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the land of William Wallace

Stirling, United Kingdom

I can't believe how bizarre it is to be in Scotland. This needs some explanation.

So, there's a stereotype about Germans that they're very blunt and mean. This is a very simplistic and naïve version of something that is, kind of, true. Germans tend to be more private and distant, but only at first. I have met very few mean or unfriendly Germans. It's just that at first it can be hard to get to know anyone, because people don't talk. That whole thing Americans have about just making conversation with the person next to you in a line that's taking too long does not happen. At all. Once you get to know people they are very nice, and very funny and helpful and welcoming and everything like that.

So suddenly being in a place where people make jokes and talk before actual introductions is a HUGE shock for me. The weird part of it is that it's exactly like home. Except with accents. For something that I've missed so much (this incredible openness, helpfulness, friendliness) it shouldn't shock me so much. But it does.

Anyway, on Monday (the 2nd) I caught a noon train headed for Stirling. I've discovered that the English countryside heading up strangely resembles the Midwest... in winter anyway. I slept through most of it (even though I'd promised myself I wouldn't) and woke up just as I started to get into Scotland. I was, for a while, thoroughly confused about the landscape. AG had sent me all of these pictures of Stirling and her university, and they were all in the mountains. So the clock kept ticking away and I kept thinking "there are no mountains!" There was fog and rain and sheep and villages and churches and everything except mountains. Suddenly, about 5 minutes before the train was due in, they suddenly appeared out of the fog. There were no foothills or anything - just flat, and then mountains. Small mountains, granted, but in America they would have had foothills.

My first night here we were supposed to go to a cailidh (the spelling may be wrong, but either way it's pronounced kay-lee) which is a sort of traditional dance. But AG didn't manage to get tickets, so we ended up drinking hot chocolate instead. One night we also went to the Celtic Music Association's meeting (which is just some people playing music and everyone else listening). Seating was rough, but the place was, it claims, the oldest pub in Scotland. Overall it was pretty cool. Minus the sitting on bathroom steps part.

We took "day trips" to Edinburgh and Glasgow (Stirling is about halfway in between). Day trips is in quotes because AG sleeps so late - they were actually more like evening trips. But they were nice, anyway. In Edinburgh we ate dinner at the Elephant House - J.K. Rowling used to go there to sit in the backroom and write. Even without the claim to fame, though, the food was delicious and the building and restaurant itself was absolutely awesome. Our waiter was American and doing his Masters at the university there, but it took everyone a very long to figure out that we were all from the same country. In Glasgow, we basically ate and went to a piercing parlor.

I did have one really awesome experience on the University itself. Their classes are split into lectures and tutorials - lectures are just that. It's almost like watching a performance because there is no interaction at all between the professors and students. I went to a few lectures (LInguistics and Scottish history) because 1) I would have been bored and alone otherwise 2) I was interested and 3) no one would know that I wasn't Scottish let alone not a student. So one day AG was in a tutorial, which are smaller, discussion-based classes I can't sit in on, so I just wandered the loch (yep, they have a loch!) taking nature-y pictures. The trees all had these really cool, twisted silhouettes because of how the light was (sun through fog) and it's still winter. I saw one particularly cool one up the hill from me, and decided to get closer to get a good picture of it.

So I go ahead and start climbing the hill, just in my sneakers, jeans, overcoat, etc. It was mucky and squishy and I've never heard so many sounds come from the ground I've walked on. I had to fight my way through underbrush and around various sorts of plants. Finally at the top near the tree, I break out of a wall of spindly little bushes, kind of stumble out, and look up to find about 5 or 6 people. Swordfighting. In medieval costumes.

There was maybe a full minute of silence in which everyone just stared at each other. I still don't know who was more shocked: me to find medieval sword-fighters, or them to see me fighting my way out of bushes. So I just dusted off my knees, said "Um... have a nice day!" and walked away. When I was finally a good distance away from them (meaning they wouldn't get suspicious) I turned around to take a picture of them against the mountain. (it will be posted soon, promise!)

Other than that, I just spent a lot of time in AG's flat. Her roommates have a really funny dynamic, and I really enjoyed just hanging out with everybody and watching how they interacted with each other.

Anyway, tomorrow I catch a plane from Prestwick to Shannon. Later!

permalink written by  lost_red_balloon on March 9, 2009 from Stirling, United Kingdom
from the travel blog: I'm a homeless illegal immigrant...?
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The swordfighters were the Battle reenactment society :D

permalink written by  Neil Masters on April 17, 2009

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