Saturday, August 31, 2013

Third Morning Arise

I turned the oversized key to the right and it fell out, too far.
I slipped the key back into they keyhole, turned it, waited till I felt resistance, pulled, and the door eased open.

Greeting me was a gentle mist, laundry on the line, cows, sheep, and one of my new favourite smells – the highland wind. That's the smell I'll never want to forget.

It was fresh. It had bits of hay in it. It was cool.

This morning I found myself waking up at 5:56 AM. Bedtimes of 10:15 PM will do that to you. I gave myself time to ease awake, thought a bit, wiggled my toes, and got up.

My bedroom was a bit nippy and I had to convince myself that I would warm up if I got on my clothes for the day. I definitely wasn't in Ukraine any more. I had gone from even a sheet being too hot to sleep under to needing a thick blanket, quilt, and fuzzy blanket.

This is sweater weather, my favourite sort of weather. This is the weather that can stay grey all day, only breaking out into blue skies a few times if you're well behaved (or some other elaborate reason like that). Now, as I look out the window, on one side of the house I see solid looming grey that the sunrise tinted a lavender pink colour, just for me, I think. On my right, it's blue skies with just a few fluffy clouds to keep things real... I mean interesting.

Door opened, I slip-slaped my way to the kitchen in my well-loved Ukrainian slipper-sandles. Opening that door let Tot and May out. A bit of encouragement and they raced out the doors.

The kitchen was cabin-cozy warm from the oil stove that runs all the time. I made up some day-old porridge by lifting up one of the covers on the two hot circles on the stove. The porridge was hot before I could go to the kitchen, grab a mug, and come back. It was the sort of porridge that takes over 30 minutes to make – the real kind. Scot oats. A fresh peach was grabbed from the bowl of fruit and I sliced it up thin. A mug of hot tea was a good accompaniment.

I'm ready for today.

My time here was been worth being grateful for.
I'm grateful I get to have time to explore the highlands. I'm grateful for time to spend wandering around dirt roads, being surrounded by heather, and getting drenched in forests that'll either make you believe in fairies or God.

Update: These are the last words I managed to write at the farm. After that, my words sort of ran dry.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Maighread in Scotland

I'm finally in the Highlands. I wanted to say “back in the Highlands” but I've never been here before.

This morning, at 6:54 AM in the Inverness train station, I found a notion and a motion and a whim to sing one of the Gaelic songs I learned Seirm. My mouth soon started to form the familiar words and then I started to cry.

“Now Maighread,” I told myself, speaking to myself in my Gaelic name, “you can't go singing and making yourself cry like that...”

I told myself that, but it didn't change the moment.

I know I've said it over and over – but I'm so grateful.

Years and years ago, my family left Scotland during the Clearing. I want to say to someone – I'm what you would've been if your great great grandparents had left here and bred them with a few Germans and Dutch folks.

I wouldn't go ahead and tell anyone I was Scottish. I know I'm not. But being American is strange. It's hard to explain to people in other countries who have their roots, their heritage, in the same country where they live now. If my Swiss friends trace back their family line, they stay in Switzerland. Eventually wayyy back they were elsewhere, but, to the core, they are Swiss through and through.

We've got something a bit different in the States. Aside from Native Americans and those who came up from the South, a whole lot of us have families that came here by boat. Yes, I'm American, but American is a pretty wide undefined term in my book. It lacks the back-culture that I crave – the culture you can dig through and the traditions that were passed down.

Back when my Grandma Hazel died, a few months ago, I decided to come to the Highlands instead of going home for the memorial service.

I've been dreaming of coming to Scotland since I was quite young and got the notion that my family was Scottish. I spent a fair amount of time doing research into my family line and reading up on the different clans. I'm a mutt-mixture of McLeod, Kerr, and Lindsay.

Multiple times I've thought, “This is the year. This time I'll make it there.” Finally, it's a reality. Everything has come full circle.

Fields and cows and sheep.
Scotland, as of yet, you do not disappoint.

At first, when I arrived, I wasn't sure how to feel. Over 24 hours on the go rendered my mind numb. But when the Scot Gaelic came out of my mouth, it hit me. I knew where I was.

It is so beautiful.

I inhale deeply. Breath out. Breath in.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Rambling Post Written on the Bus to Edinburgh

Met up with Robert in Edinburgh for 30 minutes. Swell guy brought me scones.
Having a final destination, a set of days to to countdown to, changes the entire dynamic of travelling. Ever since I bought that ticket from Scotland to Iceland to the United States of America and left Ukraine, I've been “on my way home.” The general ark of this 10 month trip is over and it's slowly sloping downwards.

I'm not sure if I'm finishing strong or not. I think I am.

I'm content with each day and satisfied with the rhythms I find myself falling into. I do admit I've lost my desire to “see” things. Take, for example, my couple hour stay in Newcastle. Instead of investigating or exploring, I was more content on studying. Now, part of that might have well had to do with the baggage I was obliged to lug around or my freshly twisted ankle, but another part was because I had seen towns.

What I crave now are connections with people. I thrive when I can have a purpose to each day.

That's why I'm extra eager for Culrain – a small village with a population of 15.
I'm ready to be able to help. I hope they can use me for hours. I want to go to bed each night exhausted because I've physically accomplished something. I want to be used and feel like I'm pulling my load.

I have a deep craving to feel like I'm doing something and doing enough. This is partially as as result of Ukraine. In Ukraine, I got to help, but I never felt like I was accomplishing enough.

I'm currently on my ₤18 bus trip from Newcastle to Edinburgh to Inverness. We also just passed Shitbottle. The hills are rolling like I hoped they would. Borders of trees divide up the golden and green fields and every photograph I take fails to capture what I see. I'm anxious to be wandering around by foot with just a camera and a bottle of water later on this week. I think that'll feel satisfying.

Before I got on the bus, a small group of school girls approached me asking if it was the coach stop. I told them it was. “What part of America are you from?” they asked. I answered. No matter where I go, if they get me talking, I'll be pegged as a foreigner if I speak in normal tones. If I keep my voice even and smooth and speak in the front of my mouth, they don't ask me where I'm from.

All the service people I've spoken to here have been really chatty. They don't want to just know where I've been. They want to know if I'm really travelling alone and where I'm going. Their questions bumble on and they actually seem interested in my life. I need to start coming up with questions to shoot back at them. “How do you like working at the enquiries desk of the library?” and “Where's the best tree in town?”

I was also reminded that I wasn't in Ukraine any more when I was approached by a librarian after snapping a photograph. “Did you take a picture?” she asked. Since my camera had been up to my eye, I figured she already knew, but I told her I had. “Do you need me to delete it?” I asked. She said if there had been people in it, yes. She told me four times, in fact, that if it had children in it, I couldn't for priv-eh-see reasons, it would have to be deleted. She was polite and not harsh, but it still made my mind whirl. I was back in the world where people cared if you took a picture in a library.

I'm still trying to figure out how walking works here. In America, the general consensus is that you walk on the right side of a pathway. Same goes with biking and that thing we call driving an automobile. But here, they drive on the left-hand side of the road, not the right. Does the path of the automobiles affect what side of the sidewalk the people walk on? I have yet to see a pattern. Well, I did notice a good number of people walking on the left hand side. I was on the right hand side and had to divert my path to avoid them. But, as I looked for a consensus of people on one side of the road or the other, I didn't see one. Just passed Brownside.

I've also decided to have some goals for my time in the United Kingdom.

I want to finish reading Coraline, by Neil Gaiman, in German.
I want to expand my Gaelic by 10 sentences and to read it out loud with minor errors.
I want to spend 30 minutes a day, five days a week, on reading up on history.
I want to ride a bicycle.
I want to talk to a historian and learn from them.
I want to read  the Wikipedia page of every African country.
I want to find someone to exchange letters with when I'm back in Alaska.

Just passed Twizell.

This has definitely turned into one of those rambling posts that I missed being able to type. It feels good to be able to write at any time, hour or place. Like I wrote before, I thought it would be good to try and kick the habit and not write as much, but it left me feeling bizarre and anxious. Those ideas that bottle up in my head need a way out.

Apparently there is a Queen Margaret University.

Observations From A Few Hours in Newcastle upon Tyne, England

The Beatles are playing on the radio.

13 countries later and I'm finally some place where they all speak English... sort of... not that I've been outrageously missing it.

“Would you murrublemmuubllechipsjdfj?”
“Pardon?” I asked.

Apparently, a common thread of English doesn't ensure clear communication. Instead of starting in London, where I've heard the accents run more mild, I entered England via the North of England in Newcastle. I can understand most folks but there are a great deal of them who speak with such a thick accented drawling slur that, even after asking, “Pardon,” multiple times, I still am replying to their question because I was able to understand one word.

If I hear “chips,” I say, “No thanks.”
“Biscuit,” means I should respond, “no thanks.”
“Salad,” is a “yes.”

Now they're playing a British pop song on the radio from the early 2000s that I haven't heard in years. I first heard it via the Internet Community. Some young men from Britain made a movie with it. I'm amused to finally hear it here.

Now, for the first time in my life, I'm the one who “talks funny.” I'm the outsider in my own language. Generally, in foreign countries, I just have to learn to communicate in their language. But this is a total different boat altogether. It's English, I know it must be, but I just can't always understand it.

Luckily, this just went for a small percentage. With most folks, I don't have to think twice. After hundreds of hours of listening to British people read me my books on tape (all of the Chronicles of Narnia and the Harry Potter Series alone add up to a few days worth) along with Skyping with my friends from this side of the lake and movies and hours with the BBC and being an au pair.. it's not like the British accent is new to me.

I'm currently at Olive & Bean, a small coffeshop-cafe sort of place. I'm obliging myself to rest as I already managed to muck up my ankle. It wasn't a serious twist, but it was bad enough that I would do best to keep it rested. I got a pot of Everyday Blend tea by Teapigs( The cup itself was hot enough to burn your mouth – another sign that we're not in Kansas anymore (not that I've been to Kansas).

My observations of comparison bounce off of my Swiss and Ukraine experiences. I've only been here in a few hours and wandered a few streets, so many of my “conclusions” are totally half-baked and I acknowledge they may only be a reflection of “Newcastle upon Tyne on a grey Wednesday morning.”

Observation 1:
They still wear shirts with the names of American cities and states all over there. I've seen Ohio and New York in the past 5 minutes. I mention “still” because American shirts plagued the streets of Russia, Ukraine, and Romania... and Hungary and even Switzerland.

Observation 2:

The streets are dirty and grimy and lagging behind in cleanliness in comparison to Switzerland and the Netherlands - Zurich is impeccable & Amsterdam makes an admirable effort. The trashcans, postal boxes, meters are all marked-up.

Observation 3:
The old folks here, so far, have been all incredibly sweet. They sort of make you feel like you already have an aunt or grandpa here. As for the young people? We'll leave that open, still, and declare all observations inconclusive. Maybe they're hungover? There have been a few sweet ones, but a few apathetic ones. Like I said, this is totally inconclusive and I realize I haven't had much access to a wide variety of folks to make a fair assessment.

Observation 4:
There's a wide, wide range of accents in a small town. In America, we have a few accents, some strong, but they span over a huge country. The United Kingdom is like an inkspot on the map yet I've already witnessed more diversity than I did in my months travelling across the States.

Observation 5:
No luggage lockers.
I don't think this has much to do with anything...

Observation 6:
I liked their signs around the train station:

 “If you spill your drink, it's not on us.” I forget the other ones.

“If you abuse our staff your journey will end in court.”

It went on to expand that, “Our staff carry spit kits so they can submit spittle for DNA testing. We do not hesitate to prosecute anyone who spits at our staff.”

Apparently, spitting on train staff was an issue here...

Observation 7:
It's expensive.

There's a reason why I saved the United Kingdom for last and am spending a lot of my time in a rural village where I'll work (Dear England – when I write “work” I mean “help” so please don't deport me.) in exchange for food and a bed.

Luckily, I had Switzerland to prepare me. After Switzerland, you can pretty much handle any country.

My tea was ₤1.99 for a pot which is around $3.10.
My sandwich was ₤2.79 which is around $4.32. This was breakfast. I ate half of it.
My butternut squash and apple soup with a scone was ₤4.79 which is over $7 (expensive but worth every bite).

After spending much of this year in Eastern Europe, I've adjusted to thinking that you never need more than $8 a day to get by. I'll see as time goes on.

Observation 8:
They have funny water faucets (sometimes). Hot water comes out of one tap and cold out of the other. In order to get a mixture of both, I find myself swishing my hands between the two rather rapidly.

Observation 9:
They have products on the shelves here that, in America, I could only find in the British import store. Imagine the joy Americans would have if we could go into every grocery store and find small tins of Lyle's Golden Syrup or Treacle.

Observation 10:
Men go out for tea with each other. I'm surrounded by four duos of men with their cups of tea (and one has a beer).

There's also two sets of women, one solo women, and one women with child. There's one older mixed-gender couple.

Observation 11:
Poundland... Everything's ₤1. Not as satisfying as the Dollar Tree, but still semi-dandy. I lasted two and a half minutes.

Observation 12:
Sometimes, people here actually make eye contact with you and smile.
We're not in Russia any more.
If I smiled at someone in Russia, they assumed I was crazy.

Observation 13:
Their scones deserve all the hype.

After months abroad, my ears have adjusted to not being able to listen to other people's conversation. It was like having my own private bubble of obliviousness. Now, oi, I can actually make out what people are saying.. sort of.

During my time here, I want to find people to talk to about immigrants, accents, scones, the education system, do people like to blow their noses in public here, recycling, milk, common meals, and....

Another ginger just walked by.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Ferry Trumps All

Since I left Alaska, I've made hundreds of decisions in relating to getting from Point A to Point B.

I'm currently on the “Getting to Alaska from Ukraine” phase which will last 2-3 months. I know I'm only two months off, but I still consider myself on the way home. Just three countries left.

Anyway, of those hundreds of decisions I've made, one of the best ones I've made was to take the ferry from the Netherlands to England.

Generally, I'm a budget traveller, so getting myself to fork over the pounds to cross the English Channel took a few weeks to consider.

Eventually, I had built up enough reasons in my mind to buy the ticket. For ₤159 ($246), I secured a two-person cabin with a sea view for myself. I spent ₤159 when I could have very well found a cheaper route... maybe.

Here's the reasons why taking the ferry trumps any bus or train route I could conjure up:

1. Boats are sick, man! Totally geil! I love them! Even after having spent over 10 full days on ferries this year (from Alaska to Washington to Alaska and later this year I'll take the ferry from Washington to Alaska), I still crave the culture that erupts there.

2. Travelling by ferry would enable me to arrive in England fully, totally rested. I already know I can sleep well on a boat. A full 8 hours of sleep while travelling is worth paying the extra cash.

3. I'm doin' It like my ancestors. They left by ship. I arrived by ship. Makes sense. Makes me feel more connected to my past.

4. I can stretch my legs. Riding on the ferry means I can wander, stroll, explore, and stretch my legs. There is no “sitting in an assigned seat” on the ferry.

5. How many other times in my life am I going to be going from the Netherlands to England?

6. I really don't like buses. I weighed out my happiness on being on a boat verses the lameness of travelling by bus and then set that against what I was paying. Worth it.

7. I would be saving time. I would be travelling overnight but still be getting good, solid sleep. Since I would be arriving in Northern England, there wouldn't be much more travel to do after reaching the Port of Tyne.

8. I get to avoid London. I have absolutely no desire to see London. This was my way of avoiding it. Once again, worth it.

9. I'm already travelling up and down the United Kingdom, from the northern bits of Scotland to the southern belly of England, twice. Well, I'm travelling down once and up once. I don't need to do it three times in one month.

10. I just might be saving money. If I didn't do it this way, I'd have to pay for a train to Belgium, a bus to England, and a train or bus to Scotland. In there I'd want to buy food, stop some place for a night, buy postcards... it all adds up.

11. The views on a ferry are rad.

12. I love the feeling of pulling into port.

My time on the ferry exceeded all expectations. My room was plenty large. I enjoyed exploring, loved the views. I saw dolphins.

As for arriving in England? It was magnificent.

And grey.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Dreams Becoming Reality With Hard Work

I'm rawther a fan of dreaming up dreams.
I've got lists of them.

Today, a six-year-old dream came true.

Since 2006 I've wanted to bike in the Netherlands.

Today? Mission accomplished with a healthy dose of "drop" (mmm, lekker). And, on Wednesday, an even longer existing dream is coming true. One that's over a decade old. I'm currently in Utrecht with my two Dutch roommates I lived with in Ukraine.

Back in 2006 I became an involved member of an international online video community. We may or may not have been making lipsynch videos. During the awkward years of high school, it was a wonderful community to have. I think by now people are willing to accept that online communities count as friends too. On this site I met Australians, Englanders, Argentenians, Italians, Germans, and then there was the Dutch. My 15 year old self started scheming ways I could make it to the Netherlands. I dreamed of riding a bik, eating drop, and, in general, just hanging out with the Dutch people.

Seven years later and I'm here.

That was one dream that didn't die. It took a couple tries to actually turn this dream into a reality, bt I'm here. Seven years might seem like a pretty longtime to wait, but it was worth it. Before, the times weren't right. I also had  owait until I had enough money to be able to enjoy it. Dreams, I find, are rarely just handed over. A lot of them you have to work towards.

When I was in Alaska, I lived really simply so I could live "extravagantly" (Magi-style which is still pretty simple) abroad. I gave up an ice-cream in Haines so that I could have krokette in Holland. I gave up a concert in Haines so that I could rent a bicycle in Romania. I gave up going home for Christmas in the States so that I could afford to cross all of Europe by train the following year.

Little sacrifices paid off in the end.
All worth it.

This country is lovely! I guess I'll write more about it later.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Day 1 & 2 in the Netherlands :: Utrecht

Utrecht was a whirl and a whim and a blur and a grin and a whole lot of Dutch people.

Coraline auf Deutsch

On Friday morning, I got up at 5:30 AM to start my train journey to Utrecht, Netherlands. I caught my first train at 6:15 AM in order to get on the long-stretch train from Zürich, Switzerland to Stuttgart, Germany.

Stuttgart gave me a few hour layover to wander, eat some fish, and feel ready to move on. The next train took me to Köln, also in Germany. That layover was short enough for a salad and not much more before I was whisked away on my final train to Utrecht.

On the train ride over, I was seated with a Dutch family of three (the dad was working). We played card games together, they shared snacks with me, and we enjoyed getting together over the hours. They gave me an invitation to visit their windmill. Later on that weekend I called but they were away the day when I would've been able to visit.

Arriving in Utrecht, I walked around the station twice before settling by a pole, hoping Ynette, my host, would find me.

Ynette and I lived together for a  month in Ukraine.

Within minutes she was there and the reunion was sweet and soulful. We hopped on the bus and headed for her flat, around 10-15 minutes from city centre.

We dropped off my bags, I washed off a few days of muck in the shower, and then headed out immediately to her friends' home. Tonight she was having a reunion with a group of friends she had gone to nursing school with around a  decade ago. I felt blessed to be able to spend my first night in Netherlands with such a crew. The food was lekker – barbecue, salads, bread, fruit, cheese, and an alcoholic beverage that was like if you mixed yoghurt with vodka and put a basil leaf on top.

The next morning we enjoyed sleeping in and a proper Dutch breakfast of sprinkles (hagelslag) and bread before hopping on Ynette's bikes and cycling towards the center of town. This was my first time biking in the Netherlands – something I had long wanted to do- and I wasn't disappointed. I think bike-culture in Netherlands deserves its own post – as does drop and the Red Light District.

I am going to be Frank (he's a nice man) and tell you that I wasn't, honestly, all that thrilled to be looking at another city with cobblestone streets.

I really wasn't... but I soon became so.

Utrecht wasn't like all the other cities I've visited like I thought it would be. It had a totally different vibe to it that I applauded and relished. The feel of the town wasn't West-coast – but it had aspects of what I crave in a culture. There are a lot of things going right in Holland.

Bike culture.
How they oft frequent the outdoors in leisure, strolls, eating, and just hanging out.
They had diversity.
They had different social levels, but I barely saw any folks begging (in Germany, I saw over 15 in one hour – that's way too many).
Drop (licorice).

In the city centre, we started to work on my list of things to do and see in the Netherlands. We had crafted the list up a month earlier.


Lots of food to eat. Luckily, with two people (and later on three when Jess, Ynette's sister, joined us) it was manageable.

We took our time at a café and I got to try out Dutch “coffee-wrong” - as it was literally translated. It was coffee with warm milk (sorry body, I know you hate dairy). Then I got to try Kroket which isn't like anything I'd eaten before. Apparently they have have McKrokets at McDonalds....

There were small windy stone streets with tall, worth glancing at, buildings on each side. My favourite was a small house (the smallest in the area) that was rawther crooked. The paths along the canals that wound through the streets were lined with markets. The flower sellers bantered out to the crowds, making sure that we couldn't accidentally miss the opportunity to take such beauty home with us.

We climbed to the top of this church.

At 1:30 PM, we went to the tourist center, locked up our bags as ordered, and climbed up the JFFJ stairs of the Utrecht Dom. It's the tallest church in Netherlands. The tour guide was engaging and the views at the top were worth the 9 euro (which is over the daily income of most of my Ukrainian friends after they work for 10 hours).

Since Netherlands was flat, it was sort of like seeing forever. We could see Ynette's flat and everywhere we had been that day.

Way back during the war, Holland went through all of their bells and labelled them by age and worth A – M with M being the most valuable bells. The reason being was that lil' ol' Deutschland wanted to melt down the bells to use in the war. One by one, the Dutch let go of their bells, starting with the newer ones. Eventually, the war was over and a handful of the bells were leftover – especially the M-bells Because of this method of labeling, though, the bells worth the most to the people of the Netherlands are still ringing today and you can still see them with their “M” labels.

On the way down tower, I got to chat with two men from Zurich.

We then strolled to the market so I could get a chance to try out Dutch cheese (it was on the list). A few squares were enough to tell me that it was good cheese, but pretty much just that. Good cheese. My life in Switzerland spoiled me in the world of cheese. I can appreciate cheese elsewhere, but my tastebuds are rarely blown out of this world.

The three highlights of the markets, for me, were the sweets and bicycle gear.

We stopped by a drop (licorice) stand and loaded up a bag. Ynnete knew just what types to buy and kept pointing to little box after box. “These are made with honey,” and “These are salty,” she would tell me. We got cats and swans and pigs and coins and moons and a little boy going pee (the Belgian statue).

We also got some fresh stroopwafels hot off the grill-thing. They were still gooey and notably more wonderful than the stoopwafels I had had pre-packaged.

We met up with Ynnete's sister, Jess, and headed down into the canals where Ynnete got pooped on by a bird. One of the boats took us around, giving us an entirely new perspective on the city. I think we also ate about half a bag of drop.

After that came suitcase shopping (success) and skirt shopping (not success). I can now say that I've biked through a Dutch city while holding onto a bright yellow suitcase on the rack with one hand.

Then, behold and behold and low and high and... Simone was to be arriving! Simone was the other Dutch girl I lived with. They came as a pair. That reunion was also sweet. Now the Netherlands really felt like home. Simone manages to always to coax a smile out of you.

Once again, we hopped on our bikes and set off through Utrecht. Since we only had two bikes, Simone was on the back of mine. I was impressed that she was able to manage to hop on and off the bike without me ever having to stop.

At Jess's, we made whole wheat pancakes for dinner. Dutch pancakes are  a lot thinner than Americans but thicker than the French crepe.

We talked. We shared pictures. We tried to look pregnant. We biked home.

Tried to get read for bed. And slept.
I love these women.
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