Christmas day was leisurely and cold and much of the snow that had fallen over the weekend had stuck around. (Texas also had a white Christmas, can you believe it?!) The only bad part was venturing outside bcause all the sidewalks were literally solid sheets of ice, so most pedestrians were walking on the edge of the roads to keep from falling. We watched several movies and I cooked a huge dinner of ham, green bean casserole, corn, stuffing, gravy and mashed potatoes. Everything turned out great!
On Saturday, the sun came out and warmed the ice just enought to turn much of it into slush again so we were able to cram ourselves into the little Micra and drive out to Stonehaven. Mike and I have been there a few times already, it's fairly easy to access and is only 15 miles from Aberdeen. The town is small and mostly known for its picturesque harbor and boats and the Dunnottar castle--one of the most beautiful castle ruins near us. It was still freezing cold and the wind was blasting right through our coats so we didn't stay out there too long, just enough time to snap a couple more pictures and I can't resist posting them here as well! (When early springtime comes, the distilleries and castles will reopen so we'll plan to venture to some new ones with guests, but we figured one last trip to Dunnottar wouldn't hurt!)
Back at the flat we had a couple drinks, crackers, wine, salamis and cheeses and then headed to Union Square to catch a showing of the new Sherlock Holmes movie. I thought it was really good and always enjoy seeing Robert Downey Jr on the big screen... his Iron Man 2 movie preview looks amazing, can't wait! After the movie, we ate dinner at Frankie & Benny's. I've mentioned that place on here before, it's like a Chicago knock-off restaurant with decent food from baked potatoes to ribs and salads to Cajun pasta.
Sunday we all slept in and enjoyed having such an easy holiday weekend. It was a bit unusual to not have a string of houses to visit or presents to give this year, which made things feel only a bit odd. But we did appreciate having a stress-free Christmas, though we'll all be looking forward to celebrating with family again in 2010. We decided to try out a local church service Sunday evening, mom and LD had found one conveniently located on Union Street that held more modern services (meaning actual praise hymns, instruments and sermons!), then me, Mike and Stephen went to a service of our own... playing roulette at Soul!... while mom and LD stopped off at the Foundry for a drink or two. It was a good chance for us to show Stephen the rest of our favorite places on Union Street and we had a lot of fun.
Monday (yesterday) we were at the train station by 10am to catch our ride to Inverness. It was the first time for all of us to ride the rail in the UK (Mike and I successfully mastered the one in Paris and Stephen will be traveling by rail quite a bit the remainder of his trip). It was a gorgeous sunny day with blue skies, which was perfect for catching glistening glimpses of the snow-covered countryside during the 2.5 hour ride. We weren't able to check into our hotel just yet so we stowed our bags at the front desk and went next door to a little Italian place for lunch. It was really good! After I warmed up on hot tea, we ordered some wine to go with our lasagna, pizza and garlic bread.
TRAIN RIDE TO INVERNESS
EATING LUNCH IN INVERNESS
Next we walked over the bridge spanning the River Ness and checked out a few local shops, finding some cute Scotland t-shirts, hats and gloves to stay warm. Mike and I have been stocking up on winter weather gear for our trip to Edinburgh tomorrow, since much of our time will be spent outdoors in the cold! Plus, Aberdeen's winter will continue well into February and I'm sure there will be some hard-to-bear days in there somewhere when I'll be glad I can bundle up in six layers.
INVERNESS CITY CENTRE
Our hotel in Inverness was perfect, it only took 15 minutes to walk there from the train station and it was situated right on the River Ness, across the bridge from the city centre. The Columba Hotel had been recently renovated so the rooms were very nice and modern with high ceilings and a giant window with rustic window panes, from where we watched the falling snow.
The favorite part of our trip was that evening, we walked over to a place recommended to us called Hootananny for Thai food and live music. AMAZING! The original band scheduled to play (something about bagpipes and drums) had fallen through, so the bar had called up a fiddle and guitar player to sub in for the night. Turns out, they were really well-known in the area and extremely talented and the show was awesome! After we finished eating, the bartenders moved the tables out of the middle of the room so people could pull up their chairs and watch the players. The whole bar was rapt with attention, mesmerized by the gorgeous Celtic tunes and waltzes and foot-stomping chords. They played for close to two hours, when it came time for their last song, the fiddle player said "We're going to play faster than a dog can hear!" and they did! I've never seen someone's fingers fly so fast and so lithely over the chords. He played so hard and fast he even popped a string on his bow, but it didn't seem to phase him. The guitar player also did a bit of occasional singing and had a great voice.
We had planned to spend the early part of today catching a boat tour out on the lake that supposedly houses the Loch Ness monster, but we opted for a leisurely lunch and a little more shopping instead. Poor Stephen has been feeling a bit under the weather as well and since it was soooo cold out, we figured we'd had enough fun to last us. We stopped at the Filling Station for lunch then meandered around town for a couple hours before catching our train. I found a cute black and white sweater and black puff vest with a faux fur-lined hood at the Primark in Inverness, perfect for staying warm this New Years!
RAIL STATION AT INVERNESS
Now we're back home and mom and LD are all packed up and headed to the airport early in the morning to see if they can catch a stand-by flight back home. I think it will be a bit emotional to tell them goodbye, Mike and I have absolutely loved having them here for such a long visit and I'm still not ready for them to be gone! Thankfully we'll be home for a visit in February, so it won't be long before we see them again, however it'll be another six months after that before we're back. My mom said she loved getting to see our flat, my office, the places we go on the weekends, the stores we shop at... just all the everyday things we have become familiar with in Aberdeen. It will help her have a better mental picture of what we are up to when she's gone! And I think my step-dad, Louis Dean, loved getting to see so much snow and turns out he really likes Guinness! But I know that his favorite time, hands down, was the live music at Hootananny last night. He's an avid music player himself and he said all he needs to do is fly home to get his own guitar and then he'll be back!
I'd better sign off and get some sleep, it will be a sad goodbye in the wee hours of the morning and then Mike, Stephen and I will be on the road by 10 to Edinburgh. Hope everyone stays safe and warm...