I travel not to go anywhere, but to go. I travel for travel’s sake. The great affair is to move. – Robert Louis Stevenson

Helsinki-Vantaa International
Thursday 1220pm, February 2003
We are on our way to the land of William Wallace and the hallowed grounds that is commonly known as Scotland, land of the Scots.

Winning KLM’s summer poetry contest has finally paid off. A much needed break from the Finnish winter and what remains of tornado alley, the name for our new apartment. Moving is always a pain in the ass, but moving to another time zone for a Valentine’s weekend retreat is always most welcome.

We have left our offspring with his grandparents and our dog with my lady’s godmother. Oscarius Benedictus Alvarius perhaps is already enjoying the countryside and junior is soon to awake from his morning nap, if not already.

Newcastle brown ale allows the Dr. Jekyll to Mr. Hyde transformation to begin (pronounced GEEkl, not JEHkl). Seeing the dirt behind the scenes. The historical abnormalities of Edwin’s Burgh. The Firth of Forth filth and beauty living side by side on cobblestone streets under the dormant volvano. Old Town versus New Town.

Schipol International, Amsterdam
The Netherlands. Prime real estate on the River Styx in the lovely suburbs of Hades. I prefer the name Holland – land of tulips, brown coffeehouses and modern day skinny windmills. Soon to be underwater when the Atlantic decides to expand.

Grolsch Square offers Grolsch beer. Groovy. Awaiting the D25 departure of the Scotlandia Express. Perhaps KLM is cutting back on expenses. Only one alko beverage per customer and the box lunches keep getting smaller and smaller.

The airport is almost empty. Afraid to travel everyone? Life must go on. Period.

Edinburgh, Scotland
The Sherwood Guest House. Five rooms with a hearty Scottish breakfast from 8-9am. Managed by David and Susan “Joni Mitchell” Greig. 10% discount if you pay cash. About the breakfast, get there quick to have some cereal, then the coffee arrives. Order a bit of it’all – sausage, bacon, tomatoes, mushrooms, hash browns, eggs, toast and jam. Everything fried. More grease for the guts, gets you going.

I was once a fish n chip virgin, but not anymore. The Southern Bar serves Hoegaarden on tap. Kildare’s serves many brews while a SR-71 Blackbird documentary airs in silence.

Edina! Scotia’s darling seat!
All hail thy palaces and tow’rs,
Where once, beneath a Monarch’s feet,
Sat Legislation’s sov’reign pow’rs:
From marking wildly scatt’red flow’rs,
As on the banks of Ayr I stray’d,
And singing, lone, the lingering hours,
I shelter in they honour’d shade.
– Robert Burns

Friday for the festivities. Everywhere, courtesy galore. From the reminder signs leaving the airport saying “Drive On The Left” to the Italian waiter at Gordon’s Trattoria on High Street. And yes, driving on the left is a skill best recommended with pure concentration. Just follow the car in front of you and you’ll be ok.

The Castle is amazingly built. A solid, sturdy defense. Take the audio tour into the bloody history of the Scots. The memorial for fallen warriors and the National War Museum of Scotland are primo. From the early Roman invasions, the isles of Brittania has always seen battles for supremacy.

The swans near Arthur’s Seat are a treat. They gather round nearly attacking the old Scottish ladies with bags full of stale bread. The swans look good enough for Thanksgiving. Drive on the left!

Greyfriars Church under re-construction beneath the dusk of sunset and the chilly full moon. The spirits of those lying in the Earth beckons visitors to remember past lives and glories gained in their vintage years. The spookiness makes your skin climb inside out.

Such sweet symphonies emanate from the hallowed grounds of Greyfriar Bobby’s perch. The little dog is still silently waiting and listening for its masters return. Aware not that the master has died.

The Grassmarket pubs and restaurants are the safe haven for college students on the weekend. Under the spectre of the castle overlooking the city, the street eagerly awaits those ready for sinful indulgence. Little beknownst to many, the Grassmarket held the city gallows. Watch them fall and gasp in awe.

Highly recommended is the McEwan’s Edinburgh Literary Pub Tour that starts from the Beehive Inn at Grassmarket at 1930 every Friday. It is a raunchy, riotous entertaining affair through Scottish literary history of the last 300 years with visits to 4 different pubs to boot. The actors were a treat. We met a Minneapolis couple with Nordic roots and hung out at the “real” Milne’s Pub in New Town. Afterwards, we followed the footsteps of Inspector Rebus over the North Bridge. Haggis and chips at a restaurant on the walk back to the Sherwood. Hey, there’s a cab. Let’s not walk the last few blocks. Where’d I leave my hat?

Saturday – recuperation day. Finally a chance to sleep in until noon. Half a chicken hangover food at City Restaurant, the scene of the haggis scenario of the evening before. Catch me if you can cinema to wind down the nerves with a laugh.

Sunday drive to Pitlochry to see the lovely Queen’s View of the Grampian Mountains. The true highlands. With hairy Scottish cattle and clans of sheep beckoning for morsels of grub of humans doing their best “ma-a-a-a-a-a” interpretation. Pitlochry, the town, is quaint. Not many tourists this time of year. Drive on the left!

Birnam and Dunkeld are home to Beatrix Potter’s Garden and Museum Shop. Plentiful Peter Rabbits conniving for attention hosted by the Birnam Institute.

A quick tour of Edinburgh’s suburban landscape with Morningside’s greystone buildings and homes bastioned against the wet wintry chill.

1500 hours. Rugby’s 6 Nations Cup. Scotland hosts Ireland at nearby Murrayfield Stadium. The Scots get blasted 36-6. We don’t see the match live and save £100. Lucky us. A quick visit to the Oxford Pub in New Town, Ian Rankin’s hangout. A quiet night with a bottle of wine and more late evening fish and chips and baked potato.

Monday is time for Milk of Magnesia to save the day – prior to plane embarkation.

The entire clan gathers again in Finlandia.

Scotland – a blend of the old and the new – with something for everyone. Freedom!!!

Visiting exquisite French villages and exotic vineyards,
Dancing amongst a legion of sunflowers,
Following the footsteps of Vincent Van Gogh.

(winning poem of ‘KLM’s 2002 ‘favorite summer holiday in 20 words’ contest 🙂