Sunday, June 19, 2011

A bientot!

See you soon!

I have fallen in love with Paris despite myself. Or should I say, despite Paris. Despite its street schemes and bad smells and crowds and terrible expense, I found myself sad to come in this evening after a celebratory farewell dinner on Montmartre. Maybe it's just leaving France, and Paris happens to be where I am.

I was telling Zack earlier that even though America has all my loved ones and my preferred cultural bases, its cities and towns just can't compare with the beauty and simplicity of those in France. And that's all right, really, I'd hate it if the world was the same all over, and the U.S. has a whole lot to offer in the way of natural beauty and extremes.

I hadn't thought much of leaving France when all my friends in Angers were, because while they were soon leaving for home, I was only leaving for Scotland, which is about as close to France, time-wise, as North Carolina is to Georgia. I am not so unhappy to be finally leaving, but to be so far away. There aren't any trains from Raleigh to Nantes, I'm afraid, or cheap Ryanair Flights.

It's not a total loss, however, as I'm trading one beauty for another-- history and towns, easy transportation and lovely restaurants, for the hugs of friends and family, the comforts of the South and of hot summers. I also think that the travel bug has finally been cured from me. I would have never, ever, ever jamais believed myself, but I think that maybe travelling and seeing the world is not the be-all end-all of living or of my goals.

As wonderful as it's been to be in Europe, being an impermanent resident and full-time tourist is too transitory; I see all these wonderful places, and leave absolutely no impact. That's not much of a legacy, and frankly it's a bit un-Christian. If my new life with Zachary calls me to be tied to one place for a while, it'll be a blessing, and not a burden.

So, as I prepare to turn in for a final night in France, I bid you all adieu and I thank you for your support since January. I also ask for your prayers for my gentle return home tomorrow, patience for my family. I hope I've kept you amused on this website, and I hope that I've been able to share with you just a bit of a secret view of France and her people, as well as what it's like to be a stranger in a welcoming, if at times unusual, land.


Thursday, June 16, 2011

Carmical of Carmichael

On the eve of my birthday, I was trying to decide how best to celebrate all by my lonesome in the middle of Scottish farm territory without any way to call or Skype my loved ones for a birthday wish. Suddenly, the phone rang. I almost didn't pick it up. That can't be for me, I knew. But I picked it up anyway, in case somebody was looking for a runaway sheep or something.

On the other end was the best birthday surprise ever. The caller was Sarah Carmichael-Smith, daughter of the current (30th) Chief of Carmichael, Richard Carmichael of Carmichael, inviting me to dinner. Complete surprise, and total blessing! I immediately accepted, having long wanted to meet the chief of our most noble bloodline. :3

So on the night of the 15th, Sarah picked me up and drove me to the Carmichaels' house, where we ate a delicious meal complete with local ice cream and raspberries for dessert. Richard and Trish are really wonderful and surprising people; they're into orienteering and skiing, and seem extremely fit and vivacious, well-suited to the many demands of both the agricultural Estate and the historical, genealogical half of the job. Sarah is headed to the States soon, having married a Tennessean. Maybe I'll see her for some hiking this fall.

I had the best time, and it was a really fitting end to my visit at Carmichael--

The Estate is gorgeous, with big rolling hills and lots of wild animals. I saw a wild stag, doe, squirrels, hares beyond number, an adorable stoat, and at least 10 pheasants. I saw the massive, impressive ruins of Carmichael House (abandoned in 1950, after a stint as a nursing home and station for Polish officers during WWII) on the site of an older castle, climbed (almost) Carmichael Hill, saw Carmichael village and its ancient little church with lots of dead Carmichaels tucked around it, cooked venison and free-range eggs from the Estate, and walked myself sore.

Scotland is so lovely. I'll post pictures of Carmichael soon under "Faux Pas," as well as some on this post. I'll be leaving Scotland for Paris tomorrow, then home soon. Sigh, it's about time.

Best birthday abroad.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Thistle Do Just Fine

                 Despite popular belief, even for most Scots, the thistle is not the national flower of Scotland. It is, in fact, the tiny bluebell. The reason the thistle is so prominently featured in Scottish heraldry and symbols is from a story, I’m not sure how anecdotal it is, that during a period of Viking raids, Scottish soldiers were sleeping peacefully in their tents one night when roving, rabid Vikings decided to sneak upon them as they snoozed. To be extra sneaky, the Vikings took off their noisy boots and proceeded barefoot, only to stumble through a field full of thistle and fall apart screaming like “wee lasses.” This awoke the Scots, who had enough time to arm themselves and drive the Vikings away. Hooray, thistle!
              I had been looking hard for fuzzy, purple thistle blooms on my tour, but didn’t see any, and the guide informed me that they aren’t flowering quite yet. The thistle is a sneaky plant however, and I just found out its defensive principles firsthand. I’ve checked into my cozy, 250 year-old cottage at the Carmichael Estate, and I decided to go out to snag some evening pictures of Tinto Hill in the distance. With bare shins I hopped over a little stone wall to walk a ways out into a field to get a clear shot, and after about ten feet, hit a nasty patch of either nettles or thistle. It felt like thirty little bees stinging each leg, and I yelped and limped back to the road towards my cottage. Luckily, my mom raised me to be resourceful, and I had a freshly used tea-bag cooling in the kitchen. I slapped it on the new pink welts rising on my skin like little ant hills, and thought that the story of the mighty Vikings squealing like girls was more plausible than I had previously considered.

               Last night I was in Edinburgh, and met some girls I had befriended on my Orkney trip at the Black Bull, where I split an appetizer of delicious, homey nachos, and an order of haggis and neeps & tatties (mashed turnips and ‘taters). Haggis, in case you haven’t been grossed out by the idea of it before, is sheep offal mixed with lots of spices. Basically, when butchers chop up mutton, they take the leftovers and make sausage. Then they take the sausage leftovers and make haggis. Traditionally, haggis was cooked inside the stomach of the sheep, though I don’t believe that’s the case anymore. Sounds gross, but is so delicious. So delicious, in fact, that I had it on a hot, fresh roll with bacon this morning before I hit up the National Museum of Scotland, which was so huge I gave up about halfway through the Reformation.
         Caught a bus from Edinburgh south, then another bus in Biggar to the Estate. It was blissfully easy, since when I got off the bus in Biggar, completely at a loss as to where to find the following connection, the 191 had rolled up just before. Whew. It let me off about a half mile past the visitor center, but right at the majestic Eagles Gates of Carmichael. Nifty! That meant I had to roll my little suitcase down the road a bit to check-in, but I passed right next to the field of deer that the Estate raises for meat. They gave me a funny welcome, and all turned to stare at me as I passed. The pamphlet says they’re “semi-tame.” After them was a sheep-field, and a ewe and her three triplets watched me until I passed. When sheep stare at you, you feel dumb, even though they’re adorable.

                The two employees of the Estate that I met were really friendly. A little old Scotsman in a cap drove me to the cottage since I “haven’t got any transport, have you, then?” and a younger woman in the gift shop threw in lots of free veggies when I picked up groceries, including a pack of Carmichael Estate venison mince, which I put in my spaghetti for dinner. Tast-a-licious, as Dad is wont to say.

               It’s 10 pm and there’s a full moon over Tinto Hill, but it’s still bright outside, looks like 7:30 or 8:00. In Orkney a few days ago, it wasn’t dark even at midnight. Just dark-er. I’d like to go out again to take photos, but it’s a bit windy and nippy, and I’m maybe 38 pictures away from completely filling up two 2-gig memory cards. Sheesh! I thought I had internet here in the cottage, via a modem, but I’m not able to connect, so I’ll be taking this post with me to Biggar or Lanark tomorrow to upload it when I find internet.

                So far, I’m seriously pleased with my ancestral homeland. It’s lovely, has rolling hills, gentle roads, and lots of furry, four-legged creatures. Tomorrow, I go out to find the ruined manor house, the ancient kirk (church), founded 1058 (though that building is certainly long-gone), and hopefully will pet some tame deer at the Carmichael Visitor Center. Since the 15th is my 21st birthday, I think I’ll use that day to hike Tinto Hill, if the weather’s nice. On the photographs I’d seen, it didn’t look so big, but now that I’m closer, it looks pretty intimidating, and I can only think of how frequently the weather changes here from warm to chilly and wet.

               I know this is ages long, but it’s a full update, and I don’t know when I’ll get another one! Be scanning my Facebook for photos and maybe even videos. Haste ye back!

Sunday, June 12, 2011

A Wee Cheeky Tour

Just back from a 5 day HAGGiS Adventures tour, woot! I want to upload lots and lots of photos for you, but my current hostel in Edinburgh is seriously, seriously ghetto. I'm afraid the computer will eat my memory card. Glad I'm only staying one night and I'm leaving early in the morning.

The tour was super sweet; we went all the way up to the Orkney Isles, staying in Inverness along the way. Saw some of Scotland's many (many, many, many) war memorials, including Culloden Battlefield and Glencoe. Saw a few puffins and seals in Orkney, Loch Ness (but no Nessie) earlier today, and last night did some serious Highland dancing in a place called Hootananny's in Inverness. I hadn't realized how close traditional Scottish music and bluegrass really are.

Tonight, I'll be meeting back up with two Canadian friends I made on the trip to try haggis for dinner. I'm a wee bit excited. Tomorrow I leave for Carmichael, where internet may be hard to come by. We shall see. In any event, I plan on finding a phone recharge card tonight.

Before I sign off, something I've noticed that's pretty ubiquitous in each and every country I've been to: not McDonald's, not Starbucks, not even Coca Cola. Claire's. Claire's, the little girls cheap nickel-plated accessory store where I spent approximately 1/4 of my developing years. There was on in Angers, Paris, Dublin, Brussels, Edinburgh, and I think Rome, too. They are everywhere.

I also want, before I sign off, to introduce my American compatriots to the Dyson Air Blade, a fantastic invention for swiftly drying one's hands:

pretty nifty.