Norwegian Day Is Not My Favorite Day

**My personal opinion only, and I live and let live*** Today is Norwegian Day, or something like that, and here in Ballard we have some big Norwegian Day parade that has been in existence as far back as I remember (1970s).  I am half Norwegian, so you’d think I’d like this day, but in all honesty I don’t.  When I think of Italians, I think of shouting and hugging and good food and family, when I think of Irish I think pubs and stories and green, but when I think of Norway I remember all the depressed, cranky, sarcastic Norwegians in my childhood and the cranky Norwegians I encountered on my one day trip to Oslo.  Maybe it was the neighborhood, or maybe it was just the Norwegians I knew, but the Norwegian Day Parade does not conjure fond memories for me — I am much more proud of my Scottish and Irish blood (albiet it is a very small percentage of my heritage). 

Norwegian Day Is Not My Favorite Day

Edinburgh Plague Doctor story…

My parents attended a lecture on the history of Edinburgh (Scotland), and learned that (like many European cities) plague ravaged Edinburgh in the 16th and 17th centuries.  At one point, Edinburgh asked people to stay inside and to hang a sheet on the door if they had the plague, so the plague doctor would know to visit their house.  But the doctor died of (what else?) plague.  So the city advertised for a replacement plague doctor, offering a lot of money for anyone willing to accept the role.  One man did, and before stepping into homes designed a special leather suit with a breathing mask (a long beak stuffed with cotton with air holes at the end) to wear while treating patients.  The doctor survived, and eventuallly the plague abated.  But the city of Edinburgh was unable to pay, since they had expected the doctor to die of the plague so had not set money aside.  The doctor never did receive his money. 

Source: Lisa Didier, History of Edinburgh Scotland (lecture), 2016

Edinburgh Plague Doctor story…

Edinburgh (Scotland) Ghost Tour

We were riding on the shuttle boat with the guest lecturer when someone asked her what we she recommended seeing this day.  She said the ghost tour, since so many thousands and thousands of people had died by the plague and there were so many stories McKenzie’s tomb (Black Mausoleum).  So the first thing we did was sign up for a ghost tour that had been recommended to us.

The tour started out with a stroll through Old Town Edinburgh, where we heard some ghastly tales at various locations.  We learned that next to the old Parliament building right in old town there had been a graveyard, but it was relocated for a small parking lot, with one exception: John Knox, who had hated women and whose remains and small tombstone were left behind.

We learned that tortuer in Scotlannd was not only legal for longer than most other local companies, but encouraged and welcomed, and that 90,000 people died of the plague in Edinburgh.  That it was legal to keep one “lunatic” chained in your basement following a violent episode where a kitchen boy was murdered by a lunatic; that a clan of cannibals had lived just beyond Edinburgh and feasted on hapless travelers, and that witch hunting was a common (and largely unmonitoried) activity.  All this leads to misery and death.

We were led into the cellars of the city, which were created — and forgotten about — over the centuries due to building upward and the fates of time.  We were taken into a cellar beneath the city streets and accessed only by a former recording studio that had been built above the forgotten tomes and discovered only by accident.  In the early 19th centry, a canal was built through Edinburgh, which attracted many lowly-paid Irish immigrants, plus there was a lot of poverty in The Old Town after the wealthier classes were relocated to New Town.  The result was there were many impovershed and homeless people who took to living in the city’s understreets, leading to disease and dens of vice, which created a spooky underworld setting.

There were two interesting stories we found in the vaults: one is of a female ghost that is occassionally scene by the tours.  She often carries the scent of singed hair, and one time a guest who was not aware of the legend asked how much they paid the woman actress to lurk in the corner – except there was not an actress. 

But the most terrifying — and disturbing — room on our tour was the final cellar, where they’d once tortured and killed a family of immigrants accused of witchcraft.  In this room, they’d systematically tortured and killed a woman, her husband, their young son and their young daughter who did not speak the same language so could not even understand the questions their inquisitors asked them. The room has had several reports of ghosts, and my wife and daughter both felt an overwhelming flee instinct in that room, even before hearing the story.  For me, I continue to have goosebumps about that story, not over the rumored ghosts, but for that poor youjng family who were brutally murdered by unsupervised zealots.  Even though centuries have passed, I can still see their despair and suffering by the hands of brutes and honestly it breaks my heart.  I will never forget that story.

Finally, we had heard about the Black Mausoleum, but no mention was made of it by anyone and heard nthing of it in the actual city, so I conducted some research on it. According to an article in the Edinburgh news, the Black Mausoleum was uneventful until nearly 20 years ago, when a homeless man seeking shelter inadvertantly desecreated McKenzie’s grave as well as the bones of some plague victimes.  ALmost immediately, there were reports of poltergeists, not just in that particular tomb, but in the entire graveyard plus neighboring street.  There were reports of faintings, unseen fores pounding on people, and even the work of an exorcist a few years later had no effect.  After more than 500 separate complaints, the city closed and locked the grave yard, and no one is allowed in anymore.  

The ghosts are scary.  But honestly more scary than ghosts are actual human beings, and the few crazy human beings in authority who are allowed to torture and kill countless people.  Where do these people come from?  ANd how is it a few people can terrorize an entire population?  Humans and human nature is far scarier than supposed ghosts…


Edinburgh (Scotland) Ghost Tour

Edinburgh (Scotland) Military Tattoo

During the month of August, Edinburgh Castle hosts the Military Tattoo, which we were fortunate to attend (thanks to dad purchasing the family tickets).  Like visiting the Hermitage, it is honestly one of those once-in-a-lifetime and indescribably-awesome experiences I will never forget so long as I have a healthy brain…

To get there, we meandered through the legendary Bow street in Edinburgh, following a sea of people who were making their way to the castle. Outside the castle was like attending a professional ball game in the states, where 1000s of people stand in line with their bags filled with jackets, vendors cry out that they have official programs, and scalpers stand with signs offering to buy tickets.  A small temporary stadium of metal grandstands has been created just outside the castle, surrounding the castle gates and creating an open marching area.  We arrived as the sun was setting, and the stands filled gradually then rapidly.  In the center of the stands were the main box seats, where the ‘honored guests” sat.  As darkness started to settle in and the stadium was filled to capacity, a small motorcade escorted by motorcycle police arrived – we wondered if this might be the prince, but it appeared to only be random nobles dressed in gowns and tuxes and the “honored guest,” a random lieutenant general from the US military; we laughed over the fact we were taking pictures of randoms in the hope it was the king to have it turn out to be more dime-a-dozen random nobles and military dudes. 🙂

An honored emcee hosts the event, and introduces each of the performers.  Before attending, I thought the event was primarily the Scottish guard, but it was soooooo much more than that.  The castle was brightly lit and served as a backdrop for various light shows during the performances.  Meanwhile, we had honor guards from Jordan, Norway, and various other military bands, as well as Irish Dancers, Drill teams and more over the course of two hours.

The events that stood out to me:

  • THere is nothing like awe that is inspired by the sight of the Scottish marching band, complete with their kilts, boots and towering fur hats marching in rhythm to bagpipes, pounding drums and horns.
  • The Scottish DRill team, comprised of youjng women, was breathtaking.  They marched an elaborate march and intermixed their moves with singing and chants.  I can see why they’ve wone 35 national championships.
  • The Norwegian Royal Guard’s marching was amazing.
  • I love the way the drummers drum, in exact timing and with disciplined moves.
  • I loved the finale, complete with all the performers in the rink, playing and singing and dancing in unison complete with fireworks.  It gave me goosebumps.

The show was better than I hoped it would be and gave me goosebumps.  Amazing.


Edinburgh (Scotland) Military Tattoo

Edinburgh (Scotland) Day 1

We took a boat into the port, and I was surprised to see mountains (or tall hills) flanking the city.  In the sea behind us was a small island with a stucture built into its side.  We took a bus into the city, and stepped out into Old Town, near the Waverly train station.  The view was breathtaking.  Rows of ancient buildings rose out of the ground all around us, and were separated by a row of rail tracks.  The stone was old, gray but beautiful.  It almost seemed like it was a modern city built between the spires of a sprawling castle. Far beyond the city were tall, precipitous hills.

The fringe festibal – a big Scotish festival in the a month of festivials – was taking place, and the city was teeming with mostly young people.  We walked along ancient streets to The Doric Tavern, where we climbed to the second floor and partook an a fish-and-chips and cheeseburger lunch that were the tenderest and tastiest burger and fish I’ve ever tasted (I said a word of thanks to the fish and cattle that gave their lives for our meal).  We also asked the server for ale recommendations, and she suggested Coast to Coast and Ederburgh Castle ales, which were deliciious (I preferred the Coast to Coast, myself).  

The server was friendly.  She was from Paris originally, but moved to Edenburgh a few years ago and loves it.  She was not a big fan of Paris, but did also spend time in Southern France, which she liked.  She looked very French.

We walked thorugh a park filled with people enjoying the sunny day, and stepped inside the National Gallery, where there were many rooms of paintings for a suggested 5 dollar/pound/Euro donation.  I enjoyed the 16th century portaits and scenes, but especially loved the Monets and other impressionist paintings upstairs.  

It was a hot day, and more than one Scot mentioned how lucky we were to be experiencing Edinburgh in the sun, which is not so common.  We spent the remainder of the time we had strolling in and out of shops and cafes buefor returning to our Shuttle for the Tattoo reservations we have tonight.  We still have tonight and all day tomorrow!

PS Saw a few homeless people asking for money, something we have not seen a lot of in Northern Europe.  I wanted to give them something but was not sure if it was legal to do that here, did not have cash handy and didn’t have any food to give them 😦

Edinburgh (Scotland) Day 1

Loch Ness

Loch Ness is located in the Scottish highlands and is, of course, “home” of the infamous Loch Ness monster, AKA Nessie.  

The port village was tiny, practically a single long street, but the drive up into the highlands was approximately an hour and scenic.  We drove through the town of Inverness, which had the feel of many British mid-size cities running along the river, while tall green mounds buttressed the village.  The bus drove through quaint ancient streets, old medevial structures, people strolling along the river and lounging in large green parks.  We would have loved to spend time there, but alas the bus rode right on through.  

We learned the highlands are an arid land with a population sof approximately 242K.  There is a lot of daylight in the summer but the winter has just 6 hours of daylight per day.  There are 4 seasons per day, a theme we heard quite often: rain, sun, sleet, snow.  🙂  There were once 400 independent distilleries in the area, but that number now resides at 100, and the original language in the highlands was Gaelic.  We heard the term “firth” a few times, which is a type of shallow bay.  

Then we arrived a Loch Ness.  It is a very very long and narrow alpine-like lake, created by a 400M year-old fault along with several other lakes.  The lake is 800 feet deep, 22 miles long, and 10,000 years   old (not very old).  It reminded me a lot of the lakes that we have in the foothills of the Pacific Northwest.  The legend of Nessie dates back to the 7th Century, and she is known as the water horse (there is a film that our guide says captures the essence of Nessie very well called, appropriately, waterhorse).  The area inspired the story of Peter Pan and Neverland.

We stopped at an old castle known as Urquhart, which was built as a fortress in the 12 century before it was destroyed by its owners during the times of the Jacobite risings to avoid it falling into the hands of its enemies. The ruined castle was imposing and loomed on a bluff over the lake, but was small and ruined.  We had 90 minutes to explore, but 30 was more than enough, and would have liked the extra time to explore Inverness.  ON the plus side, I had a delicous cookie and beer from the cafe, and we purchased osme amazing malt whiskey at the gift shop.

On the ride back, we took a scenic route along the hills, and saw several towering hills covered in blooming purple heather (Heather is a national flower in Scotland).  We learned that there are huge numbers of stag in Scotland, since its former predators (wolves and bears) are extinct in the area.  Additinoally, we learned there are 282 tall peaks in Scotland, and these peaks are the oldest mountains in the world so have been eroded with time.

Like much of Europe, Scotland takes care of its own – medical and prescription charges are free.

Loch Ness was beautiful and everything I expected it to be.



Loch Ness

A Day in Shetland

If there is a more peaceful or greener place on the planet than Shetland, I would be surprised…

Shetland is a green, almost mystical island, of 23,000 people.  Interspersed amongst than rolling green hills, waterfalls and beaches are small hamlets comprised of small, stone buildings, often from the 1600s.

The area is comprised of 100s of small islands, the largest over 60 miles long.  Shetland, of course, is famous for its small ponies, which are generally kept more for breeding and pets than actual work; and its sheep, which provides wool, including wool worn on the first summit of Everest..  In its first days, Shetland was settled by Norse peoples, since it is only a 2 day sail and offered expansive lands that were not available in the more populated Norse settlements.  They are finding stone structures dating back 1000s of years (5000), and we visited a couple of these settlements, which right now consist of open stone holes but at one time were houses and long houses.  To date, there are more than 8000 documented archeological sites,  In one area we saw “houses” from 500 BC, 200 AD and 1600 AD, including a ruined tower where the tyranical Patrick Stuart carried on a reign of terror in the area.

They’ve found oyster shells dating back to 5000 BC, although oyster shells no longer remain.In prehistoric times, Shetland rested on the equator, and centuries ago it was wooded, although humans deforestation combined with climate change have eliminated the trees and the ability to truly replenish the woods.   Because of the currents and jetstream, the area still has mild winters despite its location in the far north.

I can’t accurately descirbe how hilly, green and peaceful this place was.  THe people were friendly, and the houses often date back to 1600. Additionally, we had a wonderful slice of chocolate cake in a small hamlet.


A Day in Shetland