The ABC Tour in Scotland

One thing you notice in the cities of Scotland is the abundance of steeples. Perth is no exception.

One thing you notice in the cities of Scotland is the abundance of steeples. Perth is no exception.

Dear reader, in case you are not familiar with the ABC Tour, this is the part of our travels when we visit Another Blessed Cathedral. The ABC Tour is a series of mini-tours we have been doing for over two years, and we have witnessed some of the most spectacular art, architecture and antiquities imaginable.

We can see the Perth Cathedral steeple from our flat.

We can see the Perth Cathedral steeple from our flat.

Florence, like all her ancestors, was raised Catholic. She even attended a Catholic boarding school, which accounts for her exceptional preparation for post-secondary school. Upon entering a cathedral, Florence observes reverent moments of contemplation and dutifully lights a candle in remembrance of those who are the subjects of her prayers and blessings.

The Perth Cathedral, St. Ninian's, up close

The Perth Cathedral, St. Ninian’s, up close

I also stand in awe of the size, scale and sophistication of the art and architecture of the sites we visit, albeit from a different perspective. The symbols of Christianity are not new to me. I learned enough in my Protestant upbringing to comprehend both New and Old Testament teachings, enough so that I can appreciate the imagery in all of its glory. I am awestruck by the creations of artists and craftsmen who designed and built these great cathedrals. One cannot help but be moved by the grandeur or the works.

The Gothic ceiling towers over the crucifix above the altar.

The Gothic ceiling towers over the altar.

There is so much history behind each cathedral we visit. For example, here in Scotland, the Catholic Church rivaled the great monarchs and land barons in its wealth and power. After The Reformation when the Anglican Church broke away from the Roman Catholic Church, the church still shared the power and wealth of the country. In order to have a place in the church, one had to purchase a seat in the congregation. So it was that the poor were left out.

The Perth Cathedral interior is spectacular.

The Perth Cathedral interior is spectacular.

During the period of The Enlightenment, when scientific thought supplanted ignorance and superstition, the common folks in society demanded a say in how they were governed in the wake of the French Revolution and the introduction of parliamentary rule. This was true also in the way people worshiped. In 1843, there was The Disruption, when over 400 ministers and their congregations broke away from The Church of Scotland. When these congregations had the means, they erected their own churches as The New Church of Scotland. By 1929, a compromise of sorts reunified the divided churches. However, neither church regained its former stature.

The North Church behind our flat is only open on Sunday.

The North Church behind our flat is only open on Sunday.

The Church of Scotland used to preach from the pulpit the principle of Sunday as a day of worship. However, the schism in the church led more and more people to find other things to do with their time. With the advent of radio, television, organized sports and even Sunday shopping, church attendance in Scotland continued its decline. Contributing to this decline was the fact that women formed the majority of church membership, and women were denied the right to be ordained until 1968.

Even though we are not able to enter every church, like the Church of the Nazarene, it is still an interesting building.

Not every church is open to us, like the Church of the Nazarene. Still, it is an interesting building.

The decline in church attendance is why you now see many church buildings in Scotland that have been sold to private businesses housing restaurants, night clubs and offices. I was surprised to learn that today in Scotland, the largest denomination of churchgoers is Roman Catholic. I have learned a lot of interesting history on the ABC Tour.

Daily Update – Scotland, August 1, 2013

Contributions by AK Bell, 20th century philanthropist, included this library. Parks, housing for the poor, and community water resources are among his many  donated works.

Contributions by AK Bell, 20th century philanthropist, included this library, appropriately named the AK Bell Library. Parks, housing for the poor, and community water resources are among his many donated works.

We are quickly adapting to life in Scotland. Yesterday, with a copy of our lease agreement showing our local address, we obtained library cards. That may not seem like a big deal. However, to me it means a great deal. Not only can we check out books, but we can also truly call ourselves members of the community.

We visited a different grocery store called Lidl. Other than being bigger than the convenient Salisbury’s Grocery on our block, it was rather ordinary. Their local cherries at $3/lb. were excellent! And their unusual selection of housewares and toys gave the store a feel of part grocery, part department store.

At Lidl’s, in order to obtain a cart you must deposit a £1 coin in the handle of the grocery cart to release the lock. When you are done with the cart, you get your £1 back when you return the cart and insert the locking mechanism. Alas, they do not need to employ someone to gather carts from all over the parking lot.

We are readily identified as Americans when we write a date like August 1, 2013, or 8/1/13. Here, days come first, so today is 1/8/13, which is logical since each unit is increasing in scale as you read the date.

Driving on the left side of the road is still disorienting. Whether it is logical or not is up for debate. I simply have to remember to look right first when crossing the street. One sweet old lady that we spoke to when asking directions recognized us immediately as Americans and cautioned us as we prepared to cross the street, “Look both ways first. And watch your step.” At first I thought she may have been overly cautious, but sure enough there was a car coming from my right in the near lane. Bless her heart, she probably saved me from a near miss.

The weather has been abnormally sunny this past month. The locals talk of the rain just like folks back in Seattle, like it is unusual if it is not raining. Situation normal – today it is raining. No problem. That is why we packed raincoats. I would say growing up in the Puget Sound area prepared me perfectly for life in Scotland.

Glasgow – A City In Need of an Identity

Glasgow Cathedral is the resting place of St. Mungo, Patron Saint of Glasgow.

Glasgow Cathedral is the resting place of St. Mungo, Patron Saint of Glasgow.

I might say that Glasgow has been a bit of a disappointment, perhaps due in part to the city suffering in comparison with Edinburgh. Where Edinburgh is charming in a 19th century way, Glasgow is an architectural mish-mash of old and new.

The Necropolis, City of the Dead, sits on a hill overlooking the Cathedral and the city.

The Necropolis, City of the Dead, sits on a hill overlooking the Cathedral and the city.

We toured some stunning sites like the Glasgow Cathedral and the Necropolis which were full of old world charm, as was the campus of the University of Glasgow. Shuffled together with these architectural treasures are high rise apartment buildings, steel and glass office buildings, modern high rise hotels, and an eclectic mix of nouveau architecture in their new Museum of Transportation, The Hydro sports complex and the new science center. Glasgow seems like a city stuck somewhere between old and new with indifference toward any specific identity.

The ultra-modern Performance Center and Arena next to the River Clyde where shipping docks once sat.

The ultra-modern Performance Center and Arena next to the River Clyde where shipping docks once sat.

Glasgow, with close to half a million people, has about twice the population of Edinburgh. Historically, Glasgow is a working city. The now non-existent shipbuilding docks along the River Clyde produced famous ocean liners like the Lusitania, the Mauritania, the Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mary, and the Queen Elizabeth II as well as hundreds of Allied warships during World War II.

Glasgow, being the closest port to the United States, was the gateway to Europe for raw goods from the New World. Fortunes were built in the tobacco and sugar markets. International shipping spawned a wealthy class that built up the west side of Glasgow. The working class mostly occupied the east side. The difference is evident today with the east side of town showing signs of wear and neglect.

Classrooms overlook one of the university quadrangles.

We felt smarter as we walked through the quadrangles at the University of Glasgow.

Glasgow has some stunning historical architecture. The City Chambers building adjacent to George’s Square opened in 1881 is so stylish inside that it has been the setting for film settings including both The Vatican and The Kremlin. Glasgow Cathedral dates back to the 12th century and is the only cathedral in Scotland to have remained intact following The Reformation. Glasgow University, the second oldest university in Scotland, was chartered in 1451, and it is said its many spires inspired the setting of Hogwarts Academy in the Harry Potter series. Apparently, the filmmakers were turned down by the University of Glasgow to use the main campus as a setting for the Harry Potter films.

Old and new now stand side by side in Glasgow.

Old and new now stand side by side in Glasgow.

About fifty years ago developers began systematically knocking down old stone buildings in Glasgow to make way for modern skyscrapers. The city’s ceiling was raised from five stories to fifty stories, and that movement is still underway. A relatively small percentage of structures are protected for historical reasons. There seems to be general apathy about fixing or preserving the classic parts of Glasgow. Even when the powers-that-be proposed updating George’s Square in the heart of the city, the citizens of Glasgow raised hell until the city leaders scaled things down to a simple resurfacing of the square.

The bartender at Oran Mer, an old church converted into a bar/restaurant.

We ate at Oran Mer, an old church converted into a bar/restaurant. The bartender was pleased to pose for me.

Although parts of Glasgow seem a bit tired and out of repair, I believe our visit here has been worthwhile. The immaculately refurbished Mitchell Library has been a comfortable retreat to read and work. And as always, the local people have been nothing but courteous and helpful. Ultimately, it is the people who give Glasgow much of its charm.

Sicily, I Haven’t Forgotten You

The gold leaf mosaics in the Monreale Cathedral are spectacular.

The gold leaf mosaics in the Monreale Cathedral are spectacular.

I have focused so much on our travels and life abroad in Latin America that I have completely overlooked our recent trip to Sicily. This story is all about family. My father-in-law’s family emigrated from Sicily. We are talking about a BIG, Italian-size family. There are still over a hundred of their relatives living in and around Santa Maria in the north mountain country of Sicily.

Every biblical scene is done in mosaic detail.

Every biblical scene is done in minute mosaic detail.

My wife has visited Sicily on five previous occasions. This time, however, was the first time she visited with a husband. I wasn’t sure what to expect or what the local customs were for greeting a new member of the family. I can now tell you there is a lot of hugging and kissing involved. I finally got the hang of the alternating-cheek air kiss. The hugs vary depending on the family relationship – longer hugs with grandparents than with second or third cousins. The children give big hugs as soon as their parents announce, “He is your cousin.” Then they want to play.

The Concordia Temple in Agrigento built around 500 BC is a testament to the architects of Ancient Greece.

The Concordia Temple in Agrigento built around 500 BC is a testament to the architects of Ancient Greece.

Leading up to the family reunion is a twelve day private motorcoach tour of Sicily with family from the States. There is so much history here and so many sights to see. Every civilization that ever amounted to anything left its footprint in Sicily, and with good reason. Sicily served as the breadbasket to every empire that spread through the Old World. Geographically, Sicily is situated at the crossroads of the Mediterranean Sea. To this day there are more preserved Greek ruins in Sicily than there are in Greece. And the Romans picked up where the Greeks left off. There is also Spanish blood and Anglo blood in the Sicilian pedigree, which is evident when you notice the many Sicilians with light hair color and blue or hazel eyes.

The Aeolian Island of Vulcano seen from the road on Lipari.

The Aeolian Island of Vulcano seen from the road on Lipari.

We arrived by cruise ship in the Port of Catania after stops in Naples, Florence, and Pisa, Italy, Villefranche, France, Valencia, Spain, the Spanish Isle of Ibiza, and Tunis, Tunisia. My in-laws meet us in Catania. They had to rush home to the States for a family funeral the last time they were in Sicily. This may be their last opportunity to see family. Plus, Dad speaks beautiful Sicilian, and that is a huge benefit for the giant reunion that awaits.

My wife’s favorite spot in Sicily is Taormina, perched precariously on top of a small mountain. The Greek Amphitheater overlooking the sea is beyond compare. My favorite spot was the Aeolian Island of Lipari. The crystal clear waters of the Mediterranean and the views from the cliff road make this island paradise idyllic.

Cousin Nino knows where to get the best gelato.

Cousin Nino knows where to get the best gelato.

You cannot mention Sicily without mentioning the spectacular cathedrals. The 21,000 square feet of mosaics in the Cathedral of Monreale overlooking the capital city of Palermo are among the finest in Italy, if not the world. And in Tindiri, there is the Cathedral of the Black Madonna with its amazing folklore to go along with the architecture. There are other churches of note. However, the final stop on the ABC Tour (Another Blessed Cathedral) is the one in Santa Maria with the family name carved in stone along with the date, 1598.

I have not even touched on the food. I started out thinking the national dish of Sicily is eggplant because I could not get away from it. I eventually found alternatives. The world can take lessons from Italy on how to make dessert. The gelato is the best to be found anywhere and the cannolis are to die for!

A genuine Italian cannoli - whipped ricotta cheese and honey filling and rolled in crushed pistachios.

A genuine Italian cannoli is filled with whipped ricotta cheese and honey and then rolled in crushed pistachios.



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