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October 14, 2009 > First impressions of a novice traveler

First impressions of a novice traveler

Submitted By Betty DeForest

If you live in a community where public transportation is as poor as in Southern Alameda County, London is a miracle. The streets are rather narrow with little on-street parking and I never saw a parking garage. London is not a city that accommodates the private car.

Taxis are ubiquitous. Public transportation buses seem to run on a five-minute schedule and if you want to see the sights with someone to provide all the local color... tour buses abound. For a nominal, one- time fee you can alight where you choose do some sight-seeing and catch a later bus to the next attraction... we hopped on and off local tour buses for four days. The Tower [of London], bridges, cathedrals, monuments, expensive shops, Green Park and old Roman walls were all available for the price of a bus ride.

We rode the Underground (aka Tube) to Victoria Station where we boarded a train to Windsor to tour the Castle (the Queen was not in residence). We visited Buckingham Palace and went to the theater. All this with no driving and only a couple of taxi rides. By the way, cabbies in London and Scotland only drive... they do not open doors or stow the luggage... they are friendly, talkative and a great source of information but they are firmly planted in their seats. When it comes to those suitcases, you are on your own.

Scotland brought to mind a line from an old John Denver song, "...going home to place he'd never been before". Scottish by descent but many generations removed from my immigrant grandfather who arrived in Canada in the mid-1700s, I was interested in visiting Scotland but surprised by my emotional response to the place itself.

The beauty of the land was unexpected. The Highlands left me breathless. Coming from a very dry California, the flowers were amazing. They bloom everywhere; on the hillsides, in the dooryards, even hanging in baskets from the lamp posts. The villages with winding streets and architecture that reflects the progression of history provided opportunities for strolling.

In Scotland, sheep with florescent, colored-dye spot abound; great brown shaggy Highland Cows (or Heelan Coos, if you prefer) graze in the fields and most dogs strongly resemble their sheep-herding heritage even if they live in the city.

Whether in the city or the countryside, Scotland is a tidy country; no litter anywhere and very little graffiti. But it does rain there... often. If rain spoils your holiday, then this is not the place for you. However, most folk just unfurl the little umbrella they carry in their purse or back pocket and go about their business.

We sat with 3,000 others watching the annual Military Tattoo at Edinburgh Castle in a downpour. On the field, hundreds of pipers and drummers did not miss a beat or a step. We had a wonderful time and learned a lot about the toughness of men in kilts!

Perhaps because castles, cathedrals, and ruins dot the countryside, history feels very alive in Scotland. Cab driver, tour guide, or pub landlord, folk speak of the events of three hundred years ago as if they occurred last week. The castles are more than old museums. They are places where folk from all levels of society lived out their lives and left their mark behind. Stains on ancient floors, hollows worn in stone steps from years of passing feet, names and dates scratched on the stone walls; all attest to those who once lived here.

The trip was much too short. My "someday" involves a return trip to Scotland for a longer stay. The dream would be to rent a house, or maybe exchange my California ranch-style for a cottage in a village, for a couple of months. A car is not needed but a dog must be available.

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