11:00 PM, October 18, 2012 (Thursday) – After going to Buckingham Palace earlier in the day and spending the rest of the evening waiting in the lobby of our hotel in London, we made our way to Euston station to board the Caledonian Sleeper, a sleeper train that travels between London and Scotland. Our train: the 23:50 headed for Edinburgh. Because we had booked at the last minute, the only sleeper train available was the one to the Scottish capital; our plan was to transfer to an Aberdeen-bound train from there.
The first thing to take care of was our luggage. We didn’t even try to squeeze the two large suitcases into our cabin because our online research had indicated that there was a separate car for storing large items. When we got to our car and asked the steward where it was, she directed us back to one of the cars at the beginning of the platform (oops!), and we had to walk the suitcases back the way we came before placing them in the guard’s van.
We were the only ones who had luggage in there and I wondered if other people just kept their bags in their cabin. I was a bit nervous about it, concerned that the luggage car might separate from our cabin car (the train splits off into two later on to serve different destinations), or that the bags might be stolen.
Soon after we settled in, the train departed and I got a little bit more acquainted with our cozy cabin. There was a counter that opened up on one side, revealing a sink. There were little buttons along the door to control the lights and air conditioning. On the bulkhead is a little door concealing brochures and guides, that also opens up into a tray-table. I poured myself some Laphroaig while reading the brochures.
That night, I slept badly mostly because I was worried about our luggage. I thought about my cousin. I was in a new bed in a new environment. I could feel when the train slowed down, when it sped up, could hear its creaks and squeaks as it slowly bobbed up and down on the rails. In the morning, when the train stopped and split, I could hear the mechanical clinging and clanging. Still, the noises and movement didn’t bother me so much as my own hyperactive mind did. On the contrary, the rhythmic sounds and gentle motion of the train provided a comforting, soothing contrast to the thoughts running through my head.
~7:00 AM, October 19, 2012 – At around 7:00, the steward knocks on our door to deliver our coffee and shortbread, indicating our imminent arrival in Edinburgh.
After maybe five hours of light sleep, I had a rough time opening my eyes and then climbing down my bunk to get dressed and get ready. The coffee was hot and most definitely welcomed. I scarfed down the shortbread cookie. Shortly thereafter, we pulled into Edinburgh Waverley, and our first ride on the Caledonian Sleeper was over.
It was a cold Friday morning, and it started raining right when we stepped off the train. I quickly ran to the guard’s van and picked up our suitcases, all my earlier worry turning into relief when I finally saw that they were still there. The sharp, cold raindrops hitting my face as I rolled the suitcases towards the covered area of the platform served as a nice additional wake-up call. Wow! We were in Scotland!
With about an hour until the departure of our next train, we took advantage of the station facilities. It was at this time that I grabbed all of those distillery brochures. There was a pasty shop so I got another chance to enjoy my new favorite food for breakfast, though of course I waited until it was almost boarding time before I bought it so that I could eat it on the train. Speaking of which, it took a little longer than usual to find it because the electronic signage was down this morning (good to know that IT issues happen everywhere ;)). The station agents fell back on some good old poster paper and markers to get the job done.
When we boarded the train and found our designated seats, we found that they were occupied. Looking around at the emptiness of the train, we soon realized that seat assignments must be loosely enforced when the train is empty. So, we didn’t bother to disturb the people in our seats and found ourselves a nice 4-seater with a table in the middle, perfect for spreading out during the two-and-a-half hour trip. It turned out very well, really, a very pleasant and peaceful couple of hours, one of the best and most memorable parts of our entire adventure around the world.
The journey started off with a breakfast of steak pasty and coffee while listening to music on my phone. Soon, we crossed the Firth of Forth, and saw the Forth Road Bridge. It was like a twin of the San Francisco Bay Bridge, a marvelous sight. I took out my notebook and jotted down random thoughts as they occurred to me.
10-19-12 8:35 AM
Arrive Scotland early in the morning. It’s Friday morning. Seeing people go about their daily lives, Friday morning in the office. What’s it like to live here?
As we passed by various stations, I wrote down their interesting names along with my random thoughts (present-day commentary in parentheses):
Nice house in the countryside.
Lots of stone
Cold and gray
Glenrothes (This one is a whiskey, but we passed by the town, not the distillery)
Ducks flying south (Actually, not sure if they were ducks, plus they were flying North parallel to us, not South)
Scotch beef (must have seen a cow, thought of airplane scene in Bon Voyage, Charlie Brown)
Ladybank (Another station)
Golfers (oh that’s right, Scotland is the birthplace of golf!)
Bunny Rabbit in field (super funny, I actually saw a bunny hopping into a hole as the train sped by)
Horse w/ blanket
Dundee (the 4th largest city in Scotland, and yes, I did think of Crocodile Dundee)
Michael Jackson’s Beat It started playing on my playlist. I thought back to when we saw the Cirque du Soleil show just a few days ago. One of the more memorable scenes was the song’s performance by a couple of female musicians, a cellist (Tina Guo) and a guitarist (Desireé Bassett), each standing on opposite sides of the stage. They were incredibly attractive in their sexy outfits and their display of musical talent, an irresistible combination of looks and brains. I still remember the bass thumping my chest every time Ms. Guo hit the cello with her bow; Ms. Bassett’s finger work during the solo was breathtaking.
Guitar Player & Cello player badass (bass,power)
Broughty Ferry (a suburb of Dundee, with a dainty-sounding name)
Tyres (hard to get used to this alternative spelling of tire)
Smartphone Indispensable – GPS track-as-I-go (at that point I’d only had a smartphone for a couple of months)
Grounded boats with the tide. Ducks swimming out.
Old tires on grass
Pilgrimage to Scotland
Follow trail of whisky.
Excited about driving for 1st time in 2 months.
Old Walls (stone)
The battery on my phone was almost drained so I plugged it into my laptop and used its USB-charge-while-off feature. Essentially, my laptop served as a giant battery for my phone. Kind of neat, really.
With my phone continuing to work, I listened to podcasts of the BBC’s History of the World in 100 Objects, thinking back to our visit to the British Museum just a week ago and seeing if I remembered any of the objects described in the program. It’s something of an experience to have the imagination fired up trying to picture an historical object while the eyes watch the Scottish countryside fly by, all while sitting inside a warm carriage with the belly full from a hearty breakfast. It’s really wonderful.
When we passed by Arbroath, I saw what looked like a highway rest stop with both a McDonald’s and a KFC. Seeing these, along with the earlier Forth Road Bridge that looks just like the Bay Bridge, seeing the lonely house in the countryside, seeing ducks swimming around in a shallow pool, seeing all these things reiterated to me what I had started to realize that day at Crystal Palace: that life everywhere is the same, that people everywhere are the same. Here I was, in Scotland, on the other side of the world, the northernmost place on the planet that I’ve ever ventured to, and people are taking rest stops at McDonald’s just like I did on I-5 back in California. We share more in common than we have in differences.
Within an hour of Arbroath, we pulled into Aberdeen station, eager to get to the hotel to unload and clean up. We made it!