Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Indian food coma (part 2)


On my last day in Scotland, we planned to take it easy. I went for a jog in the morning, enjoying the cool temperatures and bright sun.

We set out around noon for Scone Palace (pronounced /ˈskn/), which is located within Lora's shire (read: county). The driveway leading up to the palace rivals that of Glamis: long, winding, and lined with strong, lush trees. The palace gardens were once tended by Lora's current neighbors - a neat connection. The palace itself is currently a primary residence, so the tour took us through just the middle floor. Moreso than the other palaces we visited, this one seemed like a home because of the current family pictures and other memorabilia.

After the tour, Lora settled down with tea and cheesecake while I walked the gardens, playing photographer.

This trip to Scotland continued to confirm in my heart my deep need for quietness and time alone, away from the chaos of everyday life. I treasure so many moments of reflection and prayer these past few days away from the constant demands of work and the logistics of life. I have breathed deeper, smiled more often, and appreciated God's creation more fully.

As my stroll around the gardens came to an end, I found Lora sitting on a bench and joined her to read for awhile.

Around 3:00pm, we packed up and drove to Drummond Castle to explore the gardens. The excursion was planned last-minute after I saw a picture of the garden in a travel book at Lora's house. In the picture, the garden looked immaculately maintained and symmetrical in every sense of the word. After paying the entry fee, we climbed up to a balcony that overlooked the gardens. When I stepped up to the rail, I was speechless.

I have never seen anything like this garden! In a way, it made me think of "Alice in Wonderland." It was incredible. Here I was on the last day of my vacation, thinking we would just pass some time with these two final sites, and I was blown away. I took so many pictures and breathed in such fresh air. I wish I could take you back there with me. You would forget everything else, even if just for a moment.

The trip would not have been complete without the perfect final dinner at Chatni. And so ensued my second Indian food coma, now a firmly established tradition. I ordered Chicken Shiraslik and naan, same as last time. The chicken was smoky and tender, served on a bed of peppers and onions (think Indian fajitas). The naan, covered in melty butter, was about the size of a tricycle wheel...and I savored every bite.

Finally satisfied, we made the final drive home, where I packed my bags, Skyped with Mom and Dad, and prayed for a safe trip home.

Favorites: gardens, flowers, naan

Monday, September 23, 2013

Breath-taking in more ways than one


Today was filled with unexpected beauty.

Still walking on clouds after visiting Highclere Castle, I knew we were going to two castles today, but I was not expecting what I encountered. Late in the morning, Lora and I traveled to Glamis Castle. This is the castle of the Queen Mother and is located on a sprawling estate. The current Earl lives onsite, and Lora has seen him on the grounds when she's visited in the past.

The tour guide took us through modern and historic rooms in the castle, including a chapel adorned with beautiful paintings representing Jesus and His disciples. There was something royal and yet not stiff-collared about the castle, and it was a lovely visit.

After eating lunch in the castle café (I had a surprisingly delicious bowl of sweet potato and coriander soup - perfect to warm me up on a chilly day.), we set out for Dunnottar Castle, approximately 45 minutes away. The drive was scenic (as is every drive in Scotland), and we passed fields of hay and sheep. The beauty of the landscape is very difficult to put into words. I go back to my analogy of a rainbow of greens, but add texture to that thought. It's just so alive.

When we arrived at Dunnottar, we parked the car and set out to take pictures. Once the ruins were in view, I realized just how breath-taking this visit was going to be. The beauty of the ruins left me speechless.

I felt like a character in "The Lord of the Rings." Now, add to this beauty the fact that we walked down the face of the "mountain" where I took this picture and then walked up the face of the rock Donnattar stands on in order to walk through the ruins. Hence "breath-taking in more ways than one." It was a great workout!

On the side of the castle, there was not much left of the interior, but the various exterior walls left fantastic portals for pictures.

What a beautiful way to end the day. On the ride home, I considered all we had seen and realized how fortunate I am to have the opportunity to experience these ancient pieces of history. In America, it's hard to find anything older than 200 years. Here, ancient history is visible all around.
Thank You, Lord, for this incredible opportunity.
Favorites: Glamis Castle, sweet potato soup, Dunnottar Castle, beauty

Sunday, September 22, 2013

*insert suite from "Downton Abbey"*


An item has been crossed off my bucket list today.

At 9:00am, we headed to the main house of Rookwood Farm House for breakfast. The owner and her assistant offered us a small, tidy menu, and I decided on cereal with a banana. I asked for the cereal options, and the assistant pointed me to a row of boxes. After selecting bran flakes, I asked her what types of milk she had available.

Pause. Blank stare. Then..."Milk."

I wanted to laugh. It's not that the English don't have some milk options, but clearly the option here was all or nothing. Classic.

After breakfast, we loaded our luggage into the taxi and began the short ride to visit what I consider to be the main character of "Downton Abbey:" Highclere Castle.

As we turned onto the drive leading to the castle, I reached into my purse for my phone, performed a quick search in my music library, pressed play, and the unmistakable, haunting suite from "Downton Abbey" filled the cab. We let out a few excited giggles and then let the tune take over as we approached the enchanting castle.

Once we arrived, Lora and I took a handful of pictures and proceeded to the entrance.

The 10:30am tour took us through rooms in the house that appear on the show and other rooms that are not filmed. We viewed the library, the rooms of Lady Grantham, Edith, and Sybil, and the informal dining room. The residence was filled both with pictures of the real life owner's family and of the cast. While we were not allowed to take photos in the castle, I will undoubtedly carry them in my mind's eye for years to come.
After the house tour, we raided the gift shop and made our way through the gardens, capturing photos of flowers and the castle along the way. 
Finally, satisfied with our photographs and memories, we called our cabi and began the long journey back to Perth, Scotland: a train ride to Paddington Station, eight hours of killing time over lunch and a good book, and the dreaded final leg of our mega-bust (I mean, Megabus) trip on a 9:30pm-6:00am ride.
Favorites: theme music, Highclere Castle, walking where Lady Mary walks, pretty flowers

Friday, September 20, 2013

Home delivery


It's never a good thing when you stand outside the lavatory on the plane for five minutes before the person occupying it steps out...Good MORNING!

Finally, we landed at London Heathrow, and the connection clock started ticking down. I had an hour and ten minutes to make my connecting flight to Edinburgh. One would think this is plenty of time until you consider:
  • walking half a mile to the terminal shuttle
  • waiting for the shuttle and taking a 10-min ride
  • standing in line and going through the immigration "interview"
  • going through security (again!) and being sent to the "naughty" line
Yes, I was sent to the naughty line. Now, before you think "she's a fairly frequent traveler, what's the deal," hear me out. On a connecting Southwest flight, if you bought a bottle of water after passing through security at the first airport, you can keep it with you when you change planes (because you don't go through security again). My most recent flight was Southwest, so I was not even thinking about the water bottle in my backpack when I had to go through LHR security again. After getting caught, I had to wait for individual clearance, which took me past the initial boarding for my connecting flight (talk about feeling anxious), and I was the last lone traveler through the gate. Whew!

The flight to Edinburgh was a short hop. I met up with my friend Lora at the baggage claim, and we headed for the car. When I stepped out of the terminal, I was met with a crisp, fresh Scottish gift: 60 degrees! Compared to the recent 100-degree-plus days in Texas, it was so refreshing.

We hopped into Lora's Land Rover and made the hour-long scenic drive to her and her husband's home in Perth. Through the car windows, I drank in the rainbow of green that I have come to identify with Scotland - dark green, light green, blue green, sea green, etc. It's all so vibrant and lush.

Lora & Graham's home in Perth

When we arrived at her home, I settled in. The afternoon proceeded with warm oatmeal, visiting over tea, and one of her favorite indulgences: home delivery of her groceries. Lora lives about thirty minutes from the nearest Sainsbury's, so when she discovered that she could order groceries online and have them delivered to her front door, she was sold. This afternoon, he brought them all the way into the kitchen for us!

We organized the groceries, chatted some more in the courtyard outside the steading, and then treated ourselves to an Indian feast of chicken tikka masala and naan.

Barely able to keep my eyes open, I took a two-hour nap before Skyping with my family. Oh, and we not only Skyped, but "Skyped" and "Face-Timed." Sister FT'd with Dad, and he brought her into view on Skype. I am so thankful for technology! It was great to see them, confirm I made it safely, and catch-up on the last day.

Then, I crawled into bed under the heated blanket, lost myself in my book for a few hours, and drifted off to the most peaceful sound: silence.

Favorites: crisp air, rainbow of green, Indian food, thermal/heated blanket, complete silence

Thursday, September 19, 2013

The secret garden and high tea


I'll have to admit that I got more sleep on the bus than I did on the plane, but I'm not sure about the quality. It took awhile to nod off, and the ride was not very smooth; however, I comforted myself with a few thoughts:
  • I had set my expectations low, envisioning that I might not sleep at all and should focus solely on letting my body rest.
  • Drum corps members sleep on buses and gym floors all the time - I could do this, right?
  • Lady Mary Crawley surely had to experience this but WORSE on an overnight coach service where she could not lie down. If she can do it, I can do it!
Well, we survived! The bus arrived at Victoria Station in London at 8:00am. We cleaned up a bit and grabbed a taxi to Paddington Station where we would meet the train to take us to Newbury, England. Near Paddington, we stepped into a breakfast café and feasted on warm "brown" (aka wheat) toast, fruit, and scrambled eggs. Then, we took the 11:18am train to the lovely town of Newbury, where we had two rooms booked at Rookwood Farm House. The taxi driver who took us from the train station to the farmhouse told me that he once taxied Dame Maggie Smith, and she sat RIGHT WHERE I was sitting <deep breath>.

When we arrived at the farmhouse, I was led to my room and told it was the bridal suite. I didn't bargain for that! When I stepped into the room, I was pleasantly surprised by a romantic little canopy bed, rustic armoire, and windows opened to a cool breeze, inviting me to drink in the gardens surrounding the B&B.

Despite the wonderful <insert limited/toss-and-turn/uncomfortable> rest I got on the sleeper bus, the bed looked too inviting to ignore. I took a two-hour at nap and then cleaned up to explore before another adventure: high tea. The gardens outside the farm house were an array of lovely flowers, along with a vine-covered wooden canopy and an attractive, rustic pavilion. I felt as though I was walking through The Secret Garden.

For my first experience with high tea, we strolled down the street to The Vineyard, known beyond Newbury for it's high quality food and service. If you know me well, you know I don't drink caffeine and there must be something more to high tea than tea.

There was.

We started with tea (senza caffeine for me), followed by scones and jam. Then, the waiter delivered two sets of finger sandwiches, each containing: salmon and cream cheese, ham and spicy mustard, tomato, cheese, and turkey. Finally, he brought out the fireworks:

My favorite treat after the scones was the peach sorbet in the cup made of delicate wood shavings.

Oh, and get THIS! Our waiter told us that he had served Dame Maggie Smith room service when she stayed at the hotel! That second connection basically means I'm next-of-kin, right?

As this was my first high tea experience, Lora charged me with trying high tea at a nice hotel in Dallas sometime to compare. Any interested parties?

The night wound down with a nice, hot shower and curling up with the Kindle, hoping for rest and sweet dreams before a day of excitement as we get lost in the world of Downton Abbey.

Favorites: canopy bed, pretty flowers, napping, scones

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Luxury bus or laughable bus


Feeling well-rested, I went for a jog in the cool morning air. The drive of Lora and Graham's house is about half a mile, so I grabbed my iPod and hit the trail, listening to music and taking a few scenic shots.
My running trail for the morning.

Train tracks just across the driveway.
It was ideal running weather, and listening to the new, convicting, worship-filled album by Audrey Assad ("Fortunate Fall") guided my thoughts. The combination of music and nature filled my heart with thankfulness and praise. There is no substitute for time along with the Creator...

After a brisk job, Lora and I feasted on quiche and blueberries. Then, I cleaned up and proceeded to wrestle with WiFi until finally connecting. I caught up on email and backed up some pictures on my laptop. We ate lunch and began to pack for our next adventure: a Megabus Sleeper Service to London (The Wheels on the Bus...). This overnight bus service will take us to London, where we'll meet up with a train that will take us to Newbury.

And the final destination?


Later, we sat down to warm bowls of creamy tomato soup and ham/cheese panini's before heading down the road to Stanley Mills. At the mills, we toured the four-floor museum, complete with water wheel and cotton processing simulations. Attached to the mills were about thirty flats, which ranged from 130,000 - 450,000 pounds (upwards of $700,000.00), many of which serve as second homes for the wealthy and are only inhabited a few weeks of the year.

Upon returning from the mills, we reevaluated our packing jobs for the trip to Newbury, Lora fixed a quick meal of steak pie, boiled carrots and green beans, and mashed potatoes, and we headed out to meet the Megabus at 10:00pm.

Our plan was to arrive an hour before pickup so we would have our choice of seats and sit as far away from the restrooms as possible. When we stepped into the waiting area to check in, Lora asked if the ticket agent had any tips for us. He pointed to a young guy sitting in a nearby chair, saying he takes the sleeper bus once a week and would be the best resource.

The guy turned out to be Fraser Logan, a professional golfer in the UK and a very nice guy. He gave us some tips about the bus, and most importantly, he prepared us for what turned out to be our reality: a "double bed." Apparently if you book two tickets at the same time, you are assigned to share a double bed, which is essentially two 2 x 4's masked in seat covers and sheets, laid out right next to each other with no space in between. Yep. Now, the really unfortunate thing for Fraser is that he ended up having to share with a stranger one time. There really should be restrictions against this, but at least Lora and I KNOW each other!

Another thing we were not prepared for was the fact that this was a new bus, and a full bus, and the only option was a bed. If you check out the video link above, you'll see options of sitting up or lying down. Nope. We got on the bus and immediately had to lie down. Admittedly, it felt a bit like being in a coffin. Just in case you don't believe me...

So, once we got on, I wrapped up in the blanket provided, molded my ear plugs into my ears, and pulled on my eye mask.

Sweet dreams?

Favorites: Fortunate Fall, jogging, tomato soup & grilled cheese, meeting a pro-golfer

Off on another adventure!


Final destination: Edinburgh, Scotland

My flight left at 4:55pm, and I was so ready for this trip! I'd settled things at work (as much as anyone can these days when you feel a need to be connected 24/7), packed my bags, and anticipated both adventure and a time to recharge and reflect.

The first leg of the flight was nine hours. I filled the time by watching the movie "42" about Jackie Robinson and making some mental comparisons between it and "The Butler," reading a new book by Dee Henderson (which now has me thoroughly engrossed), sleeping (I actually go about THREE hours, which is an accomplishment for me!), and stretching my mind with a little Sudoku.

Before resting, dinner was served on the plane, and I was pleasantly surprised by a tasty meal of curried chickpeas, rice, and broccoli, a salad, and a whole grain roll. A satisfied tummy, coupled with some new, super-human ear plugs, wins an award for helping me get more sleep than expected.

Lights out!

Favorites: thought-provoking movie, quality ear plugs, yummy plane food