Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Scottish Trip Day Three...The Journey Home

After 6 and 1/2 - 7 hours of sleep, I woke up, had a bath (no shower in my room) and took a seat in the B&B dining room.  Half way through my Scottish fry up, a Dutch couple joined me and we struck up a conversation.  They had traveled to Iona to explore the monastery and to find out more information about the modern Iona Community (an ecumenical/transnational affiliation of Christians who are interested in spiritual transformation as well as social justice and other global causes - although the group is formally based out of Iona, most of the members are spread across the UK and a few other countries).  This Dutch couple are a part of an independent (free church - autonomous congregations) Dutch reformed church.  I would have enjoyed chatting with them longer, but alas, my ferry was about to leave and it was imperative that I make all of my connections.

After the short ten minute crossing back to Mull, most of us on the ferry then climbed on the coach to take us back to Craignure.  As I waited in line to board the bus, Gavin Fox, the bass player tapped me on the shoulder.  He and Seonaid (the fiddle and keyboard player, not to be confused with Hanna) were also heading to Craignure and then onto the ferry back to Oban on the mainland.  As we talked, we discovered that we were both on the same flight from Edinburgh back to Dublin and so we arranged to meetup in the airport later that evening.

Although the weather was mostly good the first two days of the trip, on this day it was a typically Scottish wet, windy, misty, and dare I say, mystical if not a little mythical kind of day.  It was amazing to see how large the mountains on Mull were.  Each one seemed to have a beautiful waterfall cascading down its slopes.  If this area hasn't already been used as a film location, it needs to be!

The ferry crossing to Oban was uneventful (probably a good thing), and after we docked I had a little time to kill before my train took off, so I wandered the little streets and found a coffee shop on the corner, called The Coffee Corner, fittingly enough.  I read some scripture, spent some time in prayer and then found a newsagent and bought a couple of newspapers for the journey south.  I had spent most of the trip to Oban listening to music and admiring the scenery, so on the way back down I mostly read the newspapers.

Once I arrived in Edinburgh, I decided to take a stroll through the Scottish National Art Gallery.  It's free and open late on Thursdays.  I appreciate that there are a lot of talented painters, sculptors, and other kinds of visual artists out there, but my general take on these works is something like, "That's good, nice, huh?, interesting, that's weird, cool, different...".  But, every now and again I need to do a culture top up and after my walk through the gallery, I think I'm good for several months.

The weather, by the way turned really nice by the time I arrived back in the capital.  So when I left the gallery, I walked through the park before jumping on the bus to the airport.  I had a simple time navigating security and the usual duty free shops on my way to my gate.  When I got to the gate, the line for boarding was already a half mile long.  Thankfully, Gavin was doing the sensible thing and letting everyone else stand, while he sat and waited.  I joined him and we talked about our trips down to Edinburgh, music, life, Dublin, faith, the past, and the future.  Our conversation extended onto the plane and through the flight back to Ireland.  Once we had safely landed and made our way through immigration, we exchanged e-mail addresses so that he could inform me of any future gigs that his present band, Little Matador (this band includes the guitarist from Snow Patrol) might be playing.  I received an email from him only this morning letting me know that they would be playing a gig soon at Whelans, here in Dublin.  Hopefully I'll be able to make the show.

Overall, my trip to Scotland was a far better experience than I could have imagined it to be.  The sights, sounds, and especially the people were amazing.  I look forward to many more musical journeys in the months and years to come. - Shay  

Friday, August 9, 2013

The Isle of Iona...Scotland Trip Day Two

I don't sleep well in hostels, I was reminded as I woke up at 6 am.  Rather than trying to continue to sleep, I crawled out of my bunk, went downstairs to the men's showers and got myself sorted for the day.  After turning in my bunk bedding and room key, I had another stroll around the village to see what might be open at 7 am.  Mercifully, by 8 a cafe opened and I sat down at a table and promptly ordered a full breakfast - eggs, toast, beans, tomatoes, potato scone, bacon rasher, and white pudding.  After a cup of tea and then a cup of coffee I went back out to explore more of Tobermory.  Around 10 am, I climbed back up the hill and popped into the AnTobar arts and music centre.  During the day the place doubles as a coffee house/hangout.  So I had a coffee, did some reading, and hung out a bit before heading back down to the harbor to catch the bus back to Craignure and then onto Iona.

A mix up with the local bus company meant that the only bus available to take us to Craignure was actually a bright red open top bus.  So I spent the 45 minute trip up top filming the scenery and letting the cold wind blow through my hair.  After another hour bus trip, this time on a coach, I was at the end of the Ross of Mull where I boarded a ferry over to the isle of Iona.  It was only a 10 minute ferry crossing and before I knew it I was getting settled into my bed and breakfast on the little island.

Iona was originally settled by an Irish monk/missionary named Columcille (Columba in Latin).  Legend has it that due to the deaths of several men who had engaged in a couple of conflicts in which he was embroiled, Columcille was "exiled" to Scotland.  At any rate, he and 12 followers did set up a monastery on the island around 560 and eventually an Abbey was built on the site.  His work was certainly crucial in the evangelizing of Scotland and he remains an important figure in Church history.

My bed and breakfast wasn't far from the Abbey, so I had a look around the place before I hiked up the highest hill on the island.  The views were magnificent, not so much on the island, but what you could see looking back towards Mull, the mainland of Scotland, and out west over the Atlantic.  I then wandered back into the main part of the village and scarfed down some dinner while reading a newspaper.  Then it was back to the B&B and then over to the village hall.

Although I had paid my dues the night before, my name wasn't on the list, but the fellow at the door didn't seem to mind - very trusting, thankfully.  I had a chat with an English guy from Yorkshire named Luke and then I went and took a seat for a few minutes until I needed to heed nature's call and stroll back to the toilets.  As I was washing up, Roddy stepped in and asked how I had enjoyed Iona.  I shared a bit about my day and then went back into the hall for the start of the concert.  This was the first of two encounters with Mr. Woomble in the toilets that night - both by accident and both friendly.

Roddy and the band sounded excellent again this night.  The set list was mostly the same, but played in a different order.  I happened to be sitting next to Soren's (the guitarist's) girlfriend, Hanna, and we had a nice chat before the first set and during the intermission.  I discovered that Hanna will often play fiddle with Roddy when his other fiddle player is unavailable.  She also fronts here own ceilidh band and they actually played during the ceilidh after Roddy's gig.  A ceilidh is a traditional Scottish or Irish dance.  Before Roddy's last song, he mentioned that though most of the people in attendance had come from just down the road, there was a guy from France and another guy from Dublin in attendance.  Nice to get a little name recognition from the stage!

That wasn't the last I was referenced from the stage.  A couple of songs into the ceilidh, Hanna announced that a guy from Austin, TX needed a partner, so I ended up learning to do traditional Scottish dancing, but very poorly, I might add.  I participated in two dances and had some interesting chats with some other locals before I said my goodbyes to Roddy and Gavin and headed out into the darkness to find my B&B.  I read a little from one of my new books before I hit the light and drifted into dreams. - Shay 

Monday, August 5, 2013

Planes, Trains, Buses and Ferries...Scotland Trip Day One

After four hours of sleep my alarm woke me up at 4:15 AM on Tuesday, 30 of July, 2013.  Juli and Ashlyn graciously took me to the airport and after a quick kiss, hug, and goodbye to both of them I was queuing in the security line and then sipping my first cup of coffee as I waited for the call to board the plane to Edinburgh.  The Edinburgh airport is a few miles outside the city centre, so about an hour after landing, I was wandering the streets of this historic burgh.  I've been to the Scottish capital on a couple of other occasions, so I found a cool coffee shop and sipped another caffeine infused beverage while reading the latest soccer transfer news from the local papers.  I then took a stroll up the Royal Mile before descending into the shopping district of Princess Street.  I bought a couple of discount books and then made my way to Waverly Station to catch my train to the Highlands.

After a quick change of trains at Glasgow Queen Street and another 3 hour journey through mountains, hills, rivers, and lochs, I arrived in Oban with only 30 minutes to kill before my ferry journey.  I quickly booked my ticket and then boarded the ferry for the 45 minute crossing.  I was able to get some great video of the sea, mountains, inlets, castles, light houses, and the like as we made our way to Craignure on the Isle of Mull.  Once there I hustled over to the bus to Tobermory and bought a return ticket.  The bus quickly departed and 45 minutes later we were on the north side of the island in the picturesque village.  After waking up at 4:15, 13 hours later and I was at my destination.  The village of Tobermory was the film location in a BBC children's program called "Balamory".  Ashlyn has watched this show on occasion, so I made sure to get lots of video of the village to share with her.  I made my way to the hostel (I later learned that I could have stayed in a B&B for the same price - I am officially done with youth hostels!), dropped my backpack on my bunk, and then set out to explore the area and get myself some dinner.

On the north end of the village I located a fish restaurant that seemed to have been written up positively in quite a few travel and food magazines and since the prices listed seemed reasonable, I popped in to eat some fresh, locally sourced catch.  However, I was told that the place was all booked up for the evening, so I disappointingly made my way back to a fish & chips van that was parked by the pier.  The line was long but the wait was worth it as I enjoyed the best fish & chips I've had in years.  The British do fish & chips better than anywhere else in the world!

By 8:00 pm I was making my way up the steep hill to the AnTobar arts and community hall for the gig.  As I arrived inside the venue I noticed the dreaded sign saying "sold out".  I hadn't actually booked my tickets yet because there was no online link to do it.  You were to simply call the centre and reserve a place over the phone.  I had assumed there would be plenty of tickets available when I arrived.  I sheepishly walked up to the desk and the friendly lady behind the counter inquired if I had a reservation.  "No, I'm afraid I don't", I responded pathetically.  "How many are there of you?", she asked.  "Just one.", I said, hopefully.  "Well, we had one cancellation, so if you'd like to take that, it's yours."  I of course jumped on the offer and I went ahead and reserved my place for the following evening on Iona.  That was a good move, because I found out the next day that the Iona gig also sold out.  Before heading into the room for the music, an English lady named Christy who had witnessed my denial at the restaurant earlier asked me if I was able to find a place to eat.  I confirmed that I had enjoyed some fish & chips and we had a wee chat for a few minutes.  I discovered that she was from Bury St. Edmunds, the town where my grandfather had been stationed during World War Two.  She was in town for a whale/dolphin watching expedition and had decided to check out the concert, though she had never previously heard of Roddy Woomble.

We were soon ushered into a small little room and the hundred or so of us in attendance were gifted a wonderful set of contemporary folk music by the four musicians and Roddy's lead vocals.  The band took a half hour break and we were all able to stretch our legs enjoy some refreshments.  I walked outside and witnessed an amazing sunset over the harbor with the sky colored pink, blue, and purple, highlighted with a few stray clouds.  As I enjoyed the view, Roddy popped out to near where I was standing and had a seat at a picnic table.  I extended a handshake and had a seat across from him and we chatted for 15 or 20 minutes about music and life and a little bit about ourselves.  He was impressed that I had traveled all the way up from Dublin for the gigs and he introduced me to the bass player, Gavin Fox, who had previously played with him in Idlewild and is a native Dubliner.  Gavin and I chatted about Dublin and discovered that we only live a couple of miles a part and frequent many of the same city haunts.  Before long it was time to head back in for the 2nd set.  It was equally as good and after saying goodbye to Christy and a couple of the other nice people I had met, I wandered outside and found a nice quiet place to phone Juli and tell her about my day.  I eventually went back to the hostel and did my best to sleep in a room with 5 other strangers who I had never met and never would meet.  But for 6 hours one Tuesday, we all slept just a few feet from each other.  I hope that was my last night in a hostel, if not forever, at least for many, many years. - Shay