Scotland found us staying in the heart of the same type of community I mentioned in Ireland. This time we stayed in a women’s house: typical college living except these women were also missionaries at University or else working with the community offices. The best part was that I found this connection through a girl from Michigan I had met on a mission trip back in sophomore year of high school. She moved to Scotland this year to work and well hey- pretty cool to hang out with friends from the states who are also living abroad!
We arrived in Scotland early Sunday morning and made it to the house with time to breathe and change out of travel clothes before going to Church, which was conveniently located 5 minutes down the road. I’ve been attending Church by myself the past few months, so this was a treat to be going with friends. And I was joyfully surprised that everything was in English- I’d forgotten that detail.
Mass was fairly uneventful apart from the advent wreath catching on fire, but afterwards, the music had barely stopped when a lady tapped me from behind and asked us where we were from because we looked new to the place. We soon found ourselves invited to the Church hall for Tea and biscuits, where we also met several other older folk who were elated to meet some American girls. We had a lovely discussion, which included one old man writing his number on a sugar packet in case we got in any sort of trouble after we told him we were going to a pub that night. hahaha. Since the women were waiting for us back at the house, we left the friendly Scottish and walked back home laughing.
That first day we went to a Christmas market very briefly, a place we would later regret not spending more time at since we returned the next day to find it over. We attended a Community Gathering and met more extremely friendly people, several of whom offered to take us places in Scotland during our stay. Then we hopped in someone’s car and went to some other family’s house for dinner.
This will forever be one of the best days of my life: we’d been up since 4am, flown from Ireland, walked all over Scotland, and talked to so very many people. We were very happy but very tired, and though hungry for dinner, we weren’t sure how we would last until the pub outing that night. We walked into this little house and the mom immediately sat us on the couch, covered us with blankets, plugged in the tree and turned on Christmas music, giving us instructions to stay put while she made us coffee. Not really what you’d expect entering the house of someone you’ve never met, but we were happy to obey. Dinner followed after short conversation; a warm homemade meal. The couple shared with us their journeys to joining Community and meeting each other- both entertaining and inspiring stories of faith. We felt so at home and felt that we received a lot of wisdom in that time from adults that we suddenly realized we had great respect for. They were clearly full of joy and able to share that with others. Their stories of deep faith smoothly transitioned into whiskey – don’t ask me how – and suddenly we were also getting an education on Single Malt Scotch. Ask me sometime- I’d be more than happy to share the information I learned from a “Real Scot” (as I’ve been instructed to say).
Drowsy from several post-coffee glasses of wine and slightly confused by the following shots of whisky tasting, we were once more instructed to do nothing and cuddle up on the couch in the next room with the Christmas tree and music. We fell asleep instantly. When we were awakened half an hour later to be reminded of our night out, dreams of drinking in Scottish pubs were seriously reconsidered as we sat so warmly in that house. Not to overstay our welcome or be too carried away, we did slowly leave, feeling very loved, warm, and happy. Unless you have experienced such undeserved, un-elicited, good, pure, overwhelming love from complete strangers it is difficult to describe the emotion us girls felt as we walked away from that family. Needless to say this was one such life moment where you say to yourself; “I want to be like them when I grow up.”
Our night at the pub was in the same small town with another group of University/post grad students and great fun was had. I have a couple friends in this group and so it was really fun to see them again and hang out in their hometown at a place familiar to them. You always learn more about people when you see where they come from, and I felt I was able to understand my friends better when I could be in their home. Community life is a melting pot for the world- on the bus back home I met a girl from Canada who was doing work with a University in Scotland. Crazy. Thus ended our first day in Scotland: a very full, pretty perfect day.
The next morning we returned to town and to the Christmas market that was now closed. Instead we walked by the river, came upon a Church and were lucky enough to make it to Mass and Confession. For this Catholic girl living in a foreign country, the sacraments have been quite the interesting experience. Nothing makes you not want to sin like realizing you might not be able to go to confession because you don’t speak the language. (looking up bad things you’ve done on google translate is just weird, I’m sorry). I’ve been blessed to have opportunities in timely moments in languages I can speak. In Italy I went to confession in Spanish, and spoke English in Scotland. Haha! This is what I call God’s sense of Humor.
Anyways, after the lovely Cathedral, the 3 of us girls had a delicious lunch at a real Scottish restaurant- complete with plaid carpet and more whisky options than I knew existed.
One of my travel buddies had been surprised by her family with a flight back home for Christmas, and so we had to then walk her to the bus station. On the way we squeezed in a stop at St. Mungo’s Necropolis, which is an enormous Victorian Cemetery. Weird, yes, but very cool.
We then bid goodbye to travel buddy three, and became a twosome. The rest of the night got interesting.
I was left with my friend Amy who I hadn’t got to catch up with for almost a year- so we decided to go out for a drink and talk. As we walked we passed a bar called Waxy’s and made fun of how uninviting that name sounded.
Our first option was Coffee, and we walked to several places that were too ritzy or too full before settling on one. The waiter told us to sit anywhere, but we were very quickly shooed out of the first table we sat at by a different waitress. Rude. Confused we tenatively sat somewhere else. After a long discussion we were hungry for food so we decided upon food and real drinks. We couldn’t find anything that looked very promising, and we ended up at the weird Waxy place in the end. It was the coolest bar I’ve ever been to. I felt like I was in Hogwarts: there were so many staircases leading so many different directions, with hallways and rooms every which way.
Everything looked like it had been built into a tree almost, and there were old bookcases, furniture, and wall decorations in every room. We settled into a cozy room somewhere inside on the 3rd 1/2 floor, by a window overlooking the city and a fire in the stove near us. We decided on drink and food, and I was sent to the bar to order.
That’s when we discovered how strict Scotland is about being legal.
I’ve been carded a few times in my life, but never yet in Europe. Since being in Europe, where the drinking age is so much younger and the culture seems so much more relaxed, and due to the often-given caution about pick=pocketing, I haven’t carried my ID on me while out in a long time. So when the bar tender asked me for my ID, I just stared at him. “What? Oh. Uhhh. I don’t have it with me.” He wouldn’t let me. The old men at the bar told me to take it as a compliment, but unfortunately that kind of compliment doesn’t buy me drinks. “Fine.” I said, “I’ll just order the food then.” The bartender proceeded to tell me I couldn’t even have food since I wasn’t even supposed to be there if I couldn’t prove I was legal.
The coolest place in Scotland quickly became the home of the worst bartender ever.
Amy and I sadly left, not sure whether to be angry that we couldn’t be there or laugh because we got carded in Scotland of all places.
By this time we were really ready for a drink, but fate had other plans because every other bar we went to wouldn’t let us have any. So we just bought pizza, which for future reference, you should never do in Scotland because they mess up pizza. What a day. We returned home tired but comically satisfied with our day. One more left: and more generous strangers to come.
This next morning we were picked up by a woman from the Community who had offered to drive us somewhere in Scotland if we wanted. I couldn’t even remember her name. We got in her car along with another young woman from the area, and drove an hour out to Loch Lomond, the Loch famous probably only because of the song. It was stunning. and it was a Loch, which is just cool to say.
We spent the morning there, walking around in the quaint little town (historically preserved) and enjoying the view. Then she took us out to lunch at a cute little family run cafe in a converted house. There were 5 tables in the whole restaurant, and food was a little slow in coming because it was all handmade upon order. Again we were welcomed into the life and stories of complete strangers, and left pretty speechless with their generosity. On the way home we stopped on a different bank of Loch Lomond where we did some shopping and said goodbye to Scotland. The lovely Miss Sarah dropped us off at the Airport and we boarded a plane to Rome with great regret at our short stay. Between Scotland and Ireland it’s hard to say which was better, but I can assure you that out of everywhere I’ve been, they were the best.