Thursday, July 2, 2015

Day 36: The Castle and the Unicorn

I took the high road and I reached Scotland before you! Where the highland air did wonders for my sleep and my cough. I didn't remember any coughing fit last night and I was ecstatic to realize I slept over 8 hours. Considering I was averaging anywhere from 4 to 6 hours while I have been going in Europe, 8 hours of straight sleeping is a miracle.

As I read about the heatwave hitting Paris and London, I'm glad I'm in Scotland where the temperature hovers in the mid 60s. It's wonderful to feel the clean air of the highlands.

It is green, bright green fields, dark green leafy trees and blooming bright flowers! I can see how people fall in love with Scotland. 

After my relentless and intense sightseeing in Europe, I've taken the time to take a deep breath and just slow it down a bit, after all in just 7 days I'll be back in Chicago.

Today was Stirling Castle at Stirling, Scotland. The drive through the Scottish country roads was thrilling and frightening. Thrilling because I loved the dips, the curves and the excitement of a road new to me. Frightening because it's the UK where people drive on the other side of the road and I had to keep from screaming every time another car came towards me from the other direction. I'm so thankful my friend Laura did the driving, I would have been a wreck constantly driving on the wrong side.

Well before we arrived in Stirling, I could already see the castle. It sits on a large rock that stands in the valley like a plateau. The castle was around before Columbus was even born. That it is still standing is amazing. Every castle I visit, I learn something new and I like to imagine what it might have been to live back then. 

Of course it would probably be more as a stable boy or a kitchen girl, which I can believe had to be a harsh and short life. But as is in all history, the rich and the powerful live well.

Most of the rooms were tall large rooms with echoing steps. Then I entered the Queen's rooms which was covered by tapestry and suddenly the room was hushed and a felt a little cozier. I've noticed that the beds are rather small and but the canopy made it very cozy and inviting. 

In seeing the large fireplaces in each room, I realize how cold winters must have been for them so I can see where a canopy bed was a necessity. 

Having seen Versailles last week, I couldn't help but make comparisons. The French were much richer, considering the size of the palace and the amount of gold and crystals expended on the place. But there was a friendlier, more approachable ambience to Stirling Castle. I could almost imagine the citizens crossing the inner close towards the kitchens and the grand hall.

What I really like about Stirling Castle was that in the vaults, they converted them to interactive rooms for the children. There was a music room for  children to play with different instruments, a place where they could discover the colors of the times as well. My favorite was the room where they had customs for kids to try on to see what they would look like in the past, too bad they didn't have any for adults.

The view was spectacular, showing the gardens, the town of Stirling and the Old Town Cemetery. I'm constantly fascinated by the cannons that surrounded the castle walls. I don't know why, but the image of them standing at attention on the wall seems so poignant, now that the wars the cannons served are over. 

The care that shows on the castle and its grounds are obvious in the way the grounds are meticulously kept. Today the smell of fresh cut grass permeated the air and the moisture in the air combined to an almost magical air around the castle. 

The flowers on the grounds were obviously well tended and expressed that care with their beautiful blooms.

I learned that the unicorn is one of the symbols of the Scots, a magical creature from myth and legend. One of my favorite childhood books was Peter Beagle's "The Last Unicorn". How could I resist a country that could hold the unicorn in such high regard? 

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