Finding the Family Name

Hey y’all, I have very little time to get this blog out so that there is one this week, but I committed to posting once a week unless I absolutely couldn’t, so this one may and probably will be a little bit shorter.  The reason being is that tomorrow (5/12) I have to get up at 3 a.m. to catch a morning flight to Copenhagen, Denmark.  I will spend only one day there, and fly on the 13th to Oslo, Norway.  Again, I will only be in Oslo for less than 24 hours, and will fly on the 14th to Belfast, Northern Ireland via Stansted Airport in London.  I will spend two whole nights(!) in Belfast, but my second day is a day tour around the area to see sights like the Giant’s Causeway and the King’s Road from Game of Thrones.  I just got back from Inverness and hanging out with my folks (more on that below), so my turnaround time is rather limited.  I’d rather get the blog out while I have a moment so that I can focus on my last hurrah next time.  On that regard it is indeed my final journey outside of Edinburgh, and while the timetable is short and I am going alone I think it will nonetheless be one hell of a time.  Still, it is not suitable for major writing times.  In retrospect I should have brought my laptop to write on the train, but I digress.  In any event, I hope you enjoy my abbreviated stories that I have to tell.

Family Reunion

It felt damn good to see some familiar faces from home again.  My mom and dad arrived in Edinburgh a few days ago, and I got to showing them all around the city.  We did everything: Greyfriar’s Kirk, the Royal Mile, Edinburgh Castle, Calton Hill, The Scotch Whisky Experience, having a beer at the Three Sisters, and even a late night ghost tour where I swear I saw a small child appear in the darkness inside the Vaults of the city… I showed them everything that was important to me about this city and more.  It was a grand time.

After two days in the city we headed up North to Inverness; to see the land of my mother’s and mine ancestors, that of the clan Fraser.  It was a two day journey, so it’s best to split them up.

Day 1

A three and a half hour train ride seemed easy at this point, for before I knew it my folks and I had arrived in the Capitol of the Highlands: Inverness.  I swear, my folks are extremely lucky people as the weather could not have been better.  This is Scotland mind you, quality days in the sky are RARE.

After checking into our accommodation we wandered across the street to the Inverness museum.  There was nothing in particular that really caught my eye, but it was nice to look back on pre-historical artifacts from the Picts, Vikings, and other groups that settled in the area.  I was more impressed with the fact that everything was worded in Gaelic first and English second, a nice touch of immersion that played on what I had learned this semester during Introduction to Gaelic.

Following the museum we went up to see Inverness Castle.  While not as grand as those of Stirling or Edinburgh it was still a fantastic place to grab some views of the highland country.

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Woah
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Double Woah

The land was beautiful.  It was the highlands after all, but still it never ceases to take my breath away.  Upon departing the castle we wandered down the River Ness on the Ness walk.  I could see why it had a claim to fame: simply stunning.  My parents got to see first hand how I had turned into someone determined to get the perfect shot as I hopped the railing to get a water’s-edge view of the river.  It would have been funny had I fallen in, but I didn’t, so all was well with the world.

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Risk it for the biscuit right?
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Ha, tourists…

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Inverness Castle

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As we came back into town we wandered into the old High Church graveyard.  Here was where I got my first true taste of clan culture, as every tombstone was labled as “Grant”, “Fraser”, “MacKenzie”, “MacDonald”, and plenty of other well-known clan names.  Many of the stones were marked with dates from before the formation of the United States; it was just another humbling experience showing me how old the world actually was, and I was grateful to be witness to that.

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Following our diversion into the graveyard my family and I realized that we had practically exhausted the things to do in the city.  Seriously, not much to do in Inverness.  So, with plans elsewhere for the next day we resigned ourselves to finding dinner, which was damn good.  I wasn’t quite used to drinking with my parents yet, but its not such a bad feeling at the end of the day.

We chilled back at the accommodation, watching terrible British television and prepping for the next day.  I had my own room and a queen-sized bed.  Hell yeah.

Day 2

Day 2 was the Fraser clan tour.  We were picked up by our guide, Laura, around nine and were in store for a full day of adventure.  It would be redundant to talk about the travel between places, so I will situate them into their own sections.

Kirkhill – In a small town called Kirkhill we were brought to, well, the kirk on the hill.  Here lay the crypt of Simon Fraser, notorious for his double-agency of both the Jacobites and the Government.  His head was removed from his body following the rebellion.  Not the most ideal person to have as an ancestor, sure, but it was very cool to help open up the crypt door and peer at some ancient coffins.  I even got to ring the bell of the kirk!

Now, do I know if any of these people were/are my direct anscestors?  No, can’t say that I do.  However, there is a blood relationship somewhere, it just may be a very distant one.  Someday I hope to map out all of those who came before me on every side of my lineage, but for now it was a melancholy event being so close to someone whom is notorious in Scottish history; someone who nonetheless may be my Great-Great-Great-Great-Grandfather.

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The Mausoleum
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Je Suis Prest – I Am Ready

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The Blue Tarpaulin marks Simon Fraser’s coffin.

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I had the key to the family crypt…

Glen Ord Distillery – On a whim our guide asked if we wanted to stop by a scotch whisky distillery, and our answer was obviously yes.  We arrived at Glen Ord a little while later.

Now, after going through the Deanston distillery, the scotch whisky experience, and having Tara tell me all about the stuff I knew what to expect going into the tour.  It was basically the same stuff that you would get anywhere else.  Malting vats, large stills, etc.  The difference here was because of Glen Ord’s market.  It is only sold on the Asian front, meaning that this place is the only location where you can buy the whisky west of Russia.  I think my palate is developing rather nicely, as I was able to pick out the hints of toffee and vanilla that the whisky possesses.  Moreover, because I showed interest our tour guide at the distillery let me and my folks try the 15 and 18 year old batches along with the complementary 12.  Each had their own strength of flavor, and for the first time I gained a respect for how the aging process can turn a spirit.  Fascinating stuff, that.

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The Glen Ord stills
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The Black Mold is due to the fumes of the Angel’s Share of whisky, or so they told me.

Beauly – At noon we stopped in the town of Beauly.  Here we toured the Beauly priory, where Diana Galbadon got the names for some of her characters in the Outlander series.  Despite its mainstream attraction, the priory was also remarkably different from others that I had visited due to some of its distinct preservation on the outside walls.  Floor supports and open stairwells could be seen, which was a nice touch that kept me immersed.  The fact that there were Fraser tombstones only added to that.

It was also in Beauly where we had lunch.  We ate at Lovat Arms hotel, which is essentially a hotel in honor of the Lovat Frasers, my clan.  There was a family tree on one wall, though sadly my mom and I had not the knowledge of how we fit into it.  However, that did nothing to take away from the vibe of the place.  The decor was decked out in Fraser tartan, and everywhere you looked there were paintings of famous Frasers.  Aslo, the clan crest was everywhere.  “Je Suis Prest” (Zhe swee prey), meaning “I Am Ready” lined the floors and the walls and made me feel right at home.  I suppose I felt that way because a long time ago it was probably home to my kin, and so I felt a connection to the area.

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Beauly Priory

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Culloden – I had read and heard about Culloden and the famous battle that had occurred here in the 18th century, but not until I stepped foot on the grounds did I truly feel the weight of the experience.  It was here the Jacobites were routed, and from that came the highland clearances and the attempted destruction of highland culture.  So clearly did it paint a picture in my head, and so heavily did it weigh upon my heart.  The only other time I had felt this way was at Gettysburg, and I suppose that’s not uncommon given the similarities between the two events.

The Lovat Frasers were back in Inverness when the battle took place, but others were indeed at the field when the massacre began.  I may not have the ties to them as I do the others, but seeing the family name on a mass grave gave me pause nonetheless.  I can only imagine what it must’ve been like, hell in another era it could have been me, my brother, and my cousins on this field.  It took only 45 minutes for over 1,000 clansmen to fall, in such a small space no less.  Not being moved by that was not an option.

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Our blood is still our fathers, And ours the valour of their hearts.

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The Red flag marked the front line of the Redcoat forces, the Blue marked that of the Highlanders.

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In another era, it may have been me beneath the soil.

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Clava Cairns – The last stop of the day brought us back to the bronze age.  The Clava Cairns are a 6000 year old set of standing stone structures used for cremation purposes, and just for the simple fact of looking epic, which is how Laura described it to us.  Back in those times no one had any use for defensive features, so they spent their nights looking at the sky and contemplating their place in the universe instead of worrying about their throats getting cut.  These monuments are a testament to people of the time creating grand structures just for the sake of creation (they did serve some ceremonial purposes).  Though the rocks today may be bland millenia ago they would be covered in a red or white tint which would have exploded in color upon contact with light from the sun or moon.  I live for this sort of stuff, and enjoyed strolling in and around the old, ruined, epic monuments.

This location is another Outlander hotspot, as the cleft stone where Claire (This is what I’ve been told, haven’t actually read the books) is transported back into the past is located here.  After being in Scotland for four months, I can tell you firsthand just how inspiring this place is.  It’s no wonder that authors like Galbadon and Rowling use this country as a basis for the setting in their novels.

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Honestly, I bet this was and could be a better experience than Stonehenge.

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Old cremation chamber.

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The famous Outlander cleft stone.
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Seriously, this place was awesome.

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Anywhere you go there’s an energy about you, and everywhere I go I try to take in as much as I can.

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Cup holes in the rock.

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Bronze age.  6000 years.  Wow.

Following the Cairns we were brought back to Inverness to relax for the evening.  It was an incredible day out with the folks, as I saw some old (very old) relatives and witnessed home historical sights that I have heard so much about.  Truly a fantastic day.  I wasn’t necessarily sad to leave my folks again, as I’ll be seeing them in a couple of weeks anyway.  Damn, where did the time go?

Hard Truths

Saying goodbye is inevitable, but that sure doesn’t make it any easier.

Today, I said goodbye to the first of many of my friends that I have come to be quite find of here in Scotland, Reagan and Alison.

I first met Reagan in Stirling when we were touring the city.  It wasn’t until the highland trip where we were rooming in the same house in Stromeferry where I really got to be friends with her and Isla from the API Stirling group.  She was one of the ones who jumped into Loch Ness with me, and is also a blogger like myself.  Check out her page here!

Later on, when I was touring Spain with Jes, Reagan also happened to be in Barcelona at the same time as us with her flatmate and friend Alison.  I first met Alison at the Picasso museum, and we quickly became chatty and friendly with one another.

Together we all had a blast in Barcelona, visiting the Sagrada Familia and having a nice dinner as a group.  It wasn’t a long time that we spent together, but memories were made, and memories bind individuals together in a way that simple small talk can never do.

Today, Reagan, Alison, and Isla came to Edinburgh.  I had just gotten back from Inverness when I got the text from Reagan saying her and Alison were going up Arthur’s Seat and asked if I wanted to come.  I couldn’t refuse.  Each of them leaves in a couple of days to go home, and it would be the last time I would get to hang out with either of them while here in Scotland.

The details of the hike are not important, though it was a beautiful day.  No, what matters is that I was with two friends, making one last memory before it came time for us to part ways.

They knew it too, and we avoided getting all emotional in our last few minutes together because I think we all knew deep down that nobody needed it.  Instead, we kept it simple, and offered a few words of advice to one another as the hour started to grow late:

“Don’t Fuckin’ Die.”

Wise words indeed friends, wise words indeed.

Reagan, Alison, Isla, I’ll miss the hell out of all of you.  I hate goodbyes, so let’s just call it a “See you later.”

Reagan is the first of many API folks that I will have to say farewell to, and Alison is the first of the non-API crew that I have come to know.  I don’t think it will get any easier, and I don’t think I’ll want it to.  No, instead I’d like to embrace my friends for the last time, and remember all the memories that we shared that have caused us to become so close.  Traveling (and study abroad for that matter) has a funny way of doing that.  Since I’ve had so many incredible experiences with so many incredible people the task will be difficult once it finally comes time to break away.  Yet, deep down, I think I know in my heart that somehow, someway all of us will find a way back to one another.

It’s a hard truth to face, saying goodbye.  But, if you’re like me and firmly believe that fate will lead you to cross paths with those who mean quite a lot to you, then it becomes easier, if but only a little.

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Arabian Revelations

I read a hell of a lot of Seven Pillars on my way back from Inverness.  Too much maybe… In short there are a lot of passages to pick from, but this one stuck out to me as being particularly savage.  I knew not that Lawrence was tortured.  I found out otherwise…

“I thought he was going to kill me, and was sorry: but he only pulled up a fold of flesh over my ribs, worked the point through, after considerable trouble, and gave the blade a half-turn.  This hurt, and I winced, while the blood wavered down my side and dripped to the front of my thigh.

To keep my mind in control I numbered the blows, but after twenty lost count, and could only feel the shapeless weight of pain, not tearing claws, for which I had prepared, but a gradual cracking apart of my whole being by some too-great force whose waves rolled up my spine till they were pent within my brain, to clash terribly together.  Somewhere in the place a cheap clock ticked loudly, and it distressed me that their beating was not in its time.”   (pp. 452-453)

Closing Remarks

That’s all I got folks – I told ya it would be quick!  Trust me, there are vlogs coming, I just do not have the time to edit them until I get back from my final journey around Europe.  Regarding that, it’s 8:18 p.m. now, and I have to be up at 3 a.m. to catch my flight at 6.  Dammit.  I wouldn’t have rushed this blog if I knew I would have more time to elaborate, but as my dad told me, “It’s basically a part time job to keep up with all your vlogs, blogs, and pictures.”  I guess I never realized that.  Here’s a little reprieve from the common output of content from me then, as this post ins just over 3000 words.  Don’t worry though, I’ll be back in force next week, ready and willing to enjoy a pleasant stroll across the finish line of the semester.  For now though, I bid you adieu, and wish you well on whatever endeavor may come your way.

Just remember:

All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us.

See you soon.

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