Just as the train pulls into Glasgow Queen Street railway station, a lady from Scotrail asks us where we are headed and adds 2 ticks to her Oban list. We are in the last carriage and are the last ones to be asked. No time for any explanation.
We all get off at Glasgow Queen Street, unsure as to where to go and get our replacement coach. Glasgow station is the middle of refurbishments and is a bit of a zoo at the best of times. But what do I notice? My mum and sister talking to a guard, also trying to find out where to go next. Well, that is not exactly how we had planned to meet. Not the relaxed welcome but a scramble to somewhere. The place is a zoo, no announcement, no one to direct us, but we eventually find someone who guides us to a bus and off we go. The 4 of us.
The journey to Oban is extremely scenic. We are grateful for the calm and excellent coach driver as many places, and bends especially, are barely 2 cars wide.
ScotRail must have lost lots of money around that time with all the delayed journeys: 30 minutes late and you get 50% of the cost of your ticket back, 60 minutes and more late, your journey is fully refunded. Small recompense for the hassle.
The trip to Oban is part of my mum’s 90th birthday present and the plan for our the first full day in Oban is to take my mum to a place she has always wanted to go to: Staffa island. Our tour today includes the following: ferry from Oban to the island of Mull, a 1.5 hr coach ride across Mull, ferry to Iona, 2.5 hours on Iona exploring the chapel and abbey, ferry to Staffa with 1.5 hours on Staffa before doing the same journey back to Oban. There are many tours out of Oban and we are impressed by the organisation of Staffatours and our brilliant bus driver Sheila in particular.
The weather magically clears perfectly for us and we are amazed how my mum, in her 90th year, managed to climb up all those stairs on Staffa – truly remarkable and inspiring!!
Staffa lies 10 kms west of the island of Mull and is known for its vertical basalt columns and a cave said by Mendelssohn to have inspired his Hebrides Overture. Sadly, due to renovations at the entrance of the cave, we were not able to enter the cave. A long but magnificient day nonetheless.A couple more days in Oban for shorter day trips.
The return trip to Kent 3 days later was nothing short of horrendous: the train line was still closed for another few weeks, so buses are put on. We are refused access to the earlier stopping bus to the nearest train station, have to wait another hour, by which time the number of passengers is more than double the capacity of the single bus. Although we manage to get on, one confused passenger gets the driver to make a short detour to drop her off at a small village – she thought that was where she was going to get onto the train, but that was the wrong village. By the time we get to our destination, we have missed the train! Our bus driver is not allowed to go all the way to Glasgow, just 61kms away. An hour later, another coach, with 4 fewer seats arrives. Another zoo… and another free train ticket. (But not when they have busses…) But what amazing luck we had – we saw all we wanted under beautiful skies. A very special trip with my mum and sister (and Anthony).Scotland is calling me back already!…
After Scotland, we spend a few days catching up with our niece and a few old friends in Kent. We really enjoyed a community movie night organised by Anthony’s old college friend. The number of volunteers involved and the services they provide such as driving people who are unable to drive themselves, the inclusion of two shorts around the theme of the movie, Green Book, and historical documents explaining what the “Negro’s Green Book” was about made for an inspiring and very enjoyable evening.
Time for a trip see family and friends in France too. More new sights, lots of live music, lots of long walks and way too much food!!
Now it is time to return to Iceland, and get rid of all those extra kilos. Let’s hope our new gloves are waterproof and warm or better still, that the waterproofing feature is not tested too much…
We have been in Europe nearly a month already! Our timing was chosen specifically to join our nephew Matthew in celebrating a very important event in his life: his ordination into Dominican priesthood. A major milestone for him, a great occasion for family to get together and a proud moment for his parents and grandparents.
For the past 4 weeks, we have been criss-crossing the UK to visit family. Our second important family event took place in London: it was very special to be able to watch Anthony’s niece Fenella perform in her end of year dance show. And a very proud moment for her mum, Anthony’s sister Tansy. Sadly, no photos were allowed, but we did all get in between the afternoon and evening shows for celebratory refreshments and dinner. The last big event is this Saturday, our nephew Sebastian’s christening, which Father Matthew will be officiating.
We have seen my mum, attended one of her amazing 2 hour guided tours of Canterbury cathedral which she gave to a group of French students, played many games of scrabble, seen my dad and niece Marion for the ordination, seen my sister Diane and most of her family, celebrated my niece Camilla’s birthday, enjoyed an impromptu home concert, seen Anthony’s sister Tansy and family in Dorset, visited cousins Celia and Richard in Scotland where we did a spot of sightseeing in Kirckubright and single malt tasting and also visited my nephew Timothy and Bex and their 2 gorgeous boys. We also spent 5 days zooming from Amsterdam to Antwerp to visit Anthony’s cousin Lesley and family. So great to catch up with family who have also been faithful followers of our blog. Wherever we have been, we have been totally spoilt and fed so many amazing meals. It is time we get back on the road and work all those treats off!!!…
In between the family visits, sightseeing and lovely walks, we also managed to catch up with our old friend Eugene – it was on the 14th July, the day Marianne, France’s symbol for Liberté, Égalité et Fraternité, cried for France and the whole world following the attrocities in Nice. We visited Antwerp on Belgium’s national day – a little unnerving after Nice but we were not going to be deterred. We also caught up with close friends Pat and Andy from Brisbane who happened to be staying 5 miles from a motorcycle shop we had planned to go to.
After Belgium, we nipped down to Lille, in northern France to go down memory lane and revisit old haunts. This is where I went to uni and Anthony used to come over every three weeks to see his French girlfriend back in 1977! Time does play tricks on the mind. Sometimes it feels like no time has passed between visits to family/friends or places and it oddly seems normal to be where you are and other times, you know a place should be familiar but you cannot remember until suddenly, out of nowhere, a glimpse of clarity followed by exhilaration. I loved seeing where I used to live – there was one door bell for all the student rooms back then. As I was in room 5, my visitors used to have to ring the doorbell 5 times – you had to start counting as soon as the door bell rang to find out if it was for you or not. I was glad I wasn’t in room 8!! I loved the modern Lille cathedral with it’s wall of Portugese mable. Thanks to our friends Jan and Ineke for telling us about Roubaix and especially the renovated art deco swimming pool – stunning!! On the way back to Amsterdam where we had hoped to catch up with other friends, we made the most of the time to see the Cuyperspassage at Amsterdam Central station with 80,000 blue Delft tiles.
We have been lucky with the weather – we are after all in the UK so have to talk about the weather! It started absolutely freezing, was mostly grey, often wet, we didn’t get to see any of the Peak District on our way to Scotland but we did see this year’s British summer and it was amazing.
As we’ve gone from place to place, we pick our route based on either new places we want to see or good hotel deals. And so we ended up going through Sheffield and Blackpool. Both places have seen better days but they also each have their story and therefore are interesting. I remember the coach trips I used to make with my grandparents when I was little – I have happy memories of fun, treats, unusual Blackpool rock (teeth breaking sugar stick), delicious bright pink fairy floss, loud game arcades, carousel rides. Fifty years on, I could decide whether Blackpool is sad and tacky or nostalgic. I chose the latter. Which reminded us of a question we were asked recently: how much had we sugar coated our blog of our recent round the world trip as we hadn’t described any bad experiences. We described our feelings of what we experienced, good, bad, tough, frustrating but nothing bad happened to us. But of course, what we have recounted is our perception of what we experienced – our attitude to life automatically ‘taints’ or reflects our perceptions. Going back to Blackpool, I enjoyed the memories, watched young families building their own, decided to leave the old faded pink fairy floss but couldn’t resist this magnificent carousel – I had a full ride all to myself and enjoyed every second.
What about Streak and Storm?!?! You’ll have to wait a day or two for this update…