The road less traveled

Archive for August, 2012


St Andrews and regions

Saturday morning, San proposed that they go to the deli market. She was all in for that outing – wanted to see what such a market would look like in Scotland and what produce they would have on offer. It was raining that morning but since she was well equipped, they hopped onto the first bus going in that direction. Soon, the rain was coming down in earnest and they took shelter in the doorway of a hall hoping it would come to a drizzle and they could proceed to the market which was a street away from the bus stop.

Well, it did not get any better. When they had exhausted catching up with news of the family, they walked quickly down to the market. There was practically no buyers at that time but most of stalls had been set up: bread stalls, quite a few with smoked salmon both cold and hot smoked and other fish, buffalo meat, cheese, haggis and a few others. San was mainly after some not smoked salmon and buffalo meat that day. They did look at the bread but it was nothing too special and the prices were verging on the unreasonable.

Under a drizzle they reached home to huddle next to the radiator in the kitchen, have tea and chat. Hakim was leaving for Liverpool that day. So, they visited a bit with him, chatted some more and then made lunch. She made them her classic fish with leeks using the hot smoked salmon and serving it with these excellent potatoes that they had been eating since they got to Scotland.

When Hakim had left, using the same bus ticket of the morning, she left with Pirjo for a good stroll around the town centre. Pirjo took her to the national gallery to see the famous ‘Skating Clergyman’ and then they walked past the old churches, monuments and statues that abound around there. They went to see Grey Friar’s Bobby too. On the way they stopped in numerous wool shops to see if she could find the cardigan she was looking for. She had a specific idea in mind and was confident that she would find it in Scotland.

There were numerous tourists in the city, all equipped for braving the weather. It drizzled and then stopped and then started again. But they had a good visit by the time they headed back. They did not get the cardigan but they had found other stuff that they were looking for or not looking for.

Across River Firth

The next day, with Pirjo, they drove off to St Andrews. San had a booking for some show and stayed behind. They crossed the river via the same bridge as before and then stood on the other bank looking at the city. From where they stopped, they had a great view of the mouth of the river Firth and all its small islands, the water traffic and life on the river in general.

Small town on the way

On the way to St Andrews they passed many small towns with their quaint houses, with flowers on window sills as well as cattle in the meadows and fields of rapeseed flowers. Speed was limited but there was no hurry, the target was St Andrews and back.

Scenery on the way

When they finally reached the town, they went around a bit to look for parking and were rudely cut at the spot where they found a place. Luckily another car was leaving, so after the rude driver had turned in behind their backing car, they parked and walked through the town. The first stop was at the old ruins of the first cathedral in Scotland. It was by the sea and must have been quite a piece of work. It was not well conceived, so the story goes, soon after it was finished its one wall caved in during a storm.

Ruins of Cathedral

Not far from the ruins there is a place marked on the road, of the exact

Ian Smuts

location where some priest was burnt at the stake for defying the church. From there they walked down to the University Museum where they met with Jan Smuts’ bust. He seemed to have been the rector of the place for 3 years. He had done so many things in his life that it made you wonder how and when he ended up there.

Leaving the museum they went in quest of a place to eat. They chose a pub that became popular because it is said that ‘William and Kate’ met there while


studying at St Andrews. The food was pub food, nice and copious too. The service was a bit ‘limite’ but when you are used to service in restaurants in SA, then out there it is minimal to nearly non existent.

Small streets

After lunch they walked a bit further. Coen had studied with St Andrews University – an online course which he

St Andrews centre

enjoyed greatly. He was looking at getting a memento of the place: a tie or something.

They were directed to the student

Door bell

council shop that was closed, but they found another shop that had jerseys and other apparel. There Coen chose a blue sweater and a dark blue woollen hat. They poked into the small streets and Pirjo found a book for her brother in law and they saw the peculiarities of the the houses of the place.

Driving back was  through the same small town for most part. They were home in good time for a nap. For dinner San had cooked them the buffalo. They did a bit of planning for the start of a three day journey into the Highlands of Scotland and then went to bed.


Trekking the Trossachs

By then, she had chosen to wear booties lent to her by her cousin. To us from South Africa they looked like Safari boots but out there they refer to them as booties. Whatever, they seem to have served their purpose for the walking and for protection, but for driving they were not really the thing. She participated in the driving up to Scotland.

As they crossed into Scotland, the weather turned. They saw only clouds and as they approached Edinburgh,

Edinburgh City Centre

where the uncle lived, it started to drizzle. With the help of cell phones and a friend of the uncle, they tackled the centre of Edinburgh to get to Viewforth where uncle San lives. As usual, they got lost in the right direction. Soon they were parked in front of the apartment block and were unloading their luggage.

They just dumped the luggage inside and all flocked to the kitchen for a hot cup of tea. It was a nice reunion. She had not seen Pirjo in years and Coen had never met her. Hakim, her cousin, was there too. That evening they had a simple but excellent dinner of cold-smoked salmon with hard boiled eggs and potatoes. As they talked, distributed gifts and enjoyed food and drink, they made plans on where to go and what to see.

Later, they sorted out who was sleeping where while further catching up on news and views.

The set plan for the next day was to go to Stirling and see the sights, then through the Trossachs, meander around there and see the Lochs, then on to Scone Castle and see where the old kings of Scotland used to be crowned.

And so, soon after breakfast, they set off. By then they had consulted San’s road map and found a good way of going out of the city because there are major road works in the centre and things get rather confused if you want to get into the city or out of it.

Robert the Bruce in Stirling town

First stop was Stirling, checked on a few monuments/statues to the memory of Robert the BruceThey also drove up to Stirling Castle through the narrow roads of the town. The place was busy, people were coming in by the bus loads. They did not go into the castle but looked over the ramparts at the lands beyond.

Back on the roads heading to the Trossachs national park there was stunning scenery with quaint villages and lochs. They

Through the Trossachs

meandered through, took pictures, stopped by loch Lomond and took in the fresh air. On the way in and out of the national park she saw the sign board to another Loch and was wondering about the name when San exclaimed “really, but the Chinese are everywhere”, it was because the loch’s name was Chon! They had a good laugh over it.

Loch Chon

As they opted not to drive all the way to the coast, they came back on their steps and stopped at a small town for lunch. They were so hungry that they just ate at the first stop where there was decent parking. It was self service but tasty. It was inside one of these ‘wool shops’ set up for tourists. These often sell woollen garments as well as any other articles that may interest tourists – in Scotland that would be shortbread biscuits, haggis, keychains with clan coats of arms etc.

It was still early when they headed for Scone palace. This is a castle that is still inhabited. It was also the place where the old kings of Scotland were crowned. It was well indicated and they were soon driving into the grounds. They parked the car and went up to see about visiting the grounds of the castle. The people were in a fizz since aunty Lizzie was just there having lunch, left 15 minutes before we arrived.

Scone Palace

It was quite amazing to them that there was not great hooo haas after such a visit because they are used to great show of security, presence of police and barred roads when African leaders appear anywhere. At Scone palace that day, the gate guy only apologised that it would take a further 15 minutes wait

Crowning stone

if they had wanted to go inside the castle. Since that was not their aim, they were free to stroll into the grounds and take pictures. They went by the small chapel where THE stone used to be. There is a replica in the place where she sat and was crowned.

From Perth, where the Scone Palace is, they were only a stonethrow from Edinburgh, it was a matter of crossing the Firth bridge. When they got back to Edinburgh, they were hard pressed to find a parking spot because it was very much ‘residents only’ or ‘permit holders only’ where San lives. Since it was after hours, they found a spot where they could park for free for the night and remember to put in some coins if they had not moved before 8 on weekdays.


Off to the U.K and….. Scotland

And so they were off again. Where to this time, you’d ask? To the U.K

This all came about when their friend Erika talked about going to see the last of the Music of the Night. She was wondering who would go with her.

The idea was working in her mind and she consulted Coen about it. He was not overly enthusiastic but agreed that it would be a good idea. And they started planning, finding flights, places to stay, places to visit, application for visas, etc, etc.

The idea was to go for a few weeks. Erika was busy finding tickets for us all for the Music of the Night show. The date of the show was to determine when they leave and up to when they stay in the U.K.

Finally, they got sorted. They were to leave on the 29th of June and return on the 26th of July. They got tickets to attend the very last show on the 20th of July.

There they planned first of all to visit with Amr and Tori, friends from their Uganda times. He was finishing his tour of duty in the U.K as Consul General. Then they would, of course see their British cousins, uncle and aunts. That would take them to Scotland. Then came the idea of finding out more about Coen’s McHardy ancestors who were from around Braemar in Scotland. And why not throw a tour of the Highlands and do some Whiskey tasting while they were at it. San, the leftist intellectual uncle who lives in Edinburgh was keen on this whole idea and had also started making plans.

The other idea that sprang up was to go into Robin Hood country – that is Nottingham and alentours. The cousins were keen on this and they were also finding dates when they would be free to go together. These basic ideas set, they set off from the cold winter of Pretoria into the not-yet-summer of the U.K.

They consulted the weather reports for England and Scotland packed accordingly. The cousins had also promised to furnish them with any additional items of clothing or even shoes that they might need in case of really bad

Johannesburg from the air

weather. They were to leave by Luftansa in the evening of the 29th of June. That morning they received an sms from the airline saying that the plane was late, as in very late, that they would leave at midnight but to get to the airport at the usual check-in times.

That implied that they would miss their connection for London. Their ticket was taking them to Gatwick which meant that they would have to take a train to Chiswick where Amr and Tori live. It was a bit of a drag but it could not be helped.

They got dropped off at the airport at around 18h00 and went to check-in directly. There, the flight attendant went off to find them a connecting flight for London. The one that they got would make them stay about 5 hours at Frankfurt airport. They swallowed and bore with it. Check-in completed they went to get a bottle of sparkling for Amr and Tori and proceeded with dinner vouchers to the indicated restaurant and then proceeded to the lounge of their boarding gates.

There, they settled for the night since they still had quite a few hours of waiting to do. Coen managed a nap while she read her magazines. Finally the place docked at the apron. It was one of these huge A380’s. Looking at it from the lounge it was impressive, made you wonder how the thing stays in the air.

At last, they called for boarding. The families went in first and then the passengers trickled in. The craft seemed to be fully booked and it was a squeeze. They were served another dinner while they were playing with their screens to find out what movies to watch. There was an array of films that she wanted to see but soon after dinner Coen opted to have a snooze. She also managed a bit of shut-eye and woke up rather stiff.

Early, after breakfast, they did a bit of cleaning up and refreshing and were ready to face the day. They landed at Frankfurt, it was quite sunny. They decided they would try to get an earlier connection. And lo and behold, the personnel were very helpful, the help desk said that if they wanted to go toe Heathrow, they could leave earlier and were assured that their luggage would follow.

Happy about this change, the moved on to their boarding gates while looking for internet connection to let Amr know that they would arrive at Heathrow – they live next to Heathrow. It was a well organised affair, this internet connection, but did not come cheap. They had to go through another set of security to get to their boarding gate and there the bottle of sparkling got confiscated with the excuse that no liquids from South Africa was allowed to cross into Germany or some such *&^%$ explanation – guess who would be having a party on our backs that evening???

Immigration was pretty painless and the luggage did not take ages to get to the carrousel. Outside she went to get them some SIM cards to call Amr. But he was there already with Ewen, another friend from the Uganda times whom they also met in Mauritius 2 years ago. It was a jolly reunion. Amr’s children had grown, as children tend to do.

There was some sun when they landed. When they got to Chiswick, it soon started to drizzle. There was a lot of catching up to do and everyone was moaning about the fact that the bottle of sparkling was confiscated etc etc…. it was great to be with them and to connect again after all these years.

Amr and family

The next day they all went to Westfield mall, a gigantic mall in the East End of London. It was the choice of restaurant of Faris, whose birthday it was, that determined the visit to the mall. They were to have lunch, take a stroll around the mall while Tori and the kids went to the movies. On their stroll they were on the lookout for shoes for Coen and for computers etc… There were all sorts strolling about the place, it was the beginning of the Sales.

In the few days that followed, Amr and Tori took them to

Under the lion of Trafalgar Square

city centre where they walked/visited St Martin in the Fields, Trafalgar square, 10 Downing street, the Thames, Westminster Abbey and environs. Amr sent them a car to go to V & A museum where they had a good time going through the various exhibits and eating at their very nice cafeteria and very ornate restaurant. Then the men did their thing and the women did some shopping, did things with the kids and chatted, cooked and watched movies with the kids. It was a very relaxing time. The weather was very English, drizzly and not warm even though it was already July.

Inside the V & A musem

Even though the weather was not yet summer in London, the place was very well decorated with flowers: around lamp posts, on window sills, along the pavements, on islands. It was very nice to see colours in that grim city.


And came the time to move on. Ebrahim, her cousin came to fetch them. They bid farewell to the Henawi family, and were staying overnight at Ebrahim’s, with dinner at Aisha’s. The next day, Ebrahim dropped them at the car rental at Luton airport and then drove off in the direction of Scotland. Her other cousin was in Edinburgh, at his parents’ place waiting for them.

Around Downing street

It was quite easy to drive on the English roads. Traffic was constant but not hectic and there were no toll roads on their itinerary. The weather was good that day. They met with a 5 minute downpour and then the sun was out again. However, Scotland was another matter…..

Of the buildings on the ro

Eating area of the V & A

Crossing the border

Flowers by the road side

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