I’ve sailed upon the seven seas
And stopped in ever land,
I’ve seen the wonders of the world
Not yet one common man.
I know ten thousand women
Called Jane and Mary Jane,
But I’ve not seen any two
Who really were the same.
Mirror twins are different
Although their features jibe,
And lovers think quite different thoughts
While lying side by side.
I note the obvious differences
Between each sort and type,
But we are more alike, my friends,
Than we are unalike
We are more alike, my friends,
Than we are unalike.
When we got home from our trip the summer Olympics started and one of the greatest commercials ever came out. You all know it. I had heard this poem before but I’d never understood it this way before. One thing that travel does for me is show me how connected we are. It takes away the fear of distance or differentness. We were in Paris and Knoxville on the same day. It really isn’t that far away. It’s just right there. And we aren’t any different.
So on this morning something incredible happened. A morning in Scotland was spent at a very old castle with owls. And on this day I saw England for the first time. What a day!!
One day a long time ago I was looking online for a place where I could see and touch some owls. I’ve always loved them. I used to see them on the land we lived on as a kid sometimes. I remember one twilight outside with my Dad seeing a brown owl fly over the house. So in my research I came across a falconry in Scotland and told Chris that we needed to go there. I had no idea how we’d get there or when but I knew that I wanted to go. Our entire Scotland trip began with the falconry and spread from there as I did more research on the country. And the day had finally come.
We had the same breakfast we had the day before and stored our bags away behind the sign in desk of the B&B. Since we were checking out of our room and we didn’t want to take our bags with us to the falconry we asked if we could leave them there.
We decided to take a taxi out to the falconry and back to the B&B. We had an appointment at 10am and wanted to be sure we weren’t late. The B&B called a taxi for us and we hopped in and enjoyed the beautiful country side as we drove out to Dalhousie Falconry.
When we got to the falconry the taxi driver insisted that I get a photo of Chris sitting in the driver’s seat. I’m so glad he did!
We walked into the castle to ask where the falconry was located and talked to each other about how nice it would be to stay there for a night.
We strolled down to the falconry. We were early. We walked around for a bit and then the young fellow who was going to give us our tour showed up. He was very nice and had a strong accent. I couldn’t understand a whole lot of what he said. We walked around looking at the birds that were already out and watched him work.
He went up to little cases that looked like safes and opened them and pulled out a bird. He would talk to the birds a lot like I talk to my cat and sometimes stroke it for a bit and then walk it over to be weighed. Then he would take it out to its perch. He did this over and over until the whole area was filled with all different sizes of owls and hawks. There were very large white owls and very tiny little brown owls, all with huge watching eyes of gold and green. Another group of people – a woman and her three sons- got there and finally it time was to start. He took us on a tour of the small area and told us all about the birds- what kind they were, their names, and little stories about each of them and how they came to be there at the falconry. He was a gentle and quite young man and had started studying falconry when he was 18. Then he got out the first owl- Puck.
We walked out into the field and he sat Puck down on a wooden stand. He gave us each a leather glove to put on. Then he told us where to stand and hold our arm out. He then put a bit of food that is very tasty to owls on our glove and made little noises at Puck. It took Puck a bit of time to get interested- he was looking all around. But then he took off- flying towards my glove and landing on my hand. He was not heavy-he sat there for a bit looking around and looking at me. Then he took off flying back to his stand and it was the next person’s turn.
We each got to fly Puck three times and on the last turn I asked if I could get a big closer and just take some photos of him. The man said yes I could and we walked about half way to him. I took a couple of shots and Puck took off flying into the woods. It was a startling moment but the falconry worker took off after him. Puck ended up flying back towards his home and was waiting to be picked up. Whew.
We got to fly another owl and then a hawk. I wasn’t as interested in the hawk and my arms were hurting from holding up the owls so I just strolled around taking photos of the area and of Chris. I kept saying to myself “I am in Scotland. I’m playing with owls. I’m in Scotland.” I just wanted it to sink in but I don’t think it has yet.
Once all the birds were safely back on their perches we got to see an owl that likes to be touched and petted. Our guide handed us the owl and we each got to take turns stroking its feathers. They were so so soft and very very dense. It felt like my hand could sink down into its feathers like a giant pillow.
When we were finished with our tour we walked back up to the castle and found some very impressive bathrooms where I scrubbed my hands and arms down thoroughly with soap. We headed outside, Chris called for a taxi, and we waited on a bench for a peaceful twenty minutes or so. I enjoyed the owl experience immensely but I was quite nauseous from the bits of food they ate. I tried not to look but I did.
Our taxi took us back to Granville Terrace and we picked up our bags. They were tucked away where we left them and back out we went rolling our bags down the street and around corners to the bus stop that would take us to Edinburgh Waverley! Our first train ride. We walked down into the building that we had been looking at for the past couple of days and into the small office to buy our tickets to London. Two train tickets from Edinburgh to London were $383. We were feeling like we should have lunch. My stomach was still pretty upset from watching the owls have their snack and the only thing in the food court that sounded palatable was cheese pizza. There were multiple sandwich shops, a smoothie place, a place that made all kinds of things out of baked potatoes and a small by the slice pizza place. While Chris stayed with the bags I bought two slices and we sat down to eat. We were both sad to leave Edinburgh and Scotland. It’s hard to find the place you feel like you belong but not be able to stay there. I wasn’t ready to go but the excitement of England distracted me. We cleaned up from our lunch and took the escalator to the level where our train was departing. The station was clean and bright and there weren’t very many people there in the early afternoon.
We were both so excited for this train ride! We wish there was more transportation like this in the US.
When we went to get on our train we noticed that there was a cart labeled “Quiet Cart” and decided that would be really great. When we stepped in there was a place to put our luggage and then we found seats. This train cart had tables with two chairs on each side. We sat across the table grinning at each other until the train filled up and we needed to sit side by side and let someone else sit across. The train took off and Scotland started flying past. After a while we saw ocean. It was incredibly beautiful as we rode past the Eastern Scottish coastline and then English coastline. Towns with names like Berwick-upon-Tweed and Newton-by-the-Sea passed by like pieces of paradise. In some spots we could see down across entire towns of brick and stone. When we passed the stop for York I took a moment to try to remember every historical thing I knew about York in minutes before the train passed through it.
The snack cart came around and I looked for jumping frogs.
We brought our own snacks so we didn’t need to purchase any. 😉
We didn’t do much the entire train ride except look at the map on Chris’s phone to see where we were and look out the window. We were on the train for quite a while. By the time we pulled into London’s King’s Cross station it was dark and dreary and we could see rain spatters on the windows of the train. We got off the train and felt the cool fresh air. Even today I have to take a moment to let it sink in that we were really there. There were a lot of people walking along the platform and into the station and then out onto the street. We just walked to keep up. It felt very familiar and very foreign at the same time to me. There was a que of taxis right in front of the station and we got into one and gave the driver the address for our hotel.
You can kind of see from this image from the cab that there was something to look at everywhere. London was so full. I sat in silence trying to take it in and Chris started talking to the cab driver. The Brexit vote was happening the same day we arrived in London. Chris asked the driver if he had gotten a chance to vote yet and we learned that they can vote online – they don’t have to go somewhere to do it. They struck up a conversation about life and I listened to Chris talk. He told the taxi driver about our travels and said that from what we’ve seen we do have a common language, a common ‘we’. We want to be happy. We want decent work and health. We want to be able to do some of the things that we like. We want to be good to each other. These are the things that it comes down to universally. I listened and watched out the windows as we bumped along down the road; so happy that we were doing one of our things that we liked.
We ended up in a beautiful looking area of white buildings, manicured green spaces, and glowing lights. I saw a small Italian place across the street and asked Chris what he thought about having Italian food for dinner. He thought that was a good idea. We went on to walk into our hotel and as soon as we walked in we weren’t quite sure about the place and when we got into the room we turned around and walked back out. They were doing some construction on the hotel and I had an immediate allergic reaction and knew I couldn’t stay in the room we had booked. We were hungry and weren’t sure what to do so we decided to eat. We learned this lesson over and over again in London. When you are frustrated and tired- take a break and get some food.
We walked down the street to Taormina Restaurant. It had windows that opened up onto the street and little tables that were full of people eating. The inside was filled with wooden booths, and small tables sat right up next to each other. The lights were dimmed and romantic. And there were Italian people walking all around.
We sat at a table for two close enough to the other tables to reach out and touch the arm of the people sitting next to us – which happened to be an older Italian couple who had ordered a whole fish. It was rainy outside and there was no air conditioning in the crowded restaurant. Just the breeze that would sometimes blow in through the open windows swirling the smell of sauce and meat and bread and oil around the room. We were upset about the hotel room but it seemed to melt away as we were brought a bottle of water and then glasses of beer and wine. And bread and olive oil. I asked for some ice for my water and was brought a sorbet dish with two ice cubes in it. We looked at the menu and our mouths watered. Chris ordered one of the specials – a type of mushroom fettuccini. And I ordered the cheese tortellini. I would fly back to London for a night just to eat at this Italian place.
After we finished our food I went outside into the street and called a hotel we had found in the same area to see if they had a room. On the phone they said yes, we have a room. So after we ate Chris walked back into the hotel and got our luggage and told the man at the desk we would be switching hotels. They were very pleasant about it but we would need to come back the next day to get our refund. We started walking with our luggage down the couple of blocks to the new hotel we had found on our phone. It was getting dark. It was just like in a movie. We eventually found it and walked in and boy was it swanky. We got up to the desk and they told us no, there was no room.. But they had one at their sister hotel just up the street. We said Okay, and walked up about four more blocks to the next hotel. At this point we were feeling pretty tired and sweaty. We had no clue where we were. We walked up to the front desk and I can’t imagine what we looked like at this point. I could feel the sweat dripping down my hair. Between the walking with the bags, the pasta, the crowded restaurant with no air conditioning and the stress we were feeling rough. The woman looked at us and told us they had no rooms there. But she was trying to find one for us at ‘Their sister hotel’. Again. Now, the first one was very fancy and the second one was not quite as nice so I asked her – Is it as nice as this one? Because this one isn’t as nice as the first one. She assured me they were of the same quality. I asked to see one of the rooms- I don’t know why I had never thought to this before but they had no problem taking me to see one of the rooms. And we were walked two blocks down the street to the hotel we got a room in.
It seemed like such a long way at the time but looking back at the map it was not very far at all. You can see the Italian restaurant, the hotel where we started (The Park Grand London), and our hotel up by Paddington Station.
Here is another map of this beautiful little area of London.
It turned out to be a fantastic location – just a short five minute walk to our favorite Italian place, to a nice little market/store, and also to Paddington Station; what came to feel like the entrance into our neighborhood.
Our room was tiny in the basement of the hotel but it was clean and updated and smelled great and the area was beautiful. I was so tired I just took this photo of the notepad at the hotel (we weren’t even sure what the name of it was at this point) and texted it to our parents with the words ‘New hotel’ just in case.
We were in Hyde Park. We were in London. I slept like a rock.