Friday, July 31, 2009

One Week Along

One week ago, I set foot on Scottish soil for the fourth time -- and this time I had no ticket back arranged. I made a one-way reservation with trembling heart and got on the plane one week ago yesterday. And now I am here.

The week has been full, it seems -- full of getting to know a new place, a new city. I purchased a bus pass today, one that has my photo on it, and realized that I am here for a while. I knew that before, but with this purchase, it really began to sink in that this is where I am settling.

I have visited three banks to ask what it would take to open an account. I never thought about needing a passport for a bank account before, but I will need it here as proof of identification.

Tomorrow I will make a test run on the bus system to find out how long it will take me to get to the church on Sunday morning. They have a 9:00 a.m. family service, so I may have to leave quite early to make it with the reduced weekend schedule.

My search for a pet-friendly apartment continues. I had set up a viewing for one today that probably would have overlooked the water -- but had a call this morning cancelling it because I had been beaten to the draw. Someone had made a holding deposit already. Then I found one that is situated between Edinburgh and the rural parish I will be serving during my second six months. If they take pets, the location would be just about ideal -- close to the city, but in a smaller town. I think I would like that a great deal.

A couple of observations from today:

I began the morning watching a Scottish squirrel taunt a Scottish cat. Some things look the same wherever you are. The squirrel didn't seem at all concerned -- no tail-twitching or chattering. It would come just close enough for the cat to think there was a hope of capturing it, then scamper away on the railing of the fence on which it was hanging. You may guess how this episode ended. The cat was left with hope and nothing else.

The second thought has to do with umbrellas and wind-blown hair. One should never, ever leave the house here without an umbrella attached to one's body. If you don't have one, you should obtain one as quickly as possible, because you WILL need it. It doesn't hurt to have a pair of sunglasses, either, because you will be alternating their use with the umbrella on 10 minute cycles.

As to the wind-blown hair and questionable hair-dos? All I can say is that I am glad I have short hair. The wind blows enough and hard enough here that any hairdo you have is going to be a wind-blown style whether or not you meant for it to be that way. And if it is flat, it is only because you have put a hood up to stay dry because you forgot to bring your umbrella.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Finally Up to Date

Today, Wednesday, I had my first day in. The forecast as of yesterday was for lots of rain. Instead, it was a beautiful day. The temperature made it to about 67 degrees and it was quite breezy, so I opened the windows wide while I did some laundry and finally unpacked my bags. There is just a little more putting away to do now -- and I still have to find that blasted card reader!

I finally had the brilliant thought this morning that I could look for pet-friendly apartments without going through the regular letting agents. Sure enough, I found some listed just that way and this afternoon received a call back from one of the emails I sent. I will be taking a look at the apartment tomorrow. Though it is on the second floor and unfurnished, I want to see it. It is a step in the right direction.

I also unpacked the quilt that my Atlanta Outlander group (in conjunction with the larger group) gave to me before I left. It is just the right size for when I sit and type or read and I have it across my lap now. It is a comfort to have the support and love from a lot of people all around me.

This is the first day I have cried at all -- and that was when I was writing about Gretchen. I am missing her and I am missing my boys a bunch. I know that it will only be about six weeks until I can get them, but it seems like it is forever. It will probably be a good thing when I begin work this weekend. It will keep me busy doing something besides exploring!

Monday, Monday; Tuesday, Tuesday

With the Gathering behind us all, I decided it was time to begin to settle in for real. I first went to T-Mobile to set up mobile broadband so that I could get online again. Then it was off to the main bus station office to find out about bus passes. There is an excellent public transportation system here, so I don't have to worry about a car just yet. That is good, because it means I have time to become accustomed to having cars come at me from the other direction before I have to learn to drive with them!

I have discovered that post offices here do a lot more than just post mail. They will exchange money for you and a lot of other things. That was where did my dollar exchange.

When I got home, ready to add to my blog, I found out that I had to prove that I was over 18 to access it! My new mobile broadband service automatically blocks adult-content or user-generated websites until you unlock it. So, Tuesday I was back to the store to prove that I was indeed a grown-up who needed access to her own blog. Was I over 18? Yes, only by 30 years. Sigh.

I spent some time Monday night surfing the web, trying to wind down and get somewhat settled in. Then came Tuesday.

Tuesday couldn't seem to decide whether it would be rainy or sunny, so it was both. I left the flat in the afternoon to run a few more errands, primarily to the T-Mobile store to make sure I could be a grown-up. Then I took my first major bus trip -- I found my way to the Ikea store which is south of Edinburgh. I found some lovely folks who made sure that I got off at the correct stop. I wandered around for a little while, feeling the familiarity. I made a small purchase -- a lap desk from which I write just now, a good sized glass, and a large coffee cup. The ones supplied in the flat just weren't big enough for the coffee I drink!

I made my way back into the city and made my way to Tesco, one of the major supermarkets. I spent a good bit of time there trying to figure out what could use. One thing I have discovered. Powdered cocoa and sugar-free anything are not really to be found. I did find the cocoa at one store, but not at Tesco. I miss the Trader Joe's sugar-free dark chocolate! Did you know that if you have a pay as you go phone, you can top up the balance at the supermarket check out?

Anyway, I spent a good bit of time Tuesday night looking for apartments that might accept pets. I went to bed after sending several emails, hoping that one of them would take. We will soon see.

The Gathering and the First Days

Sunday morning broke rainy -- which makes one realize why everyone here carries an umbrella. I discovered that it is true that if you don't like Scottish weather, wait five minutes and it will change! Still, I headed out early for worship at the Canongate Kirk near Holyrood Palace. They were scheduled to have a Kirkin' of the Tartan, or so the Gathering schedule noted. It wasn't like any Kirkin' I had seen -- Extremely Low-Key is how I would describe it. We sang two hymns that I knew well, however, and it felt very familiar and comforting. One was Amazing Grace, which Highland Heartbeat had done the day before with the gathered audience.

After worship, the rain had stopped and it was off to Holyrood Park for more of the Gathering. I got there in time to see a presentation to the Clan Gunn leaders here of a gift from some of the Clan Gunn New Zealand, a presentation that included traditional Maori elements. It seems that one of the Clan Gunn had emigrated to New Zealand some years ago and had married a Maori woman. He had planned to attend the Gathering, but died before that could happen. This presentation was in memory of him. It was truly striking to see the cultures come face to face and know that the world is small and related in a web that we cannot fully perceive (and yes, there is a picture to come).

At 11:00, the Red Hot Chilli Pipers took the Music Stage. Dressed in black and red, these guys know how to rock. In fact, they call their music "bag-rock." Check them out! Standing in the rain was worth it to hear them play.

There were the Heavies competitions going on -- hammer throw, stone throw, caber toss, and all the good things like that -- on the main field. As much fun as it is to watch them, I was headed for something that I really wanted to do. Two of my favorite authors in the world were speaking that afternoon in the Scotland Lives tent. Diana Gabaldon (Outlander series) and Alexander McCall Smith (First Ladies' Detective Agency series and others) were scheduled one hour apart. I had found out only Sunday morning that online reservations had been required for these sessions, but that unticketed persons would be seated after all the ticketed ones were in. As long as the lines were, I was able to get it to both of them -- and was I ever glad I did! As I expected, each one was as delightful in person as they were in their writings, in completely different ways. I got my picture made with Diana, and yes, my Outlander friends, it will be posted.

It Has Actually Happened

It has finally, actually happened -- and there is still a part of me that is in utter disbelief.

I am sitting in a third floor flat (translate - apartment) in a complex used for Church of Scotland missionaries on furlough. I see trees and buildings -- and what you should have seen was me trying to get three overstuffed American bags up three flights of stairs! Getting them back down should be easy. I think I will just drop them down the stairwell.

I left Atlanta on Thursday, July 23 amid a rush of activity. The house was packed up, most things in storage, and I had said a teary "see you later" to Asher, Joseph, and Timothy. They are in three separate homes for the moment until I can find a pet-friendly flat here in Edinburgh and return for them in September. I miss them bunches already. Then again, it is probably a good thing that they are in a settled place while I get settled here.

One of the great sadnesses of leaving, and probably why I had blogger's block for so long, was that I had to say goodbye to HRH the Princess Gretchen Marie. Gretchen was my baby girl, a long-haired red mini dachshund who had taken over my heart. I love my boys, but Gretchen was something special. Two weeks ago today, I held her in my arms as the vet helped her go to the Rainbow Bridge. It was one of the hardest things I have ever done. It seems that each time I thought about writing, it meant that I was one day closer to having to release her. She was 16, blind, and having doggie dementia. I realize that being separated would have been sheer trauma for her -- but that doesn't make it hurt any less.

Now I am here, and life begins anew.

As I said, I arrived Friday afternoon and was met at the airport by Mary Ann Rennie, the pastor at St. Anne's Parish Corstorphine (, where I will spend my first six months of my familiarization year. Mary Ann is very pleasant and I think we are going to get along great. We arrived at my temporary flat about 3:00 p.m. At 7:00 p.m., I met some Clan Gunn folks for dinner. It was the night before The Gathering 2009 began, that huge celebration of Highland games and Scotland in general in honor of Robert Burns 250th birth anniversary. We had a great time getting acquainted.

At the end of dinner, they had asked what I was going to do about getting into the Games on Saturday. I had planned to get day tickets. A moment after we walked out of the restaurant (and I was "a-salted" by one of the waiters, who - for some reason I don't recall - put salt in my hand), a woman crossed the street and asked if any of our group needed passports to the Gathering events. After we looked at one another in astonishment, I said yes and paid 20 pounds for something that would have cost 60 had I bought it earlier. Not only was I able to get into the Games for both days, I was also able to march with my Clan Gunn in the Clan March on Saturday night and to attend the big event in the Esplanade of Edinburgh Castle afterward. It was right at the end of the march that I spotted Diana Gabaldon, one of my favorite authors, taking in the march before the program. What a thrill!

On Saturday, I was a bit groggy in the morning, but got out that afternoon -- a beautiful sunny, no-rain day -- and met up with friends I had met through my Outlander Gathering online group. Sam and Scot were meeting Conny and her mother Iris, who were going on Sam's and Scot's Jamie and Claire tour. Conny and Iris are just delightful! While Scot did a turn at storytelling for some folks, Sam, Conny, Iris and I rambled about the Royal Mile just enjoying each other and the weather.

I traipsed on down to the Games field and caught a concert by Highland Heartbeat after that, breezing through the gate with my recently acquired passport. And yes, there were a load of men in kilts to admire. There was also a band named the Red Hot Chilli Pipers who are now on my favorite list. Talk about being able to rock a bagpipe! I found my Clan members on the way back up the Royal Mile and hooked up with them for the March.

While we waited for the March to begin, I looked up and saw two familiar faces coming toward me. John and Charlene Earl, who had been members of the church I served in Canton, GA, were headed my way. You might be able to imagine the shock we all had at seeing each other amongst the thousands of people massed for the March! Walt Disney's song "It's a Small World" keeps running through my head....

We marched, we waved, we visited, I got a proposal of marriage from the sidelines, and we experienced a late evening extravaganza all about Scotland. Proposal? Yes, that's what I said. A man in the crowd at the March called out, "Marry me! I'm rich!" My response? "What time?" I
never did hear an answer. We had marched on by this time. Still, a tad bit of flirtation and a marriage proposal all within 36 hours of arrival does a heart good.

I did take some pictures and I promise that they will be posted as soon as I find my card reader. It is in a bag that has not yet been unpacked. There is much more to tell, but I will do that in a separate post very soon. Promise.