red light nowhere near a bus stop, and even the guy on street I asked directions from was unruffled by my inability to tell north from south (this must be a thing that happens to me in Britain. I suffer no such direction problems in the US). Three people on the beach at Nairn stopped to talk about cameras and dogs with me. Lovely people, all of them.

It was a little strange, coming in by train. Not to say that the trains were strange. As far as mass transit goes, trains are preferable to airplanes. There’s far more space, the air is cleaner, and as pretty as the tops of clouds can be, seeing a new landscape unfurl around you is better. But back to the strangeness. The hills and trees of the highlands reminded me of Colorado or northern Minnesota- pine forests, rollings hills dotted with sheep- and then you’d come around a bend, and there’s a set of ruins from a castle or fort or farmstead from a century or five ago, and you’re reminded that you’re definitely not in Kansas (or Colorado, or Minnesota) anymore. It’s fantastic.

But remember this: when a tall highlander tells you that the castle is a quick, half- hour walk away, it’s going to be a longer walk than that, because highlanders can walk anywhere, forever and ever. Especially when they’re a foot taller than you are. But nevermind that. To keep grouchiness at bay, all I had to do was stop and think, ‘I’m in Scotland. That automatically makes this the best day of the year’.  One little shift in perspective like that, and suddenly the too-warm sun and complaining feet don’t matter anymore.  Because, you know. Scotland. Loch Ness. Urquhart Castle. Everything’s brilliant.

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I spent five days in Inverness, wandering about the city, exploring the trails of the Ness Walk along the River Ness, listening to the bagpipe music that randomly started up just about everywhere I went. I took a bus to Drumnadrochit and walked through the woods where I got rained on, and when the sun came out I walked two miles to a castle. I took the train to Nairn and spent hours on the shore of the North Sea, and overall spent a good deal of time wondering what would happen to me if I got lost out wherever I was. I would always stop, though, and realize that I wasn’t traveling where no woman had gone before, and there would be someone around to help me if I needed it. Because, despite what the news would have us believe about the terrible state of the world, most people are good, decent, and willing to help. Especially the Scots.

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As for the automobile part of the title…

I bought a used Ford Focus back at the end of February after a small accident caused the death of my aging Chrysler. The Focus was a nice little car, though nothing special. It was light green, more agile than my Chrysler, and more fuel efficient, too. It wasn’t a particularly inspiring car, but it got me from Point A to Point B, just like a car should.

It did it’s secondary job admirably, too, which is why, when the guy in the big pickup truck ran a red light and collided with my poor little Focus, I wasn’t injured. Shaken up, to be sure, and with the sort of adrenaline rush that left me nearly unable to dial in the numbers to call the police a few minutes later. But once I’d had some time to sit down and collect myself, I was perfectly fine. Angry at the other driver and upset about my car, but fine.

So I have another car now. A white Volvo that I already love (though I would love good public transportation even more), though I wish the circumstances for getting it had been better.

Books! I read a lot while on the various airplanes and trains that took me there and back again. I started and finished The Life of Elizabeth I, by Alison Weir, and Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy: Four Women Undercover in the Civil War, by Karen Abbot, which was an interesting book about the (sometimes) interweaving lives of four women- two working for the Union, two working for the Confederacy- who did their part to affect the outcome of the war. In some cases, their contributions were minor. In others, their work was critical. Either way, it was interesting to see a little bit of Civil War history that’s often overlooked.

I also started (but haven’t finished) Queen of the Conquerer: The Life of Matilda Wife of William, by Tracy Borman, which details the life of Matilda, wife of William the Conquerer. It’s a little amazing how a person’s life and personality can be drawn together from the small clues left behind (it has been 950 years, after all, and women’s lives weren’t well documented then). I’m about halfway George Washington’s Secret Six: The Spy Ring That Saved the American Revolution, by Brian Kilmeade. I know far less than I should about American history, so I’m trying to read more about it. Diving into the world of spies and other secret agents seems like a good way to go about it.

And because it felt like everyone was asking me, Have you read Outlander, by Diana Gabaldon? It takes place near Inverness,” I finally started reading it. I’ll admit to being less than impressed by the first hundred or so pages, but once Jamie started coming into his own as a character, I got more interested. I’m almost done with the first book. We’ll see if I’m hooked enough to continue the series.

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