Now that I’ve finally finished up talking about our spring vacation to Italy, I can start to write about some of the other things we’ve been up to over the last couple of months. April and May were both busy months. We’ll start with April, when I flew over to Edinburgh for a week to bum around town and check out my favorite old haunts and to catch up with friends.
It was sort of a last-minute decision to fly to Edinburgh, though one that had been percolating for a while. I had been increasingly feeling “homesick” for Scotland, and felt like it was the right time to head over for a visit. I was lucky in that another friend who had recently moved away from the UK would also be in Edinburgh during my last day there. So I was really excited that I would get to see her, too, if only for a short time.
I was mostly in Edinburgh for the week, but a friend and I took her car up north to Aberdeenshire for a night and explored a couple of castles that I had never been to before: Crathes Castle and Castle Fraser.
Crathes was completed in 1596, with an additional wing added in the 18th century. We weren’t allowed to take any photographs inside the castle, but its most interesting features were probably the original Scottish renaissance painted ceilings that survive in several of the rooms, including the supposedly haunted Green Lady’s Room.
Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on one’s point of view) the weather was typically Scottish for most of the visit: cold, drizzly and damp. It made exploring the gardens of Crathes and Fraser less enjoyable than on a nice day, but it does give the photos of both castles a sort of gloomy ambience.
On the day we visited Castle Fraser, there was a wedding taking place inside so we were directed to doing the tour slightly backwards to avoid the wedding party and caught glimpses every now and then of grand hats and plumed feathers.
Fraser is apparently the most elaborate Z-plan castle in Scotland, and was begun in 1575 but wouldn’t be completed until 1636. Castle Fraser is a contemporary of nearby Crathes Castle, which might help explain why the details and characteristics of the two places blend a bit together in my memory and why I had to work a little to distinguish which was which in my photos.
One of the interesting features of Castle Fraser is a “Laird’s Lug,” a secret area above the Great Hall that allowed the lord to overhear the conversations of his guests below. There was also a small little opening that originally would have been concealed where he could actually look into the hall and spy on the guests.
But as interesting as the castles were, the real highlight of the trip for me was getting to spend time with my good friend and enjoying the tea and scones one almost always finds in a castle cafe or restaurant. We also enjoyed a fantastic fish and chips supper in a great little restaurant next to Stonehaven harbour on our way back to Edinburgh.
Yep, I’d say that apart from seeing friends, the main highlight of my trip to Scotland was the food. And I’m not talking about haggis. If you’ve never been to the UK before, Edinburgh, as in many cities across the UK, has a fantastic variety of ethnic food choices as well as delicious seafood (both of which I am sorely missing in Würzburg). So it was fabulous to be able to eat all my favorite foods I’ve been missing in Würzburg. I ate lots of sushi (so fresh and good), rocket and crayfish sandwiches from Pret A Manger (which apparently has branches in DC, Chicago and New York for those of you in the US who’d like to check them out – delish!), mussels from the always delicious Mussel Inn on Rose Street and a new favorite: the BEST cupcakes I have EVER eaten from Bibi’s Bakery on Hanover Street. I am salivating just thinking about them.
I don’t know when we’ll get the chance to head to Edinburgh again, but I’m really thankful I was able to go and see friends and enjoy the things I’ve been missing. I was asked recently whether Germany feels like “home” yet, and I find that that’s still a really difficult question to answer. In some ways, I feel like my heart has divided itself into three different directions and all three places – Edinburgh, central Indiana and Würzburg – all feel like home for different reasons. My feelings may change in the years to come, and they may not. Who knows? In the meantime, I am hopeful that I will continue to be able to spend time in those “homes-away-from-home,” with the family and friends who make it feel that way.