Thursday, September 20, 2012

Three Scots, Two Americans, Two Kiwis & an Englishman

Thankful Thursday

As I wrote two Travel Tuesdays ago, Chris and I were recently in Scotland again for Fringe. Looking back over that post, I realize it might've been nice if I'd included my opinions of the shows we saw, but no time for revisions at the moment. I can say that we enjoyed everything we saw this year, which is an improvement from last year (though last year was great, too). Anyway, although I talked about all the fun we had going to so many shows, I did not mention the friends we saw while there. That's what this post is for.

Fresh into Edinburgh, we hopped a train to Glasgow to meet up with two sets of friends. After a leisurely stroll around central Glasgow, which included a frenzied run through TKMaxx (TJMaxx in Europe), we walked to Jamie's Italian in George Square, one of British Chef Jamie Oliver's restaurant ventures.

It's Bernie!

We were meeting up with Bernie and Sarah again. It would be our fourth time seeing Bernie (the first being the infamous rescue of 2010), our third time seeing his wife, Sarah, (still dreaming of her wonderful cooking since our first meeting at their home) and our first time meeting their 10 month old son, Jacob.  

Has he got you in his crazy cute baby laser? I mean, look at this child.

Bernie and Sarah looked well and so happy to have this little bundle of adorableness along. Since the last time we'd seen them (for drinks in Edinburgh last year during Fringe), Bernie had gotten a promotion at work, and things had worked out just right for Sarah so she could leave her job to be the stay-at-home mom she so wanted to be. The food was amazing, the company even better, and we learned that Jacob likes an American accent. I was instantly in love with him the moment his face crinkled into a smile at my funny way of talking.

Sarah, Bernie, Jacob, me & Chris

After lunch we walked over into the park that makes up the center of George Square to snap a few pictures by the Olympic Ring sculpture. It took a couple tries to get all five of us in there, but we did it. Aren't they a beautiful family?

The rain started to sprinkle down and Jacob was nearing his capacity for patience for adult socializing, so off they went to head home for a nap. For a baby who hasn't been out much yet, he was amazingly well behaved. Not a whine, not a tear, not even a morsel of food thrown. He even let me hold him and seemed perfectly at ease, which made me happy. Everyone hugged 'till next time, and it was time to meet up with more friends.

Meet Tony & Paul

We met Tony and Paul last year during Fringe at a David Sedaris reading, and what turned out to be the funniest event we attended that year. I was sitting next to a then-nameless man, and got nosey about what the author had written in his book. David Sedaris held a book-signing before the reading and lots of people showed up early for it. This guy and I were two of those early birds. So I read what was scribbled inside the book he was holding, smiled to myself, and the show began.

I can't remember for the life of me what prompted our conversation, but I made some comment to the guy next to me in reference to something David had said, and his response, though I can't recall it now, did two things: It made me laugh, and it convinced me I liked this man already. I think it had to do with his partner's snoring? After the reading concluded and everyone meandered out to the lobby area of the venue, we kind of gravitated back toward one another, this guy and me, and kept talking. Tony was an American (still is) living in Glasgow with his English husband, Paul, who at the time was a councillor for the City of Glasgow. Tony, as it turned out, is not just an American, but one from Gainesville, Florida.

"That's funny, I went to the University of Florida in Gainesville. That's where I met Chris," I said.

To which he responded, "My father was a professor there for a while."

When we talked about where our parents were now, and that mine had retired to a tiny town in western North Carolina called Murphy, Tony's face lit up. Because he's been to that town and his parents live in another small town very close by. At this point, both of us (and our husbands) had another show to get to, so we said hesitant goodbyes and set off - in the same direction. We ended up walking across Edinburgh together, and quite frankly, I was surprised we weren't going to the same show. Along the way Tony and I walked side-by-side stacking up the coincidences and laughing loudly, while Chris and Paul walked behind us talking about, I don't know, boring stuff like politics and finances. I learned that Tony was not just familiar with the small town of Murphy, he'd looked at buying mountain property there, which was crazy enough until I told him my parents had done the same thing back in 1999.

"Do you know Wolf Knob?" I asked. Wolf Knob is the name of one of the mountains outside the town. You can look it up, it's on the map.

"Of course - that's where I almost bot the lot," he replied.

"Then I guess you met my dad because my parents ended up buying that whole property," I went on, though I was trying to keep from falling over, envisioning my parents showing Tony property they were developing.

It turned out Tony had not met my parents, but only because he'd beat them there by a year. But he knew the same realtor who sold the land to my parents and we giggled over the very nice man's very unfortunate name - Raper.

Paul was certain that had we had a little longer, Tony and I would figure out that we were cousins. But sadly, it was time to part and continue our Fringe experiences separately.

Chris, me, Tony & Paul
Fast forward to this last August, and there we were again, hugging Tony and Paul hello. We'd stayed in touch over the last year and brought a bag from Edinburgh to stay the night so we could catch up. After a short but informative drive through Glasgow, wherein we learned about some of the more significant buildings, we were at their lovely home on the edge of the city. There was wine, there was cheese, and lots and lots of talk and laughter. I felt like I'd known these guys forever, not as if we'd only met once before a year prior. Tony cooked a fabulous meal and Paul kept us entertained with his digital piano. They asked me to summarize the novel I'm working on, and after I stumbled through some semblance of one, they gave me some pretty fantastic feedback, which I scribbled down immediately and have since applied to said manuscript. Chris and I both felt totally at ease, between Tony's supreme hosting skills and Paul's very professoresque lessons about the history of whatever we happened to be talking about (which makes sense, as he was a professor). It was an evening of great conversation and to be honest, I was sad when it was time for bed.

In the morning, we were happy to provide Tony with justification for making an all-American breakfast, and I didn't want to leave when it was time to head back to the train station and on to Edinburgh. Chris and I felt truly at home with these guys, and made them promise to travel to Germany sometime and come by to see us.

Dinner with Jo

Once back in Edinburgh, we made sure to meet up with a few friends who live there, too. On Wednesday after some super jazzy renditions of '80s classics, we met up with Johanna for dinner at Seadogs, a fantastic seafood restaurant up the street from the Lost Fingers show. We met Jo while living in Italy, as her sister, Elise, was a friend. Jo was living in Georgia (the country) at the time, working to educate the local women about their health, which I admire greatly. When her two years were up there, she moved to Edinburgh, where she now works at the university. I love talking to Jo because her accent is a strange mix of Scottish and North Dakota, and it's adorable. We missed each other last time we were in town, so it was lovely to catch up over good food.

Amanda & David

When Friday rolled around, it was time to meet up with Amanda and David, a couple of Kiwis we met while in New Zealand in May of 2011. A friend from my high school days, Kristin, married Amanda's baby brother, Matt, and we'd kept in touch with Amanda and David when we found out they lived in Edinburgh. Last year during Fringe we met up for drinks, and here we were again!  
Neither Chris nor I have ever been much for whisky, but upon David and Amanda's invitation, we gave it another try. I believe we had the 10 year Jura, and it wasn't bad! We were instructed to savor the flavor and let it burn all the way down, and we did. I was hoping having a dram or two of the stuff would help my terribly sore throat. (Unfortunately, the congestion just jumped from my chest to my sinuses the next morning.) We walked across town in search of a jazz bar, but found it closed, so would up in another rather gorgeous bar for another drink before calling it a night, though it was orange juice for me and my pain in the neck throat. It was great having the opportunity to catch up all around and see a couple more friendly faces in a foreign place. Given the chance, I think I'd move to Edinburgh.

A New Friend?

On our final day in Scotland (for this year), we made time to swing back by the Gilded Balloon (Fringe venue) in hopes of running one fantastic comedian we'd seen the day before. Diane Spencer's stand-up show, entitled Exquisite Bad Taste was one of the shows we didn't know we had to see until we heard about it about an hour before it was to start, and it was hilarious. Diane is a foul-mouthed Ginger who kept us laughing, but she did have a bit of a headache to deal with the day we saw her. Sitting a couple rows behind us were a few guys who were already drunk and adamant about adding their own comments to Diane's act. Like the lady she is, she thanked them for their enthusiasm but asked that they cut it out so she could continue on with the show. After more obnoxious commentary from the back row, Diane finally called for the front of house guy to come escort the idiots out, but she did so with such grace and a smile, you wouldn't have known she was kicking anybody out. The rest of us got to enjoy the rest of her show without further interruption, and Diane even threw in a little tidbit about how things were currently going for her at this year's Fringe as a sort of prize for sticking it out with those jackasses. We left quite happy, but also feeling a little badly for the poor comedian who had to deal with jerks. 

As part of Diane's bit talked about self-pleasure and we're nice people, Chris and I bought a pack of batteries that evening to bring back to Diane the next day. It was our way of saying "Sorry those jerks muddled things up a bit!" and "Great job handling yourself," but most importantly, "For once you're back home from Fringe and need a little TLC." So before our evening show, we hung around outside the venue where her show would be happening again soon and looked for her. As I said in the post about Fringe, the performers are the ones handing out the flyers and pulling people in for the shows, so we felt sure we'd run into Diane again.

We did.

And she loved the batteries.

And now we're all super best friends.

The reason for recounting all of this for today is to say thank you to the people who added a personal touch to our trip this August. I already love Scotland, it doesn't need the help, but when you get to spend time with people you know (and like) while away, it adds a whole new level to the trip. Whether it's the intimacy friends provide, adding a little bit of familiar to the foreign mix, or knowing that if we got kidnapped by ninjas we'd have someone local to call for ransom help, it's nice having friends in different places.

Dear Sarah, Bernie, Jacob, Tony, Paul, Jo, Amanda, David and Diane, you were willing to meet up with a couple of weirdos like us, eat and drink with us, and made us feel at home while away from home, making a great trip even better.

And for that, we thank you.

PS - Oh, and I just looked it up, and Diane's English, too. So the name of this post should be Three Scots, Two Americans, Two Kiwis, and TWO English people. I don't think it has the same ring to it, though.

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