EDINBURGH, Scotland - Returning to the land where my four-month journey began in May has been such a welcome change.
I have visited 13 countries since May 21, but of those, English is the official language only in the United Kingdom, where I am now. The language barrier in countries such as Germany, the Czech Republic, Greece, Austria, Poland and others has often been a challenge. I know it would be beneficial to learn more languages, such as French and German, but I am just not capable. I flunked first-year Spanish in high school the first time around, but I persisted and eventually completed two years of classes.
One of the biggest challenges of my summer journey has been the loss of my cellphone. Unable to use Google maps is particularly frustrating when the vast majority of street signs are unreadable to a foreign visitor. Some street signs have English subtitles, but not nearly enough.
Traveling to so many countries in such a relatively short period has been the adventure of a lifetime. I've seen countless important sites in history, from the ancient ruins of Greece, to an Auschwitz camp in Krakow and Brandenburg Gate in Berlin. I've relied on the kindness of strangers for directions and travel tips, the services of information booth employees in several countries and the generosity of AirBnB hosts in numerous cities.
I'm officially at the half-way of my journey, but I admit that some road weariness and unexpected expenses have prompted me to consider cutting my trip short by a month. My original plan was to spend two to three months in Scotland, which, according to family lore, is the land of my ancestors. I was joined this week by Claudia Erickson, the wonderful woman I've been dating for a year. We are spending the first week of her vacation in Scotland and then we'll move to Ireland for the second week.
Today we saw the palace of Holyrood House, the castle the royal family uses when it visits Scotland. We walked a portion of the grounds of a cemetery made famous by a Skye terrier named Bobby who supposedly kept vigil for 16 years until his own death at the grave of his master, John Gray. The tale of Greyfriars Bobby has its roots in a 1912 novel and is a wonderful story of love and loyalty that made for a family friendly Disney movie in 1961.
We walked the famous Royal Mile, an unending trail of shops selling cashmere and tweed clothing, souvenir shops, street performers and bagpipers. Atop the Royal Mile sits the imposing Edinburgh Castle, a collection of buildings dating from the 12th to the 20th century. The views of Edinburgh from the castle were simply spectacular.
Transportation issues are simpler in an English-speaking country simply because we can read train and bus schedules. We've still needed some help, of course, but the directions from a bus driver or train attendant are now much easier to understand.
We'll leave our BnB here in Edinburgh on Saturday. We have a rental car lined up for a journey to the Stirling area, where we plan to explore a castle and the legends of Robert the Bruce and William Wallace. The exploits of Wallace, who rallied the Scottish against the English monarch in the 13th century, made for the riveting movie "Braveheart," starring Mel Gibson. I wish I could watch it again before we reach Stirling.