Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Food for Thought

My niece got two chickens last night and named them Original and Extra Crispy. Sometimes, it frightens me that my brother reproduced, but someone had to. I suppose. She's probably the best thing to hit the Stewart line since James VII of Scotland became James I of England. My brother wants me to stop spelling his name the traditional way as well. I was trying to keep him anonymous as "Mark" but I will switch to his choice of "Marc" to keep him happy.

Late at night in Orkney and nothing to eat except two packs of aforementioned 'biscuits'. Until I pulled out the four, very flat, honey buns I had snagged at White's truck stop on our way to D.C. At the time, Marc scornfully wanted to know what I needed them for: I reminded him of that as I tossed him two that night in Orkney. They had been in my backpack across the Atlantic and through Amsterdam, so they were VERY flat; but, boy, were they good.

4 o'clock in the morning and we were both wide awake with the thrill of the day. Our tour of Orkney started at 9, and breakfast was at 8. We drank the entire supply of coffee and tea left in our room and even tried a biscuit, but one of the towels turned out to have a better flavor.

Breakfast at a B & B always started the same way. No matter how hungry we were, the English tourists beat us to the dining room. Three plastic containers of cereal were always set on a sideboard and the English loved cereal. As far as I could tell, for we never tasted any, it looked like cheerios, cornflakes, and then something colored very brightly. We just waited for the real food. It was invariably bacon, eggs and fruit. We never figured out why you would need to start the meal with the cereal. It's like going to a $2 all-you-can-eat buffet, and ordering $4 worth.

We  went to Scotland in late March/early April for the prices, and because we couldn't wait until summer. But no amount of time in Roanoke prepared us for latitudes above Oslo, Norway in early Spring. And we were on an island. I had forgotten that the wind is perpetual on an island. England, Scotland, Orkney, Shetland: islands in the coldest sea below polar bear territory. The outdoor scenes in the Harry Potter movies were filmed in the Highlands. We were north of that. How the English went on to conquer India and Africa is beyond me...what a public relations job that must have been. Queen and Country wouldn't have begun to cover it.

So we had escaped losing life and limb to the North Sea to face a mild day of hail, snow, rain and sleet. We had this mixture everyday for at least five minutes, every four hours or so. Then, everything would magically clear and whatever we had come to see would unveil itself. It was, truly, magic.

Our fear that our tour was canceled due to the weather (it doesn't happen) was unfounded. Our guide was a very happy 55 year old about to marry a 26 year old Canadian who had taken his tour several years before. He said it made him 'peppy'. We were the only ones on the tour, except for an extremely quiet English woman who looked as if she had been born in the neolithic ruins of Skara Brae. Maybe it was the cereal.

The Scottish along this tourist route were very excited about seeing tourists so early in the season, especially this far north. Everyone we ran into either wanted to vacation in Florida or had vacationed in Florida, or was related to someone who, etc...

The first attraction was a site innocuously called Maes Howe. It was damp and we walked a half mile across a mud field to get to it. I'll save the suspense and relate we both came home with bronchitis and signs of exposure; but it was worth it. At Skara Brae, we walked straight into the village, which was built into a hill of discarded refuse, dirt and oyster shells. It was a bit like touring Hobbiton where all the Hobbits had stepped out for a cup of tea and would be right back.

By this time, the night's storm had past and the sky was sparkling and a brilliant turquoise. It seemed to be a characteristic color of Orkney. The ocean was the same color with lapis blue in the deeper areas. It looked just like the pictures of the Caribbean, only ten minutes up to your knees in this water would kill you. An impulse buy of wool sweaters at John a' Groats saved us. (The northernmost point of mainland Scotland.) American wool is short and itchy and works ok with cotton or silk underneath it. Of course, it requires the earth-harmful cleaning method of dry cleaning. Scottish wool is from long-haired sheep, soft as sable AND washable. It is waterproof as well. But don't stick it in the dryer. My sweater is now infant-sized because of a mistake.

We had lunch at the gift shop/museum while our guide entertained us with tales of his arch-rival who owned the competing tour bus. I wandered around in a daze all day...I was finally here. I couldn't hear anything the tour guide or Marc said. I didn't say anything that I remember. I think I babbled at the guide once, expressing my desire to stop somewhere. I know exactly how Harry Potter felt walking into Hogwarts for the first time. Occasionally, I would twirl around on my axis to get a 360 view and I felt as if I had been drinking champagne all morning. I saw my hand extend the credit card a couple of times and then it was over for the day.

We called home from the grocery store at a rate I estimated later would have made a sizable down payment on Princess Di's wedding gown.

Next: Skye

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