For my spring break Evan and I decided to go to the UK and Ireland. Both Evan and I have family in Scotland. My mom's cousins Josephine and John live near the Edinburgh area. Evan's uncle Gabe, who is a professional fiddler, lives on the other side of the country in a tiny fishing village, called Arisaig. I had skype called Josephine a few times to find out a little more about them and tell them our plans of visiting Scotland. They sounded really cool on the phone but I was very nervous about meeting them in person.
Our flight was delayed an hour the night we flew into Edinburgh and I was so worried because Josephine and her husband, John, were picking us up from the airport. There seems to be a lot of Johns in my family for some reason. They offered for us to stay with them AND they told me that they were early risers so I was feeling really bad that our flight was getting in at 9 instead of 8 pm. Luckily, it was easy to find them in the airport and we got along instantly. They are such nice, warm people. I had bought a bottle of Mallorcan white wine as a present but was really nervous because I didn't know if they drank alcohol or not. I figured so because they are part of my family but I didn't want to offend. O
Of course, as soon as we get into the house, John asks us if we want a glass of wine, "red or white?" and I go for white and Evan goes for red. It is so funny because Josephine drinks white wine just like me and my mom and dad. And we stayed up until 2 in the morning talking!!! I couldn't believe it! They were keeping us up! John had taken a couple days of work to spend time with us (so nice) and we went into Edinburgh the next day. We took the train in and met Shirley, John and Josephine's daughter, and their grandson, Jamie, who is 10. Jamie is their son, Derek's son. Shirley is so funny and Jamie is a really great kid. We had a great time.
We went and visited the Edinburgh Castle and took the tourist bus around the city. Josephine packed us a lunch of sandwiches and chips to eat up on the castle. The weather was drizzly and overcast as is the speciality of Scotland. I love Edinburgh, it is such a beautiful city with lots of life. I would love to go back and explore it further. I was also very surprised with how much I enjoyed taking the tourist bus, you get to see so much more of the city and hear a little bit of the history, than you would just walking around. We got dinner in Edinburgh and then headed back to John and Josephine's to hang out and talk some more. Josephine's brother, John, and his wife, Anna, come over for a drink and a chat. They were both very nice and it was really interesting talking to John because at one point he was very into working on the family tree. He said that us visiting made him very excited to start working on it again. They were only able to stay for a little while because Anna had family in town that they had to attaend to. I really want to go back to Scotland one more time before we head back to the States just to spend more time with the family but I don't think that is an option because of money and time :(
The next day we drove out to St. Andrews, the home of all the famous golf courses and tournaments. The Scottish countryside is absolutely gorgeous, with its rolling hills and "stain dikes", which means stone walls in Gaelic. There were so many sheep and cattle roaming the hillsides. We walked around the town of St. Andrews and enjoyed some steak pies and onion bridies. We also visited the beautiful ruins of a cathedral and a cemetery. Then we headed back to Rosyth (where John and Josephine live) for a dinner of Chinese food, where we met Derek and his wife Leanne, and their daughter Erin, who is 5. I showed everybody the album of pictures I put together of my parents, Alex and all the family in So-Cal. After dinner we set up Skype on Josephine's iPad and were able to Skype with my parents and Alex. It was a very exciting and emotional moment for Josephine and my mom to talk and see each other for the first time. Josephine had showed me a great album of photos of her mom, Elda and my nono, and their other brother Aldo, who is still alive and lives in Australia. I saw the wedding photo of my nona and nono, and many photos of my mom and my uncle, Sandro as kids that my nona and nono had sent to Elda. I guess Elda and my nona were best friends growing up in Italy and that is how my nona and nono met.
The next morning John and Josephine took us to the airport to pick up our rental car to start our cross-country journey. I was really bummed because this was Easter day and we were missing Jamie's soccer game and the kids Easter egg hunt. Evan had, of course, sent a last minute email to his uncle Gabe a couple days ago and he told us he was doing a gig in the town next to his on Easter. We didn't hear back from in time to know which bar the gig was in but at least we knew the town. Evan and John researched our driving route the night before and John had been in Malaig before (where Gabe's gig was at) so we felt pretty good about getting over there and being able to find him. John and Josephine were so great, they led us to the right highway and sent us on our way. I forgot to say to that they paid for everything for us the entire time we were with them! We didn't know what to do, every time we tried to pay for something they wouldn't let us! We were planning on staying the night in Inverness in the north of the country and then our last night would be back at their house before we left the country. I was sad to go so soon because we had such a great time with them. It was amazing how quickly we all got comfortable. Shirley said it best when we were skyping with my parents, "it feels like we have known them for ages!" and I couldn't agree more.
Anyways driving through the Scottish highlands were absolutely amazing! So many different microclimates to see! It felt like we were pulling over every five minutes so Evan could get out and take pictures and I could scamper around and look at plants and lichens. And I was so excited to see a real live bog! Scotland is the perfect environment for lichens and I saw such a huge diversity that I have been looking into masters programs in Scotland.
We got to Malaig around 4 in the afternoon and wandered the tiny town for a bit asking about where Gabe McVarish was playing. We found his band on the second try. It was great watching him and his band play Scottish fiddle music. It felt so authentic because we were in a bar in a tiny fishing village on Easter day with all the locals watching some great music. There were even some people dancing!
Gabe is only 37 but has lived in Scotland for the last 20 years. He came over originally to do a fiddling apprenticeship and never left. He has 2 kids that we didn't get to meet that are 11 and 13. His kids are from his first marriage and they live with their mom who is from Finland. He looked like he was 30 and one of Evan's cousins. We had seen some pictures of him before but he looked a lot like Evan and Evan's mom so that was very helpful. We ended up staying the night at his house and stayed up talking and drinking beer. He is a really cool guy and I'm sad we only got to talk with him for a night. He had to leave early the next morning to go teach fiddle lessons to kids on the island of Aig that we could see from his town. Next we come it will be better planned so we can spend more time together. He was very generous and offered to let us stay at his place but we were planning on going to Liverpool the next day so it was better that we left with him. Gabe has a mix of an American accent and a Scottish accent, but if I hadn't know he was American I would have thought he was Scottish. That far north in Scotland, all of the road signs were in English and in Gaelic. Gabes said he knows some Gaelic because he has taken classes and his kids speak Gaelic because they go to an all Gaelic school. I really wanted to spend more time with him too because I want to hear more about his dad, Evan's grandpa, who died a few years back. Evan's mom doesn't really talk about him because he left her mom when she was 5 or 6. He must have been something though because he has like 9 or 10 kids. Gabe I think was his youngest kid.
After we left Arisaig, we traveled up to Inverness, where we stopped for lunch. Inverness was ok but not the coolest place. On our way to Inverness we drove alongside Loch Ness, which was very cool for me because I was really into Nessie when I was a kid. It was very touristy there though so we decided not to check out the museum.
Then we went to the Dalwhinney whiskey distillery for a tour. I don't like whiskey but Evan loves it. The tour was very interesting and they gave us chocolate with the whiskey tasting so I was happy. We also got this cool "passport" to the other Scottish single malt distilleries that gives us free tours and tastings there. Now we really need to go back to fill out our passport! We bought a bottle of whiskey for Jo and John to thank them for their gracious hospitality.
That night Jo made us a very Scottish dinner that was amazing! Mince and tatties! So basically mashed potatoes with minced steak in a delicious gravy sauce with cooked carrots. We also had some haggis, which I actually really liked, and really good pork sausages. So much meat in Scotland!
I really want to go to Australia now and meet my family that lives there. Aldo, my nono's brother is the last sibling still alive and it would be great to meet him. Josephine was telling me that when they went to Australia they felt like they had known them forever and it was very hard to leave. That is how I felt in Scotland and it would be great to experience the same thing over there.
I forgot to mention how every time we departed from John and Jo's (when we went to Arisaig and then when we left to Liverpool), Jo packed us a huge picnic lunch and snacks. Sandwiches, chips, hard-boiled eggs, fruit (because I told her I love fruit), chocolate for Easter, granola bars, etc. I swear they cleaned out the cabinets for us! It felt so good to be "home" there and be mothered a bit. I know my family would get along so well with them. It would be great if we could make a family trip to Scotland at some point!