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A Scotland Adventure – Part 1, the overview!

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Hello, and welcome back to your annual story time of Ben and Sarah’s international adventures! Keeping with the tradition of the last few years, Sarah and I visited with her family, this year going back to Scotland.

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From Saturday, 21-December, 2019 all the way through to Saturday, 04-Jan, 2020

 

Part 1 – The overview, and photo highlights

The general framework of the trip is detailed below; we didn’t come into the trip with any major plans or goals, we were really looking forward to the time to relax after the busyness of 2019. It’d been a pretty amazing year, full of huge amounts of growth… but with that growth had come a number of challenges that left us fairly drained.

A visit to the Highlands was exactly what the doctor ordered.

 

Quick summary of our trip to Scotland!

  • Leave Portland on Saturday, 21-December-2019
  • Get stuck in San Francisco due to a delayed flight, and stay overnight at the super-posh Grand Hyatt while also getting to walk around the city and visit my cousin
  • Arrive in Scotland on the 23rd… but unfortunately without our checked bags
  • Explore Aberdeen for two days (Tuesday and Wednesday), getting to see the Art Museum, attend the midnight mass at St. Maccars, and even watch dolphins jumping in the surf outside of town
  • Drive to the Isle of Skye, staying overnight at the BenLeva Inn on Loch Ness. We don’t see Nessie… but we do have a full can of Irn Bru (a type of soda) vanish, leaving only the pierced and empty can…
  • We spent three full days on Skye, and had an excellent time exploring and photographing everything we could find. Some major adventure points were:
    • We hiked up to the Storr (in the rain)
    • Explored the town of Portree, and ate some extremely good Cullen Skink
    • hiked the Quiraing route from the parking lot down to the town of Flogetty
    • Walked out to the Fairy Pools
  • Back in Aberdeen, we spent a day touring around the countryside, seeing standing stones and other amazing points of interest.
  • We spent another day back in Aberdeen exploring the city – seeing Greta’s office, visiting shops, and walking through some amazing museums

 

Christmas in Italy – The Basilicas of Christmas Day

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Christmas in Italy – The Basilicas of Christmas Day

In keeping with the tradition of adventure, Sarah and I went on a big trip for Christmas and New Years!

This year, we met up with Sarah’s family in Italy, traveling to Rome and Florence; not quite a perfect midpoint for everyone, but it was close enough. And, also, you know. Rome. Florence. Amazing!

Please forgive me for some of these being a bit out of order… the posts are organized somewhat chronologically… but also organized by theme and location.  Some may not be exactly in chronological order, so for reference please see the initial summary post, which has a complete day-by-day, blow-by-blow account of the adventure.

 

Monday, 25-Dec-2017

 

Christmas Morning! Ohh man! Wake up and open presents! Eat delicious Italian breakfast! Coffee! Ahhh!!

Yep. Huge changes from when we were all little – instead of getting up early, screaming, and opening presents, we got up early, screamed, drank coffee, and then opened presents! Huge difference.

Of course, after that initial tomfoolery, things did get a little different than back home. Instead of enjoying a snowy morning of playing outside, or maybe taking a stroll before making lunch, we went to a few Basilicas. Because that’s what you can do in Rome – just wander around and quickly see a few basilicas.

The streets were eerily quiet when we started out, but honestly not as empty as I would have expected for this level of holiday. There weren’t many shops open, but there were a lot of people milling about; though whether they were tourists or Romans, I honestly couldn’t quite tell. Regardless, the city wasn’t packed, but it sure wasn’t empty either.

Interesting aside – tourists weren’t that easy to pick out, at least for me, here in Rome. Maybe that’s because I don’t live there, and don’t notice all of the tells… or maybe just because Romans are such a diverse and energetic bunch?

As for the actual places we saw:

  • Santa Maria della Vittoria (a Minor Basilica) – Our first stop of the day, with tons of sculptures and angels; a really cool difference from the usual flat stone and paintings. The whole building seemed to be sculpted with a single plan in mind, with 3D movement everywhere.
  • Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore (a Major Basilica) – Not quite as big as St. Peter’s, though I don’t think any building in the world is quite as impressive as St. Peter’s. Santa Maria Maggiore is still gloriously huge – It’s a major Papal Basilica (one of four in the world, all in Rome), and had services actively going on while we visited. I can’t even begin to describe the artwork, except to say that it was really cool and intensely impressive.
  • Basilica of Saint Praxedes (another Minor Basilica) – My first major relic! Here they have a column that Jesus was supposedly flogged against, prior to his crucifiction. Sort of macabre, but really interesting to see, especially since it was just in a corner of the church, instead of behind 20ft of security doors like you’d see in the States.
  • San Bernardo alle Terme (an abbatial church) – Not actually a basilica! This church is part of an abbey, and is thus technically an “Abbatial Church”. Neat! Architecturally, it’s a cool circular church, with a series of gorgeous statues around the perimeter.
    As a note, kind of neat seeing 4 men and 4 women statues

Bottom line is – these places were amazing. Each church could have easily been a major tourist destination anywhere else in the world… but here in Rome, they were nearly just another building. There were people there, of course, but not the crowds that one would expect.

Though maybe that was due to it being Christmas Day.

Which, it being Christmas Day and all, we didn’t want to stay out too late in the day. We were all pretty low-energy, even with the revitalizing scent of incense cloying to us, and so we headed back to the house after those four. We debated going onward, but the allure of lunch was starting to call us in, back to hearth and home.

The rest of the day was quite lovely, and definitely relaxing. I headed off on a bit of an adventure of my own for a bit (Ed Note: See post “Walking to the Drusian Arch” for details), but the day stayed quite relaxing and luxurious aside from that. We relaxed, chatted, and all continued catching up.

Dinner kept to the same theme, though it was definitely as decadent as one would expect from a dinner in Rome. Since we assumed that all of the main restaurants would be closed on Christmas Day, we had planned on making our own little feast – a light salad, followed by a nice pasta dish, and then a heaping plate of roast beef paired with an excellent red wine. We ate, laughed, talked, and sipped our way through the evening, bring an excellent Christmas to a close.

Christmas and New Years break, 2016 into 2017: Christmas in Aberdeen

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Christmas and New Years break, 2016 into 2017: Christmas in Aberdeen

Christmas in Aberdeen

Saturday and Sunday, 24-Dec-2016 and 25-Dec-2016

This is Sarah and my’s second Christmas together; and our second Christmas celebrating in a different country than we usually live in. Go us, right?  Let the new traditions begin…

 

Saturday

Christmas day was our travel day from London, so we spent most of the day just relaxing and catching up with Sarah’s family – I finally got to meet her Brother Henry and his girlfriend Leah, and Sarah got a chance to catch up with everyone (the birds included!). But since our train did get into town pretty early, we had most of Christmas Eve to burn…

Drum Castle and the Falls of Feugh was our adventure for the day – a manor / castle nearby, and a small tea house near the town of Banchory. Drum castle was an amazing intro to Scotland – it was basically a fortified manor house; a defended tower surrounded by low walls, gardens, and neat little buildings. But it also has an amazing playground… which Sarah and I proved wasn’t just for kids. Feugh Falls afterward was a system shock, since we’d only been looking for a small place to have lunch. But instead, we found the tea house, which had been honored by Parliment as one of the best places in the area, and was far fancier than we’d expected. But we stepped up, Sarah coached me with her charm-school knowledge (I’m learning which forks to use when), and had a great time.

Christmas Eve was full of food and cheer, starting out after a nap to keep Sarah and my’s jet lag at bay.

We went to the early services at St. Machar’s Cathedral, where we enjoyed an excellent service and some neat cultural knowledge – a tradition there is the “christingle”… an orange with a candle (a glowstick, in our case) in the center, with four spears around it. It represents the light of Christmas, surrounded by the four seasons, with a ribbon around it representing the blood of the sacrifice.

Definitely interesting, and I loved getting the chance to see the full service in a cathedral that was first founded in 580… as in, over a thousand years before my home country was even founded. Of course, that original church (Kirk, technically, since it’s in Scotland) no longer exists, but the cross from the doorway is still around, and has a place of honor in the new cathedral. “New” being a relative term, since the new building was raised sometime in the 13th century.

Other trivia fact: St. Machar’s cathedral is the burial site of part of William Wallace. ¼ of Wallaces corpse (remember, he was drawn and quartered) was sent to St. Machar’s as a warning to other dissenters. Macabre.

The rest of Christmas eve was full of Hannukah lights, a great lamb-leg dinner (including tons of awesome scotchs that I’d never tried before), and celebration that everyone had made it into Aberdeen safely.

 

Sunday:

Christmas day! The day we open presents! Woo!

It was fun! This was the first full Christmas morning that I’ve had in a while, so us kids made the most of it… having a nice breakfast, getting all excited, opening presents, etc…

The rest of the day was pretty low-key, after the insanity of running downstairs and eating massive quantities of chocolate from our stockings. Henry and Leah brought a ton of candy for everyone… which is exactly what Sarah and I also did, as well as Bill and Greta. So, there was a lot of candy.

We did get energized enough to go for a short walk afterward though, before it got dark – one danger of Scotland is that the winter days are super short, thanks to the high latitude. So we jumped into some warm clothes, and explored the park near the house: a place called HazelHead park.

And we were, once again, reminded that we’re not in the States anymore. Scotland is old… and they love their monuments. Hazelhead had everything from this one fountain that was donated by a lord a few hundred years ago, to a huge memorial garden for the dead from an oil platform accident a few years back called Piper Alpha. It was really cool seeing such a wealth of history, even so far outside of a major city like London or Edinburgh.

Once we got home, it was already pretty much dark… but only 4:30 or so in the afternoon. So Sarah and I napped, then stepped up and helped make an amazing fusion dinner of turkey, cranberries, stuffing, and latkes! Combining Christmas dinner with Hannukah tradition? Yes please!