Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Helensburgh, Stirling, and Edinburgh

Our bus trip on Friday from Fort William to Luss more or less paralleled the railroad, and yet was somewhat different, so we were glad to see the same beautiful scenery again from a slightly different viewpoint. At Luss we waited 20 minutes in the rain for our next bus to Helensburgh, the site of our Esperanto meeting. Helensburgh, a half-hour west of Glasgow, is a pretty town on the Clyde River.

This was the annual meeting of the Scottish Esperanto Association—like Toronto, a 3-day event. It was held at a lovely old hotel. About 25 people were there, including several from Ireland and England, one from Armenia (the president of the Armenian Esperanto Society), and a group of five from Bialystok (the birthplace of Zamenhof, the creator of Esperanto). We were interested to find out that the EU had paid the travel costs of the Poles, as part of a program to encourage cultural exchanges among the various nations in the union.

Having fun at the Kongreso
The meeting was a combination of interesting talks and two long excursions. We had a chartered bus to Luss on Loch Lomond, and again (like the previous day when we waited for our bus transfer) it was pouring there. So, instead of spending our three hours enjoying the scenic village and the loch, we mostly huddled in souvenir shops and in our bus, venturing out each time there was a break in the rain. Les, who always enjoys a good storm, was probably the only one in our group who didn't mind the weather.

Les' favorite moment of the trip so far was this piper playing in front of the old church in Luss where a wedding was taking place inside.
Some hardy swimmers jump into Loch Lomond on a cold, wet, and windy day. Note my blown umbrella.
Another excursion was to Hill House, a place famous for its architecture.

We liked the fact that not every minute was filled; rather, there were lots of scheduled coffee breaks. These, along with the fact that a few others, like us, stayed an extra night at the end, meant that we got to know several people quite well. I was glad to see that, even though most participants had English as a native tongue (not the Armenian woman and the Poles), everyone spoke Esperanto all the time, and at a very high level. The funny thing is that even though many spoke Esperanto with a Scottish accent, I had little trouble understanding them, whereas occasionally when I'd hear them speak English (such as ordering in a restaurant), I missed many words.

One talk was on language rights, another on the history of Esperanto films. A woman gave a talk about her grandfather, John Logie Baird, who lived in Helensburgh and was one of the inventors of television. I gave a 30-minute talk about living on a houseboat. Les created the "slide show" for this over the past few months. I'll be doing my talk at least once more this summer.

For those of you new to this blog who want to know more about Esperanto, I discussed it in a previous posting. Or look at a recent article. The article mentions Duolingo, a popular free site for learning a foreign language. Since Esperanto became Duolingo's 13th language a couple of weeks ago, 20,000 people have signed up for its Esperanto course. (Certainly most of those just want to check it out, and won't continue for long, but it's nice to see so much interest.)

Monday we took a local train to Glasgow, traveling with two Esperantists returning to England (yes, even then we continued to speak Esperanto with them—it seemed more natural that way), and then a fast train (Les clocked it at 100 mph at times) to Stirling, where we stayed a few days in a friendly B&B. The first day we went by bus to Denny, where Les' great-great-grandfather emigrated from when he settled in Montreal. That man's son (Les' great-grandfather) kept a journal most of his life, and especially interesting is his trip to Scotland in 1893 to see where his father had come from. The journal, plus our genealogical research, gave us clues about where the family lived in Denny, so it was fun to see what the places look like presently. In the cemetery we found a stone for a whole generation of the family in the 1800s.

King Street in Stirling. The Golden Lion Hotel is on the right, our B&B is immediately opposite on the left.
Tuesday we explored Stirling on foot. It was once the capital of Scotland, and is famous for its castle. I was surprised to see that the town library was built by Andrew Carnegie, who was born near Stirling; I had thought that Carnegie only built libraries in the U.S., but a web search showed me that he did it in many countries. We also checked out a hotel (the Golden Lion, built in 1786) across the street from our own lodging, because it's where Les' great-grandfather stayed during his 1893 visit. (And he would have seen our B&B, because the building was there also in 1893.) As we walked around, we noticed many elderly people using canes; it seemed strange until we concluded that, whereas in the U.S. people get a knee or hip replacement as their joints deteriorate, here the people just buy a cane. The train station ticket booths thoughtfully provide an attached "walking stick holder". (Turns out we were wrong. Our kind B&B host tells us that hip and knee replacements are common procedures here also.)

Although Stirling wasn't in our original plan, we're very glad we ended up spending a few days in this attractive town. It probably helped that the sun finally came out; now it's sunscreen and sunglasses instead of long underwear and rain jacket. It's about 70 degrees, a lot better than the high 80s it's been in Seattle this week!

These chimney pots are iconic in Scotland.
Today we took the train to Edinburgh and back. We spent four hours there, walking almost the entire timealong Princes Street and the beautiful parallel gardens, the Old Town, and the Royal Mile. The place was teeming with tourists. We were almost always within earshot of a corner bagpipe player, and at noon they did a 21-gun salute from the castle. I'm sure that some people who've been there will think, "That's a crime, to devote such a short time there", but we felt quite satisfied with our day. The way Les sums it up is: "Glasgow is fun, Edinburgh is breathtaking, and if I had to choose between them, I'd pick Stirling."

Edinburgh Castle
Edinburgh's "Royal Mile"
I've been reading about a book a week since we left, the same as usual. A friend asked me whether I was buying books for my Kindle, and the answer is no, I get them from the King County Library System, just like when I'm at home. I made a list beforehand of about 20 books that looked good and were available from the library in electronic format, and Les downloads one to the Kindle each time I need it.

I've gotten used to looking right first before crossing streets (Les adapted a railroad safety mantra for me: "Cars can come at any time, in any lane, from any direction"), but I'm having trouble remembering to walk on the left side of sidewalks and staircases. Also, I can't seem to internalize that 07/06/15 means June 7th, not July 6th.

We've had a great two weeks in Scotland. Tomorrow we'll be on the train to York for our new adventures in England. Stay tuned.