This has been a wonderful week, not the least because it was book-ended by classical music concerts. From the string quartet last week, we returned to St. Giles' Cathedral's this evening for an organ concert, featuring their impressive collection of pipes. We heard Bach's Toccata, Adagio & Fugue BWV 564, Hindemith's Sonata 1 and Mendelssohn's Sonata IV. It was good, though not comparable with the recital we heard at Westminster.
We love Edinburgh
Tuesday I left to teach with the elders but their lessons fell through so we contacted some media referrals and called it a successful night. Wednesday we were back at the church to participate in three baptisms there. I played the piano alongside the beautiful chorister named AnneMarie. (Sunday a brother asked if we were the next musical couple in the ward:) We're grateful to have these small opportunities to serve while we're here and it fills our weekdays with a measure of the spirit.
Thursday was a blur. Friday I got out of work early and met AnneMarie for lunch before heading downtown to the museum of Edinburgh and later to the National Museum of Scotland. The national museum is massive, like a mini Smithsonian. It's also fairly interactive! We saw Dolly the Sheep alongside thousands of other preserved animals. Dolly was actually cloned within the constituency i help represent. Some favorite finds in the animal section were the bont tick (look it up), the skeletons they had of prehistoric beasts such as the giant sloth, giant armadillo, saber tooth, giant deer, etc., along with many other fascinating creatures. We'll have to go back to complete our visit.
The National Museum
Ammie the Astronaut
Before leaving we visited the rooftop terrace 8 floors high and watched a spectacular sunset unfold. Pictures were taken. We've really had the most incredible sunsets in Europe, not to brag. We swapped dinner for dessert at a local desserts only parlor where AnneMarie had a huge sundae and I had half-baked cookies galore. Then we spent the better part of two hours reading books in a bookstore. They have the best bookstores here. Truly magical spaces where you could spend a lifetime without boredom.
Spectacular Rooftop Sunsets
It's blisteringly cold here, however. Baltic, as one brother mentioned leaving church today. It wouldn't be terrible but the wind simply tears through all and any fabrics straight to your wimpy American skin. Tough crowd, the Scots.
Saturday was a day to remember. Our host Jaro had a free day and so he volunteered to take us down the Scottish coast. We started out early heading south east along the shore, passing castles, villages, links. We were heading through the coastal town of Gullane when I realized that this village was home to the famous Muirfield golf links. Jaro kindly turned off the road so I could snap a quick picture and we drove down the small unimposing lane, through a pair of very imposing inscribed metal gates, right up to the first tee. The clubhouse is spectacular. The fairways are picturesque. We weren't supposed to be there. A security/gatekeeper man came to explain this to us just as I was asking a nearby golfer in knickers if he wouldn't mind taking a picture with me. Turns out the knickers man was a judge on Scotland's Supreme Court and slightly unbeknownst to us we were trespassing. The front gate was only open due to incredibly high winds and the gatekeeper, sharp fellow, informed us we had gotten thirty yards farther than anyone else before. Uncle Aaron style, I told him we lived by (I might have said lived on) Muirfields sister course and asked him if he knew the one, to which he replied he did, in Dublin, Ohio, and he amicably agreed to take our picture and that of the high judge. We counted ourselves lucky and tore out of Muirfield, feeling very peasanty but also very smug.
Supreme Court Justice in his Plus Fours
The Freezing Beach
Our journey continued to Tantallon Castle, traditional home of the Douglas clan and site of many battles and sieges. It was perhaps my favorite castle I've ever visited. It is six to seven stories high with formidably thick walls made of red sandstone and greened limestone. Besides climbing all over the battlements and towers we got to visit the dining hall and...the dungeon. Since it was underground, the dungeon is pretty much perfectly preserved...as is the adjoining toilet, a slanted chute that empties into the sea. I sat on it (pants on) but all I'm saying is that the gale force winds coming back up that hole would have been an experience to umm experience.
With Bird Rock in the back
The Castle Toilet...
Jaro the Tour Guide
Then we visited the holy island, so called because it was the home to monks and nothing else for many hundreds of years. It's this incredible place that is only an island half the day. There's a road out to the island that is open to traffic during low tide but that is then covered by several feet of water during high tide. You have a small window to get on and off otherwise you're trapped! It's not a large place, but has a very cool castle perched on top of a large crag, an abbey as well, and a stony beach that has hundreds of stone cairns all the way down it. You'd like those mom:) Ammie built one to add to the many already there. It's a beautiful area, though the day we went was freezing, raining and extremely windy. We escaped before the tide came in, though at some parts it was already over the road a couple of inches!! On our way home we visited the nearby city of Bernice Upon Tweed, know as the walled city because it is completely enclosed by large earthworks and stone walls. It was a key site in the battle between the Scottish and the English and also features an impressive stone railroad bridge. From atop the battlements we could just glimpse the castle on Holy Island, now truly an island.
The road to the Holy Island
Google Maps shows you driving through water!!!
This week has been just as memorable. AnneMarie's childhood friend Marissa Beatty, who is studying film in Dublin, came to visit Monday thru Thursday morning. AnneMarie enjoyed spending some of Monday thru Wednesday roaming the town with here. One of the highlights I hear was the discovery of sticky toffee pudding, a Scottish delight that I have yet to try. We also had a good time playing games at night. Thursday after she dropped Marissa at the bus stop AnneMarie came to the parliament with me for lunch and first ministers questions. FMQs, for short, are held weekly on Thursday and feature a grilling of the head of the Scottish government complete with lots of fist banging and shouting, pointing of fingers etc. This weeks big subject was the outcome of the US elections to our great amusement. It's fascinating to witness international obsession over US politics. Speaking of which, Tuesday night I pulled an all-nighter to follow the election results at the urging of my boss who gave me the next day off. What a thriller and I'll leave it at that.
Ammie making her Cairn
Friday and Saturday were days to remember for years to come. After work Friday I came home to discover our room decorated with balloons and banners and a pile of treats on the bed. She got me good haha. Then AnneMarie treated me to a three course birthday dinner at a local restaurant called Spoon. The star might have been the first course of smoked herring salad, but the pork belly, char=grilled salmon and rhubarb crisp were close behind. I felt like I was living in a dream next when we strolled across the street, hand in hand, to the opera house for the Scottish operas production of the Marriage of Figaro. Bravo, bravo, bravo. And wow. I'm hooked. We had brilliant seats in the center very close to the front. No idea how we snagged those. The scenery was amazing and the cast incredible. Don't get me wrong, I like some of today's music and entertainment but the singing and acting of these folks...you have to see it to believe it. We laughed and smiled and clapped till our palms hurt. Forget the herring salad, the real star of the night was my lovely AnneMarie. She looked like a true queen in her black dress and white coat and even wore her red lipstick. I'll l admit, as good as they were, I had a hard time keeping my eyes on the opera and who can blame me with a beauty like that at my side! And I'm blessed to have a wife who constantly indulges me with these cultural smorgasbords.
Berwick Upon Tweed's Railroad Bridge!
But wait. That's not all. She insisted that I fulfill a life long dream and play a round of golf at St. Andrews the next day. St. Andrews is known as the home of golf, where it was invented, and it sits right on the seaside. It's easily the most famous course in the world. We took a bus there Saturday morning and got right on the links. What an experience. Scottish courses are different, much firmer because of the links style fairways, greens are very fast, and there aren't many obstacles. The bunkers are five feet deep though so that quickly makes up for it. Luckily neither AnneMarie and I landed in a bunker all day! We did hit some gorse bushes which are like fur balls coughed up by a dragon, spinier than brambles, wiry and dense. Did I mention this was AnneMarie's first round of golf? How many people can say they played their first round at St. Andrews?!?!?! In awe of this girl and she even beat me on one hole. She also bogeyed one of the par threes, I think it was the sixth hole. She was so funny. Shed hit this line drive shot and then walk up to my ball lying nearby thinking that hers hadn't gone very far and I'd have to point out her ball at the foot of the green. I'd ask "didn't you watch where it went?" And she'd answer, "no! You told me to keep my head down!" What a student of the game! We were treated to the warmest weather in weeks, it didn't rain and we enjoyed a spectacular sunset before we left, the last ones off the course. It was an unforgettable weekend. Today after church AnneMarie let me take a birthday nap and made me a carrot cake with twenty four candles while I was sleeping. it was delicious:)
Church was marvelous today. You haven't felt the full gravity of World War I or even World War II until you've seen it from the European perspective. Here they have Veterans Day as we do on the eleventh but then they also hold their memorial day, called Remembrance Sunday, that same weekend. This means that it really becomes a week or two week long build up to the main events and I feel they appreciate these days more deeply for this. If you get a chance, read about the poppy appeal in the U.K. Hearing Wilfred Owen, the War poet, and John Mcrae's Flander's Fields read over the pulpit at different times during sacrament meeting was unforgettable. Today I also taught elders quorum. That's one of my favorite things to do. I love teaching lessons. Talks not so much but I love lessons. I got to teach from president Hunters book on the subject of faith and testimony. The real (quick) takeaway for me was that we ought to evaluate how much effort we're applying in our quest to come to know God as this is the most important thing we can do in this life. It takes hundreds of our hours to master secular subjects--we ought to invest as much in the spiritual. Help your investigators understand the importance of this knowledge and it will change the way they think about the Book of Mormon, the church, everything.
We send our love to you all, north, south, east and west. The Christmas markets are setting up here so our time here is getting short and we can't wait to see you all, through Skype or in person, upon our return.
Tanner and AnneMarie
Like a boss.