An evening by the Thames

Thursday, 2nd September

We woke with the bright sun on our faces. The window let in the bright sunshine along with the noise of moving vehicles and kids on the street. It was about 9 am and Dominic was already at work. We had planned to meet him in the evening for a concert that he intended to review. He was a music professional at the local school.

We had a some tea, bread and mayonnaise  and got ready for the day ahead. We had bought plastic pants from India because everyone warned us that it "rains in sheets" in London. We stuffed that along with some wind cheaters in our day pack and moved towards the Catsford station. The neighborhood was nice. We crossed the post office, one pound store and few shops. An Asian was selling chicken fries which we packed for the day, along with fried potato wedges and Coke was free.

The train was quite empty and we reached Trafalgar Square and the sea of people in some time. There was the National gallery where they housed art by Leonardo da Vinci and many others. Next to the National museum was an exhibition on Early woman travelers to Europe. It was interesting to see so many women , especially from conservative societies taking the leap and coming to Europe. There were few portraits of famous Indian ladies too. Another section had a 90 minute video of David Beckham displayed as art. The video was shot when Beckham was sleeping and the camera zoomed on his face from an angle. So one could see his face up close, his facial muscles, twisting, turning .. an extremely personal and private moment was displayed for the world to see.

With so much of art, we were tired and walked towards the James park. We had our lunch of fried chicken and potato wedges and had fun seeing people and kids playing with pigeons and generally strolled around. Dominic messaged to meet him at the Charring Cross station and we proceeded accordingly. When we reached, he was already there and we almost did not recognize him, as he was in a corduroy suit and we were looking for a casually dressed person in the crowd.

We walked towards Covenant garden and went to Judy and Punch for a round of some bitter pint. The place was buzzing with activity and from the terrace we could see street performers doing their thing. It was interesting.

After another round of pints, we moved towards Greenwich village, home to the 0° longitude, Greenwich mean time and the Meridian line. This place was situated on the Thames river. It was dusk when we reached there and were able to see a row of boats and the magnificent Cutty Sark docked there since 1954. (It was the fastest sailing ship in her times and was launched in 1869).

We made way to a pub named Trafalgar on the banks of the Thames and rounds of lager with potatoes followed. The moon was bright in the starless sky, and the Thames made gentle sound of sensuous splashing against the wall of the pub. A boat with revelers passed. Loud clapping and music, laughter could be heard and seen from the giant windows, from where we were seated.

It was quite late when we walked to the bus station and boarded the bus home.

Like a nice holiday, today was a very nice, relaxing, unhurried day.

While G took the floor tonight, I made myself comfortable on the couch.

Cold London in a Day and then some warmth

Wednesday 1st, September

Somewhere around one am I woke up, uncomfortable. You know the kinds when you wake up, you are perspiring, and realize that the vehicle you are in is not moving. Yes that was it. The bus wasn't actually moving and a few passengers were making grumbling noises and the rest were sleeping peacefully (now even more so because I had woken up, and as G claimed the passengers couldn't sleep because a certain someone was snoring, ahem ahem). G was staring out of the window in the darkness and most innocently asked, where are we? Its one thing to ask a question like that in the middle of nowhere in a foreign land and specially when someone has just woken up. But yours truly without missing a beat replied, there is a board out there which says har-ki-pauri 2kms (now har-ki-pauri is a famous, religious destination to the north of Delhi, India). Hearing this G and I broke into uncontrollable hysteric laughter. From spurts, to suppressed giggles to throaty laughter. The sleeping passengers were now awake and looked at us weirdly.

Thankgod before we were beaten up, the bus driver announced that our bus had broken down and we would have to shift to another bus, which should be coming by shortly. We cracked few more jokes, remembered a few more incidents and wondered loud that by end of our trip we would be so tired and bored with travelling that we would lock ourselves in cupboard and refuse to go anywhere.

It was dawn when we reached London, we passed through Baker Street and reached the Bus terminus. We freshened up at the terminus only and were now wondering about our place of stay. We had many options, but staying at a Bed and Breakfast wasn't amongst them. We wished we should have kept that as an option too. The friend at Cambridge, who had promised us his place to stay refused to pick up his phone. Next was my cousin in Wimbledon. The husband avoided us like plague and pretended totally oblivious of our coming and staying. Next was Dominic, who I was interacting with over (a network of people across the globe, who host people in their homes), I sent him a few messages and left a voice mail, but no response yet.

London turned out to be cold city and not because of the weather. We were so disheartened and more so by seeing so many people and mostly Indians from Ramandeep Kaur at the Royal shope to the Gujaratis crowd carrying their little jholas of salted munchies, to Sardarjis and Punjabis and a few Bengalis. It seemed India had descended over London so much that the locals looked foreign and in minority. We wanted to run away the same day to Paris and made our inquiries about the Chunnel and the ferries etc, in case we really skipped London.

We messaged Ann of our safety in London and then proceeded to explore the city, not before renting two lockers for our backpacks at the Bus terminus. We really had no other place to go yet. We picked up Lamb Samosas and donuts before stepping out to see the city.

The sky was blue and the weather brilliant, no signs of the famous gray weather yet. Our first stop was at the centuries old St. Paul's cathedral. Situated in the financial district of Ludgate Hill. We spent over an hour exploring this 17th century church. We marveled at the intricate work of the three chapel, which have been witness to some important events over the years. from the funeral of Lord Nelson, Winston Churchill and the wedding of Prince Charles and Lady Diana.  We wished to go down to the crypt, but the entry was locked.

We stepped out of the cathedral and off went a flock of pigeons fluttering in the vast blue sky.

We moved around the place at a leisurely pace and asking for directions we reached the Buckingham Palace. The crowd outside the Palace really scared us off and we walked into the quieter museum adjacent to the Palace. After which we just sat at the fountain for a while observing the camera crazy, picture clicking tourists. We strolled across 58 acre St. James park, crossing flocks of colorful birds, flowers, different flora, picnickers and people walking to work. We went past the Westminster Abbey and the London Eye (the Giant Giant wheel) on Thames greeted us at a distance. We walked past the bridge on Thames and right next to the London Eye was the London Tate displaying works of Salvador Dali. Excitedly we bought our tickets and went in. The pieces on display were the melting clock, transposing of the elephant and duck, paintings, sketches, Mae West sofa, statues with drawers built in (some partially opened, some closed), symbolic of people whose life is open or has secrets. Very interesting indeed. As we were exiting, we realised there was another gate open, screaming at us to enter. We entered gingerly and realised it was the exit gate of for the show of Picasso works. We were happy at this discovery and went through the the entire show without buying any extra ticket. The show needless to say, was an worthwhile discovery of Picasso's style of work and history.

Out in the afternoon sun, we crossed tourists, people and more people and few street artists, dressed up as Mummies, Charlie Chaplin, Statue of Liberty, Sphinx, and street musicians playing some nice music to the crowds. We crossed the London Bridge and reached the heart of the city. At a local cafe (our mistake, because of the overpriced simple food, available) we polished of toasted Panini and coke. It was about 5 when we walked to the Trafalgar square, were more lazy people greeted us.

We also joined in that huge sea of people and started wondering about our next course of action. It was approaching dusk and we did not have a room to stay yet and we were still in two minds of whether to run away to Paris, considering we had seen most of London by foot in one day!!!

As we sat debating, one thing was sure, we had to go back to the Victoria Bus Terminus to fetch our rucksacks and proceed wherever. As luck would have it, Dominic replied to one of my mobile messages. I called him up and he in his most enthusiastic tone started giving the directions to his place. He apologized because he had just returned from Poland in the morning and was tied up. Here was this man, in an unknown land offering to give us roof for our stay. Amazing.

We walked back to the Bus station to collect our luggage and then took the underground to Charring Cross and then hopped on to the metro for Catsford Town, thats where Dominic was staying. It was quite late when we reached Catsford and I messaged Dominic of our arrival. In about 10 minutes a pleasant looking Dominic appeared to escort us to his house on Sangley road. Well London wasn't that cold  after all.

We exchanged information, our experiences etc during our travels and he shared his. He had already visited India long ago and knew a bit about the country. We spoke at length and then gave us his sitting room to make ourselves comfortable. While G took the couch to sleep, I slept on the floor, promising to alter the sleeping arrangements next night, if we do not run away to Paris.

Kippers, bath bombs and mango chutney

Tuesday, 31st

Today was going to be a long day and quite a packed schedule. After days of laziness and excitement we needed to get our rucksacks in order. For like I mentioned earlier, today evening we were boarding our bus to London. The fair was now over and Ann was home. G had to do a batch of melt and pour soaps, also we had to prepare an Indian meal of  chicken curry and rice for David and Ann.

Sometime during our various conversations, I had mentioned about Kippers as breakfast (I had read somewhere). And Lo!! the magician David had the most delicious kippers (a pair of herrings split from tail to head, gutted, salted and smoked) simply sauteed in butter. My mouth waters even now when I think of that breakfast.

For the chicken curry I wanted turmeric, whole spices, coriander and G wanted some mangoes if available to make a ginger mango chutney.  Ann and David went shopping and came back with a particularly tangy mango which was so unlike that we have in India. It was raw, fleshy and a pale yellow red in color. We were told it was an African variety. In the meantime we packed most of our stuff and G picked up some fresh tomatoes and mint from the garden.

While the chicken was marinating in yogurt and spices, I started prepraring the curry sauce and G was making soaps. The melt and pour soaps are quite easy to make compared to what we did the other day. The soap mixture was measured and heated at the right temperature. And after that they were set in molds, in shape of stars and dolphins. That's it, in a few hours the soaps are ready to use.

We were to begin making bath bombs. But before that we broke for a light snack and put the rice on stove. Now coming back to bath bombs, these fizzy soaps seemed like a wonderful creation and it was really fun to make. We put together one part citric acid, two parts baking soda, fragrance oil and color, and really mixed well (that is the key) once done we added spritz with one hand and mixed the ingredients with the other. This has to be done timely, otherwise either it becomes to fizz or it starts setting in. Once done, we put the mixture in dome shaped molds and pressed the molds together like a ball.  After about three four minutes we tapped the molds outward and the bath bomb were ready. This was brilliant.

We cleaned up the kitchen, while Ann went to pick up David from work. We set out the tables in the conservatory. The chicken and rice was ready. G had made the yummy ginger mint mango chutney (reminded me of home). On the way back from, David and Ann had picked up some naan (bread) from Tesco. We sat down for a late lunch or an early dinner of rice, chicken curry, chutney, and Indian bread.

This place that was home for a week, we were very sad to leave. Suddenly it did not seem exciting to leave for London or any other place for that matter, I think we just wanted to curl up there and hold ground.

Some warm hugs followed and we posed for family pictures. Ann packed us few cakes of soaps we made and then David dropped us to the Bus Station. Our bus looked comfortable, and not very full. The journey was an overnight one, and we would reach London only around six in the morning. G took the window seat with the sickness bag in place. While I yawned and tried to fall asleep in those uncomfortable chairs.

Fun at the Fringe

Monday, 30th

Today was going to be a long and exciting day. Today we were going to Edinburgh and incidentally the Fringe was also on. Fringe is the worlds biggest arts festival held since 1947. It takes place during 3 weeks in august, every year. The events range from performing arts, drama, music, dance etc. The thought of witnessing live performances spread across the nook and corners of the city seemed something magical.

After a simple breakfast of toast and tea, David dropped us to the bus stop at Angus and offered us to pick up, late at night much against our protests that we will manage on our own, the way home.

As G and I waited for the bus, we stuffed our day packs with wafers for the journey. The bus was quite full and we started for our destination. The two hours to reach Edinburgh, we crossed the new bridge over the river Tay. The earlier bridge was blown away, with a train on route, sometime in the 16th century. The not so little stumps from the broken bridge still protrude from the river. It looks desolate and eerie.

The weather was awesome. Nice warm sunshine with gentle breeze greeted us at Edinburgh. As G had already suspected, the place was bursting at its seams with people. From the information booths to the city center, there were people and more people in colorful dresses. We managed to find out some information about the city from the information booth and started on our walk towards the Edinburgh castle. Most crowd we realised were moving towards the castle. This castle rises about 300 feet above the city and is build on volcanic rock as its base. As we climbed the stairs and the top of the castle, a panoramic view of the city greeted us. We were also witness to an event which has been in practice since 1684. At exactly 1 o clock a canon goes of. The idea then was to sound of ships in the distance, if they lost their way in fog. The practice has continued ever since.

In the courtyard of the castle, there was a museum, which housed the crowns, sceptre and the swords. As we were observing the display, suddenly a gentleman dressed up as Sir Walter Scott appeared amongst the crowd and started giving a small introduction about himself and the life during the times he grew up in. This was the most charming thing that I had witnessed and we wondered how exciting it would be if a history would come alive at Taj Mahal, or the Red Fort back home. A person dressed up as Jahangir giving a small interactive talk.

Happy with the thrills, we walked out of the castle and into the streets lined with jugglers, revelers, comedians, artists, musicians, people dressed up giant cigarettes and condoms (creating awareness about AIDS and ill effects of smoking). wow it was a one big festival!!! There was this magician who tied himself up with a lock and key, planning to escape. We stopped to see the fun, but then we dragged our feet ahead as so much fun awaited us. Suddenly  a group of casually dressed people (who we assumed were tourists), just spread out and started a theater on the streets, right there. Amazing. As we crossed the street, we realised a group of percussionists were using everyday objects and making melodies. A tall guy was using a pair of sticks on the lamp post, another fellow was on the bonnet of the car, ha ha there was on the waste bin.

So hooked we were, and there was so much to do, we started behaving like little school children and seriously thought of staying back for the night. The next thing we wanted to do was the witch tour. Which was a rip off, but I think it would have been fun if there were a few more people in the tour. No wonder they all stayed away.

The girl from Australia, was studying in the local university and had taken up this job of a guide for the witch tour. She tried her best to make the right sounds and spook us but then.. The whiskey at the end of the tour did help a bit. She claimed that Edinburgh had  the concept of multistory buildings long long ago. The rich stayed at the lower floor and the poor went up the stairs. These buildings made of wood and other materials, used to sway when came a storm. And when the city fell and was seized by plague, the rich made way out of the city through a network of underground tunnels, after which the poor hid themselves in this tunnels. Because of lack of space, people started piling on top of each other and eventually death became their friend. We were in one such dark, damp room below the ground when she was telling us the stories. It was eerie, ok! She claimed of ghosts of cobblers and little girls and shadows of cats, but nothing we saw. She also led us to a place where we could hear the water but couldn't see because it was so dark like a moonless night. She spoke of Wicca and rituals. It was broad daylight and warm outside but the belly were we were was charcoal black. The whiskey did help, like I mentioned.

All this had made us hungry, and we walked towards the city center. We crossed didgeridoo players, and a another group of five. Three men on bagpipes playing the most awesome music and two girls in gypsy dresses dancing and playing with a set of lovely instruments, names of which I don't know.  We had a nice hot lunch of jacket potatoes, egg and mayo sandwich and a bacon roll.

We strolled towards the observatory, where stood a half built Greek Pantheon kind of structure on Calton hill. After Napoleons defeat in waterloo, this structure took shape in 1816. But the funds quickly dried up and the monument which was supposed to house the parliament was left unfinished. This now is dubbed as "shame of Edinburgh"

It was quiet at the top of hill and it was so unbelievable that the festivities that we were part of was only a few minutes away. Quiet that you could hear the sound of silence. The slopes were covered with soft green grass, we sat there for a while, climbed up the structure, dangled our feet and just stared at the wide blue skies and wondered.  There was also the original clock tower in the vicinity. The one that was used before the canon. We brushed our backs and walked down. While G took the steps, I ran down the hill and letting the view of the city from the hill, go past in a blur. After the run I sat for a while to catch up on my breath. Old bones.

We walked past the parliament, Jacobs ladder (a series of steps to the top of the Calton hill) and the graveyard and reached the city center. The bagpipes were still playing, and now the fire eaters and jugglers took their positions against the setting dusk.

G was feeling sick, (we blamed the food) and took the bus to Perth. We messgaed David of our departure and scheduled arrival at Angus. We were 5 minutes earlier than the scheduled time and David had not arrived yet. Punctuality rules, and in 5 minutes David came with a worried look because of G's condition.

We drove back in silence and in anticipation because the next day we were to leave for London in the evening. We drove through deserted roads and under a brilliantly star lit sky. David and We exchanged information about the festival and Edinburgh.

Ann was waiting for us, worried. G was feeling slightly better, but after taking medicines, we quickly went to sleep.

soap makers and a cat

Sunday, 29th

Yawwwwwwwwwwwn. We woke up lazy and late by our and definitely later than the hosts standards. While G made a bee line to the washroom, I went downstairs to an empty house. Literally, no signs of the dogs, the cat (did I mention earlier, about the cat) or David and Ann must have been busy selling soaps at the fair. Well this country was quite funny, like Alvira (the lady selling jewelery) mentioned. She was mentioning if you carry a baby and a dog together with you. People are bound to comment, what a lovely dog, totally ignoring the baby or return to the baby later. ha ha.

We figured David must be walking the dogs, so we decided to have our breakfast of juice, toast, eggs and tea. In between our lazy breakfast David came back and left for his workplace, promising to return quickly after finishing his work.

David came back in an hour while we loitered around the house and streets and smiling vaguely at people. I was quite excited that we would be making soaps today and I am sure the eagerness/happiness was written in large bold letters. G and I also suspect David were grinning on my childish behaviour. Well it was my first experience and they were quite pro. So you can imagine.

So finally we started getting all the ingredients together (we were making lavender and frankincense soaps) on the worktable @ kitchen. Coconut oil, Shea butter, Olive oil, Palm oil, lavender and frankincense incense, anola seeds (for coloring) and pure distilled water.

After wearing aprons and rubber gloves, we put out exact (and I mean exact) quantities after weighing in scales together in a saucepan and on the stove for it to melt. In the meantime we also measured the olive oil required (very generous amount, for a smooth texture), and put the anola seeds in boiling water.

Once the oils were cooled to the correct temperature, we added the olive oil, the color and the incence together and mixed vigorously in smooth strokes so everything mixed in properly. Once satisfied with the outcome, David brought in wooden trays (made by him) in which he poured the soap mixture. Then we went in the shed where he had a specially created wooden insulated box (again created by him), he put the wooden trays to cool down. And this ladies and gentleman was the first batch of soaps created by yours truly.

G made an excellent batch of cinnamon and cedar wood (I think I have a piece of it somewhere still) in a similar fashion. I will write to Ann and David for the exact recipes and post it here soon.

We took a break from all the fragrance and the activities and decided to have lunch. As we sipped beer and had the fish casserole we discussed Indian politics and Hindu mythology.

Post our lunch break we resumed to making six batches of lemongrass soaps.

Ann took a ride from another participant home. We left David and Ann to catch up on the day. While G and I cleaned the kitchen dry, and set the tables for dinner at 7pm, David magically produced the dinner. It seems while he was instructing us on methods of soap making, he had fixed the dinner. Simply amazing couple.

David had made excellent roast potatoes and a meat stew which we polished off with beer. The moon was shining bright and we set some candles to set the mood.

We exchanged more notes on lifestyles, cultures (how children stay with their parents even after marriage!!, was quite a shock for them) food habits, their daughters wedding in Istanbul and a lovely grandson named Ozaan (wandering poet).

The next day we were travelling to Edinburgh. The fringe festival was on, and we thought ourselves lucky to be there.

We proceeded upstairs to sleep. As we opened the door to our room, we both jumped half a meter high and screamed. There was a pair of green eyes shining in the moonlight. We realised it was the cat curled up on my bed. Finally after G and I shoving each other and shooing the cat from the room after great difficulty we locked the room and slept, excited about the next day.

A birthday, soap sellers and a fair

Saturday, 28th

Yawn. Waking up at 4 am is really what I don't look forward to. But today was an exciting day. It was Davids birthday and also we were all going to the Blair castle grounds for the fair.

After a quick shower and a quick toast and a quick tea later we all piled on to the car. Ann and David in front and G, me and skip the dog in between us at the back. No sooner did the car start and the scenery started rolling by, your truly fell asleep. I woke with a certain wetness on my neck and a strong smell under my nose. Well yes it was skip licking me and his breath under my nose. Thankfully the car stopped and I jumped out of the car for fresh air, before I got sick. It was still a while to the fair grounds. The sun was up and the rays bounced of the river Tay. The looming mountain and the greenery was delightfully inviting, I wished that I remained there while the others carried on their journey.

The castle has its history from the 13th century. I believe the castle is set in the finest surroundings in Scotland in Highland Perthshire.

The grounds were already filling in with visitors and artistes. We went inside the stalls and set up our merchandise on display and then stepped out in the warm sun to experience the horse fair. And such a fine experience it was.

There were these decked up horses and ponies which did a funny dance with their hooves going klop klop. Gymnasts in their finery, displayed such fine acts while riding the horses. Chariots of fire, literally (horses jumping from rings of fire). There was a man who displayed an amazing talent with a falcon, an owl and an american eagle. And all this was compered by a woman with a horsey voice.

Taking a break from the performances we went in search for food. G discovered the amazing beavers tail, not literally. It is a cracked wheat bread topped with onion and gralic cheese and a simple yet lip smacking beef steak pasty. It was so good that in greed we had two.

When we returned to the show, a lady in Victorian dress and a young girl in a similar dress were riding horses, delicately but with a powerful rhythm. The noise of the compere was drowned with a sound from the sky. Air acrobatics were being performed by a jet plane. Ann participated with Skip in the dog show and came second. In between all this David found a van selling "Haggis pakodas". Though we did not try that, but we managed to buy some honeycomb and coconut sweets (reminded us of a forgotten flavour from our childhood)

G decided to give Ann and David a break and offered to take care of the stall. Alvira, the lady selling jewellery also entrusted her stall to G to manage. Well it certainly was fun. While I cut and wrapped the soaps of desired quantitites from the bar, G managed the cash. The visitors definitely looked startled to see two brown skinned youngsters selling soap and jewellery and that helped us pull in the crowds and sell quickly

Inbetween people from Bowmore came with trays carrying sample of their whisky, the oldest distillery in Islay. The whiky was of the smoked variety, the process in which water is run over peats of coal. This distinct taste definitely excited my taste buds.

Though the crowds were still flocking the stall, it was around 6 that we decided to call it a day, as a dinner table was booked at the Loghouse at 730pm to celebrate David's birthday.

We reached home and changed our attire. Ann looked pretty in her trouser and cardigan, while David with his hair combed and shaved, looked someone different. We left the house, called the restaurant to inform we are getting late. We drove through winding roads along the farms, where bales of straw lay carelessly. A few people to be seen, some fireflies against the dusk, and moths clammering around the street lamps.

The restaurant glittered with people, music and happiness. We ordered a locale ale and decided to have the famous Angus beef steak. The steak was nice, juicy and was accompanied with a thick dark sticky sweet sour sauce. I finished mine and switched plates with G. While G lingered on the empty plate I polished off half of the steak from G's plate too. G carried a nice watch from India for David's birthday and presented it to him, to his surprise in the restaurant. We finished our dinner with a cup of nice strong coffee.

We drove back home, happy and in silence under the stars and moonlit sky.

The next day was kind of relaxed for us. We were to be home learning the nuances of soap making, with David as our teacher. We helped Ann pack more soaps for the fair, considering the success today and yesterdays.

As we went to bed, the moon was smiling at us from the window.

doing nothing and a haunted castle

Friday, 27th

The rays of the sun seeped in through the windows and gently warmed the room. The dull pink flowers set against green wallpapered walls were smiling at us.

We woke up refreshed at about 9 am. The window looked out in this massive green garden. In the corner of the garden was a little pond and a fountain. The sky was draped in deep blue with a sprinkling of fluffy clouds. Perfect.

As we gingerly climbed down the stairs, an aroma of fresh toast filled the air, and my hungry stomach grumbled. David was in the kitchen preparing the breakfast. A lavish spread of toast, juice, tea and various kinds of spreads (margarine, butter, ginger marmalade, raspberry produce and home made honey) awaited us. Over breakfast we warmed up to each other and started planning our days ahead. David was very helpful in preparing the itinerary. We planned for a trip to Glamys castle in the afternoon but before that we had to walk the lovely dogs puppy and skip (a mountain dog).

The house that we were staying in was about 150 year old made of stone. The story was that workers used to be crammed in these accommodations and apparently many died because of illness and hunger. It is also said that the houses here are haunted. The small neighborhood was neatly arranged and quite bright. We walked to the woods adjoining the neighborhood. The woods was an artists palette with different shades of green. Huge trees, little stumps, wet with dew, patches of mud and general greenery around. The dogs seemed to enjoy very much playing ball. For about an hour we walked in that honey sweet fresh air discussing politics, weather, soaps, employment, history of India, Scots and England.

We came back and quickly changed for our day out.

We hopped in the neat little Volkswagen once again and headed towards Davids office. It was a tidy little place from where he also sold the soaps that Ann made. We checked our emails. Made bookings for Edinburgh and London. We also spoke to fellow, recommended by my friend Manish with who we could possibly stay in London. He sounded pretty enthusiastic to host us, its a different matter that he did not pick our phone calls when we landed in London.

We changed few Euros to Sterling pounds from the Bank of Scotland (David pointed us that the Bank of Scotland and Bank of England issue their own notes, though they are of the same value). Opposite the place was a magnificent statue of Peter pan.

Next to David's office was the workshop of a distinguished craftsman Bruce Walker. He made exquisite glass etchings, carvings of birds, delicate figurines and scenery in glass bowls, tumblers, plates on just about everything. In fact right opposite his workshop in the courtyard was a huge rock sculpture of the earth, carved by him from a boulder. This stunning work of art revolved on a platform, carved from rock again. There was a little fountain which spurted water right from the center of the earth. This fountain was an addition later and the water source is linked from an 100 year old well, which in turn was discovered quite accidentally while paving the road.

Our next stop was in Forfar to pick up our tickets. We rode past houses with thatched roofs, wide clean streets, a jute mill (where the jute from India was processed during the East India Company days), vast farmlands with honey gold colored straw cut and neatly rolled in bales and strewn across.

After collecting our tickets, we went to the Tiffin House for a cup of tea and tuna and mayo sandwiches. After that we finally moved towards Glamis castle.

The stunning castle, spread across acres of greenery has been the home for the Earl of Strathmore since 1372. The castle has been home to legends, myths and history. King Malcolm II is rumored to be murdered here and there is a secret room where noblemen played cards with the devil himself. It is also said said to be the setting for Shakespeare's Macbeth.

We went excitedly through different wings, the artifacts on display, the haunted chapel and at the end of the tour we went through another exhibition which hosted memorabilia from an era gone by. Dresses, postcards signed by the Queen as 'Lilibet'

David took us through it all like a seasoned guide and we followed him through every corner, hanging on to his words.

We reached back home and made ourselves some tea. David left us to enjoy the surroundings and he went to get Ann from the fair.

With Ann, came the news of the fair and the days happenings. As we sipped some beer magically David produced an awesome dinner of fish (haddock and salmon), vegetables and potato casserole. We had a more relaxed and varied conversation about India, the religion, mysticism, caste system etc.

Ann had an incredible day at the fair. She sold most of her stock and had to replenish her stocks. G and I helped her pack. We assembled the translucent colorful soaps in shapes of stars and sea horses on clean cellophane sheet and passed them through the machine to cut and seal it in neat squares. Next we used a blow dryer to shrink wrap them. We then pricked them to release any trapped air. By the time we finished, we were all visibly tired and finally called it a day.

The next day G and I were to accompany them to the fair at the Blair castle grounds. Interesting.

Bergen, rains and a family in Scotland

Thursday, 26th

Early morning after a light breakfast of muffins (from flam) and hot coffee, we walked across to the information booth across the street to figure out the information on bus timings to the airport.

We were flying to Aberdeen (Scotland) in the afternoon.

Coming from practically deserted places like Copenhagen, Oslo, Flam, Voss and suddenly encountering masses of people at Bergen, came as a total surprise. Bergen was just like another large city, identifiable with all the charms, like malls, retail chain stores, night clubs, crowded streets and market places.

It was windy and we walked through the rain swept streets, passing by the fish market which was stirring to life, the post office (from where we bought postcards for home) and finally the mall. We were practically running, hoping that our act of doing things faster would eventually help us reach Aberdeen earlier. But I think Bergen had its own plans.

We picked up noodles to cook at the hostel, from a shop at the mall. There was a very lovely hobby shop which stocked anything that one could think of. From candle and soap making stuff to doll houses, stained glass essentials, glitters, doll houses just about everything for all age groups.

We went back to the hostel, cooked and ate our noodle preparation, a little watery and a little salty to our liking. Our bags were already packed and carrying our backpacks and day packs, G and I walked towards the bus stop excitedly after checking out of the hostel. We still had some time and this time G entered another exciting shop called Ting. It was a home decor shop with some interesting stuff on display. The mud in our shoes disrupted the decor and the shoppers and staff gave us such looks that it made sense to leave them at peace, soon.

The bus ride was uneventful except for a few boisterous youngsters. One of them had his jeans slung so low that G and I feared the boy will walk and the jeans will remain back, lying in a heap. Well we reached the airport an hour early and realised that due to the weather and technical snag the flight is delayed by an hour. We had passed through the customs, so we had nothing else but to explore the duty free shops and drink coffee at the lounge and stare at all the other plane's taking off. The flight was further delayed and the weather also wasn't looking too promising (like I mentioned, Bergen had other plans). We were anxious because David had promised us to pick up from the airport. David and Ann a lovely couple, G had befriended few months back over the internet. They had a common hobby - soap making. When we were making our plans, they had offered their residence to us to put up.

The flight offered us a large chocolate muffin and more coffee and in the meantime G picked up a nice bottle of local Vodka for David, hoping he enjoyed the drink.

Finally the flight was announced and the impatient passengers that we were, quickly boarded the plane. The pilot and the staff made some serious attempts at humor but it failed on us. On board we had wine and tuna and mayo sandwich, which I greedily ate.

The flight finally landed at Aberdeen at about 9 pm in the evening. Dark clouds carrying rain, covered the sky and it looked they were bursting in their seams. The lady at the passport control was not particularly friendly at seeing two dark skinned youngsters with heavy backpacks. After she was suitably answered we were allowed to step out of this small airport in Scotland. We realised we were the last of the passengers walking out in the nearly empty waiting halls. We were upset because of the delay, questions and the inconvenience that David would have gone through (we had asked him not to wait for us, we would come by a cab) But to our surprise in a corner of the waiting hall, a pleasant looking and an anxious David waiting for us (it seemed he had just aged waiting for us, and we felt very guilty).

He offered us dinner, which we declined and made our way to the car park. After fumbling with the car keys and then the parking slip, we made ourselves comfortable in the cute little Volkswagen. It was raining heavily with practically zero visibility and we began our long drive to Forfar, a small little hamlet. David was a funny guy with a great sense of humor. Although we were comfortable with each other but throughout the journey we all were very guarded in our questions and replies. I think so because we were strangers to each other at that point in time.

It was about 12 am that we reached their home and Ann was out walking the dogs. We sat at the conservatory which was pleasantly warm. David was visibly tired and had a beer and offered me one. We exchanged notes about our backgrounds, how long we intended to stay, where all we had been and where all we wanted to go. We were carrying colorful cushions and a paisley designed beaded handbag for Ann which they were very happy to receive.

Ann was participating in the yearly horse fair, where she was selling her soaps and had to leave early the next day. It about 2 am, I think we finally went to bed. As we lay there we thought how readily they had accepted us as a part of their family and done everything possible to make us comfortable. They had prepared a very cozy room for us, with separate beds and duvet. This was luxury and home after sleeping in impersonal bunk beds in dormitories for so long. Sleep came easy.