Tuesday, May 17, 2011
When people come to the Netherlands, they're under no illusions about the size of the country: it's a small country, and often they leave thinking that Amsterdam is all there is to the Netherlands (as far as pot, hookers, and tourist tripe, they're mostly correct). The same is not true of Scotland: Sure, you could drive from one end to the other in about a day...if you wanted to end up with your brains spattered on the side of a cliff. Scotland is one of those countries that looks small on a map, until you get there and literally have a mountain in your backyard. Then you rethink the whole "size is relative" thing and take a sip of whiskey.
Stephen (marine biologist) and Vicki (inorganic chemist) have been moving around the world ever since I first heard of them--Karel had gone to visit them once or twice in Canada, on his way to or from visiting me--and earlier this year their careers took them to Scotland. Since they move so frequently, it was agreed by all parties that arranging a visit while they were still within non-International-Date-Line-crossing-distance would probably be prudent.
The weather was rainy and cold the whole time we were there, but we did manage to get in one relatively short hill walk on Saturday, walking from somewhere around Dunollie Castle to the castle at Dunstaffinage. The terrain was sufficiently hilly to get impressive views, but not so challenging that you needed walking shoes to get by on it (though it would have helped with the "wet feet" part of the day).
We also took a tour of the Oban distillery--it was interesting to see where the famous Oban 14-year whiskey is brewed, and learn all about how the cask affects the aging process. It was fun getting to smell (and, for those with liver enzymes, taste) cask-strength whiskey. According to the guide, 98% of the bottles made at Oban are destined to become the standard Oban 14-year, 2% get re-aged to make the "distillery edition", and 6000 bottles' worth get bottled at cask-strength. (Whiskeys are not typically bottled at cask-strength, as they are at 50-60% ABV in the cask) You can guess which one Karel bought.
It was an excellent weekend away--the cat-sitter came when she said she would and there wasn't too much sulking when we got back (although I suspect Noodle got fatter again). The trains screwed us only slightly on the way back, and not at all on the way there. Stephen and Vicki were wonderful hosts and introduced us to the phenomena of Georgian Cheese Pie and Killer Bunnies. And it has convinced Karel that he must travel abroad more often, if only to prevent his ATM cards from being blocked once he crosses the Dutch border.