HAPPY 4TH OF JULY!
So its the 4th of July.. here in Denmark that means..
Having gotten my 4th of July festivities out of the way. On to Scotland! (Though to be fair I am going to the Bishop’s Arms bar tonight for beer, and a group of us might be going to get some BBQ which will be eaten while listening to this, I must at least try to celebrate.)
By the third day of my Scottish adventure, the weather had completely changed over to the infamous drizzle and grey skies of lore. Luckily the pouring rain of Tuesday was gone, and wouldn’t return until Friday. Wednesday began much in the same way Tuesday had, with a big hearty breakfast at the hotel. This time around I tried more haggis, but passed on the bloody sausage, though I did eat like 4 of the veggie sausages. We had a fairly long day planned, and after breakfast we all met in the lobby of the hotel where we boarded a bus bound for Fife, a region in Scotland. Our bus driver was really awesome, and seemed to alternate between tour guide and driver. He had a lot of fun stories about the things we passed as we were leaving Edinburgh, which included passing by the park were gold was invented. St. Andrews is the famous home of golf, but according to him (and I’ve found sources to back him up) golf’s true home is the park below.
Its nothing too fancy, but then again, neither is golf if you really think about it. We also passed by the new home of J.K. Rowling, though I was on the wrong side of the bus to get any photos of it. From what I could tell it looked like your standard billionaire’s house, if there is such a thing. As we proceeded out into the suburbs, he showed us his brother’s house and then told us about his crazy wife and their crazy kids all of which were doomed for prison and how she was a complete psycho and his brother was totally incapable of controlling them. He said all this while laughing and insert comically jests from time to time, as I mentioned, dark self depreciating humor. I can’t think of one time in America I’ve heard someone make fun of mental illness, juvenile delinquency, and a crumbling family all in once sentence. As we reached the Firth of Forth, a branch of the River Forth, which separates Edinburgh from Fife. On this spot is the famous Bridge of Forth, which was constructed in 1890, was the UK’s first steel structure, and is still the 2nd longest single cantilever bridge in the world.
I tried to get a picture of it, but I’m just not good at taking photos inside of a bus, the people and the glass seem to mess with my shots at every occasion. After that we passed into Fife, and saw the foundations for what is apparently the initial stages of construction for what will be the longest bridge in the world. According to our driver the bridge is a financial nightmare and most likely will never be completed. But Fife was my first time out into the lowlands country side, and the views did not disappoint, though my ability to photograph them did. I can basically sum them up pretty nicely though, it was either a small town, sheep, or roundabouts. I saw more sheep in Scotland than I have in my entire life up to this point, and the same thing can be said for roundabouts. The countryside started off pretty flat as seen below, but we eventually got into the very, very bottom of the foothills of the highlands.
So where we we headed? We were bound for the Playfield Institute, which is located on the grounds of the former Stratheden Hospital, an insane asylum. Sounds nice and pleasant right? Well actually it was, the asylum was always a very progressive asylum, so there were few of the horror stories we’ve come to expect from 19th century mental health facilities. The Playfield Institute itself was across from the asylum, located in a former juvenile center (since kids are crazy, you know), but unlike its grounds predecessors the institute is devoted to much more happy fare. They are part of a nationwide effort to make the Scottish people more happy, as apparently they are depressed. They do this through a variety of training methods for teachers, management, counselors, etc. They also focus on children, with an entire section of the building being devoted to child research. We spent about five hours there, doing some of the activities that normal clients would do, ranging from Qigong, to blowing bubbles, to drawing pictures, to staring at a flower. Despite the relatively mundane descriptors above, everything was actually really cool. My favorite activity being one where we associate positive thoughts with candies, then eat them in the order of how important they were to us. This all obviously ties into Positive Psychology, and our primary focus was on the different methods employed in Denmark vs. Scotland, since apparently the Danes are so happy.The coolest part of the institute was their meditation rooms, little zen rooms that employees and clients alike can enjoy through the day. The grounds and the whole institute were actually pretty cool, and I’m glad we went, the five hours went by faster than expected. The lunch full of traditional Scottish fare helped pass the time as well 🙂
After leaving the institute, we boarded the bus again, and heard more stories about various places we were passing through. Including the story of Abercrombie (of Abercrombie & Fitch Fame). Turns out Abercrombie is actually a tiny little village of about 15 people, and the person who left it never came back, but they did use the name when they became rich. We also saw the caves where Alexander Selkirk, the real-life inspiration for Robinson Crusoe lived after he decided that he hated people after being stranded on an island for so long. Our destination was the small town of Elie, situated on the coast of Fife against the North Sea. Our academic mission for the day, and the entire trip actually, was over. We were headed to sea to go kayaking. As we approached Elie we got a glimpse of where we would be getting very wet, and very cold in the near future.
Now, what follows is limited solely to my recollections, because picture evidence does not exist. I had hoped to be able to take my camera out while kayaking, but a couple of things stopped me. First off, the water, its kind of a sea, so this is self explanatory. Second, the water, it was also starting to rain, so 360 degrees of water is sort of an issue. Third, its not my camera, its Meem’s, had it been my own camera I might have been more willing to risk its death. In retrospect, I’m glad I didn’t take the camera because of how much work kayaking turned out to be, I don’t think its plastic bag I brought along would have helped much in the end. So, since I can’t provide any picture of me kayaking, here is a shot of one of the areas were I paddled around.
My kayaking adventure started off with obtaining a wet suit, not to be mistaken with a dry suit that actually keeps the cold water away. I was given a suit, then we all marched over to the meager changing facilities, which amounted to about 1′ of space to change for each person, and zero privacy. It was much worse for the girls though, as they had the same amount of space with three times the people, so I can’t complain too much. I hadn’t brought a swimsuit, because I completely air-headed it, though no other guy had one either. This meant that I donned only my skivies and a wetsuit as we went to the beach to get the kayaks, more on that later. When we got to the kayaks, I immediately pounced on one of the singles, because I wanted to be alone in this endeavor. That was a decision I initially regretted, but later came to be thankful for. On the beach there were three kinds of kayaks, single ocean kayaks, double ocean kayaks, and single river kayaks (this is the kind you are probably imagining in your head right now). There was also one teeny-tiny sailbot, which held two people, I passed on that one. Me, having never kayaked before, and wanting to be in a single, picked one of the river kayaks. In turn, this meant that when I hit the water I endlessly paddled into circles despite my best efforts to replicate the kayakers I have seen on TV. Eventually I figured it out, only to find that rather than go over the top of the waves like the ocean kayaks, my kayak cut straight into them and subsequently went underwater like a frigging submarine. Apparently the design of a river kayak does not yield good results in open water with large waves, I did not learn this until it was far too late. They only brought them out because we were such a large group and all the ocean kayaks would be used up. Me being me, I passed up multiple offers by the instructors to change boats, and after about 30 minutes I was out-paddling everyone, including the double sea kayaks. I seem to have an affinity for all things water related, its a shame that I haven’t found a way to incorporate this into my life more than I have.
After about two hours of kayaking, I was completely soaked, thanks in no small part to my kayaks burning desire to explore the bottom of the sea. We had a race back, and I beat everyone by a fair margin, which impressed the lead instructor quite a bit given that I was in a river kayak. He didn’t believe me that I had never done it before, but I seem to get that a lot when it comes to water related stuff. After bringing my kayak to the beach, the lead instructor pointed to a distant pier and told me to go jump off of it. At this point I was the only one there, having beaten everyone back, so I asked him how deep it was, he responded with “deep enough”.. oh so reassuring. However the burn of curiosity was in place, and I headed over to the pier. I was stopped by another instructor, who told me I needed to wait until he asked the lead instructor as apparently at certain times of the day it is too shallow and I would splatter all over the bottom. The lead instructor reconfirmed that it was “safe” to jump, and by this time a few other guys and one girl had joined me. We were all pretty nervous, given the precarious situation we were in. This was a full sized pier, so think of that height, but make the water “deep enough” then prepare yourself to plummet into it, and oh yeah, make the water as cold as you can imagine. After people started to back off, I decided I would be the guinea pig for great justice and I just went for it. It was a long, long, fall and I hit the water like a ton of bricks, and sank.. and sank.. sank.. until my foot hit the squishy mud of the sea floor, and then I rebounded back to the surface. A quick thumbs up revealed to the other students that I was ok, and then I realized that I was freezing to death. I climbed the slippery metal ladder back to the top, and watched as the others jumped in, but the majority never made the jump, I can’t say I blame them too much, it was very high, and very cold.
Now, remember how I said I had a wet suit and my underwear? Yeah, I hadn’t thought about that. See I had no spare clothes, and there were no towels for anyone to use. So most people were drenched with no clothes to change into, and we were drenched in salty sea water. This led to a choral rendition of “Free Ballin” (a wet DIS student rendition of “Free Falling” by Tom Petty) as no one had any underwear to use and just carried on without. We boarded the bus, and it stank to high heavens, which resulted in a lot of complaining by the girls, it may sound sexist but its 100% fact. They then complained (also all girls) about wanting coffee, which resulted in our female DIS attendant convincing the bus driver to take us to McDonalds, which in turn resulted in about a 45 minute stop so they could have their precious coffee. Needless to say I’m still a little bitter.
That night everyone was so tired that we just ate dinner at the hotel’s bar, which was probably really expensive, but I don’t even remember how much it cost exactly, I’m thinking around 7 pounds for a sandwich. After that I played beer pong for the first time in my life, then learned how to open a beer bottle with just a window ledge and my hand. After leaving the partiers behind, I watched a little more UK television, which tries so hard to copy US television that its a little sad. I fell asleep to South Park, then was later woke up by my roommate coming back late from drinking, and no one in the world was surprised. All in all it was an awesome day, despite a lot of frustrating situations. My first time kayaking was in the North Sea of the cost of Scotland, I doubt many can say that.
Scottish Tidbit of the Day: Roundabouts
Ok, so maybe this isn’t exclusively Scottish, I imagine its a UK thing, and really even a European thing. But they love their roundabouts here. For those of us in America who can barely understand a single lane roundabout, imagine a four lane roundabout going in the opposite direction, yeah, they exist. Try as I might, I was unable to fully understand all the signs and road markings in regards to roundabouts while in Scotland. Granted, I never once drove, which is probably a good thing, but I spent a lot of time riding, and still couldn’t figure it out. While driving on the other side of the road didn’t really bother me, I think the crazy taxi rides in Nassau got that out of my system really fast, the signage was almost alien. As we left Edinburgh I would guess we went through at least 15 roundabouts, some of them branching off of other roundabouts, so yeah, roundabouts on top of roundabouts. If that wasn’t enough, some roundabouts had different signs than the others, which really threw me off. Had I had the time to set and watch one for awhile I probably would have got the hang of it, but just flying through them in buses doesn’t give much of a chance for learning the method of the chaos. Some things I just couldn’t figure out on my own, such as the jagged white lines on a road, and so I had to ask. The driver acted surprised that I cared about such things, which kind of surprised me, I figured lots of people would ask, perhaps I’m just weird like that. Below you can see a sign for a small roundabout we encountered just outside the town of Kellie, in Fife. And 13 degrees Celsius is 55 degrees Fahrenheit, just in case you wondering, this was mid-afternoon on June 27th.