Glenfiddich Distillery Tour Tasting Mat

At the end of our Glenfiddich Distillery tour we were treated to tastings of the 12, 15, and 18 year old expressions. It was quite a sight to see all the Glencairn glasses sitting on these mats. Each person got one, and there were at least a dozen people, so you can imagine how many glasses there were.

I’ve posted one side of the tasting mat before, but this is the full museum post. Enjoy!

Glenfiddich Distillery Tour Tasting Mat

Glenfiddich Distillery Tour Tasting Mat

Our Last Day in Scotland

October 21, 2012 – Our last day in Scotland was a lazy Sunday that started pretty late after staying up the night before. After a 1 PM checkout, we left our bags at the hotel and headed out to find a place to eat.

Our hotel was in the vicinity of the main thoroughfare Union Street, so we headed in that direction. Unlike the other day when we were picking up the car, this time we were able to walk slowly and take in the sights. We were in a very old part of a very old city; the street we were walking on was at least 700 years old.

Between Union Street and Shiprow, Aberdeen, Scotland

Walking on a 700-year-old street

Before actually going to many of the places we went to in 2012, I had some preconceived notions of them that had formed in my mind over the years from watching film, reading books, and also from the “common knowledge” reputation of a place. Although I was not expecting people in Scotland to be walking around in kilts and playing bagpipes, I also did not expect an environment so much similar to where I am from. So yes, the centuries-old granite buildings on Union Street were present, but so were these modern constructs with familiar names: Clear Channel ads on bus stops, posters for PS3 games, a T-Mobile store, Starbucks coffee, McDonald’s. These are all things one can see on Mission Street in San Francisco or, as I now know, any other modern city in today’s world.

The juxtaposition of old and new in Aberdeen is pretty amazing, though. As we walked along Union Street, we decided to head towards a shopping centre complex called Bon Accord & St Nicholas, two physically separate shopping malls on opposite sides of the same street and now managed as a single entity. We walked past a Gap store, and around the corner was the Kirk of St. Nicholas. One was founded in 1969, the other was earliest mentioned in a Papal document in 1157. Talk about juxtaposition!

Adelphi Bus Stop, Union Street, Aberdeen

An Aberdeen bus stop

Union Street Cell Phone Shops

Cell phone shops

St. Nicholas Shopping Centre

See the Gap on the left…

Kirk of St. Nicholas

… then the Kirk of St. Nicholas around the corner

We walked through the St. Nicholas part and reached the street (called Schoolhill) that divides the two malls. While waiting for the light to change, we encountered a homeless woman. I don’t think anyone consciously or intentionally thinks of encountering homeless people while traveling; it just happens if it does. For me, the realization that Aberdeen, too, has homeless people was similar to seeing all those familiar things earlier. I had just never actually thought about it, but if I had it would not be too farfetched to think that other places in the world have homeless people. We chatted for a little bit and she was pretty critical of the local government, of how it “places the interests of outsiders over those of locals”. A familiar refrain, to be sure.

We said goodbye to the homeless lady and crossed the street into Bon Accord. There was a YO! Sushi there and having seen a few instances of this place in London, we decided to give it a try. Not bad! I couldn’t help but comment that we came all the way to Scotland only to eat Japanese food at a chain restaurant inside of a shopping mall. Well, when you have the craving, you have the craving, and actually the food was pretty good. As an example, I have eaten tonkatsu in Japan and the one I had here was pretty much the same. My only complaint was that the steamed rice I ordered to go with some sashimi was vinegared sushi rice; I guess the young lady didn’t know the difference.

Tonkatsu at YO! Sushi, Aberdeen

Hey, not bad!

After the meal we walked around the mall a little bit and I got a chance to check out a couple of stores. One of them was a model store called Hawkin’s Bazaar. It was a pretty neat store with model trains, planes, helicopters and the like (was surprised to learn that it is a chain). Nearby was a GAME store, very similar to GameStop in the United States. There was a game in the closeout section that caught my eye, Cities in Motion. It was £5 and I wanted to get it, but I didn’t know how long I would have to hold on to it (my laptop has no optical drive) so I had to pass. I did take a photo of it for future reference. Fortuitously, I was later able to redeem a download copy of it using the points we accumulated from our trip. Awesome!

Cities in Motion at GAME, Aberdeen

Only £5!

Speaking of model trains, I have noticed that the scene seems to be more visible in the UK than it is in the US. For example, in addition to Hawkin’s Bazaar and the fact that it is a chain selling model trains all over the UK, I saw plenty of model (and real) railroad magazines at various WH Smith stands. In America, other than at a few niche stores, I don’t really see model trains for sale anymore. I grew up playing with them and it was a lot more common to see them in stores back then. One of the biggest reasons is probably the decline of rail travel in the United States, a decline which I don’t believe has happened in the UK and Europe.

With our real train not set to depart until later in the evening, we had plenty of time to explore Aberdeen. I knew that we were near Aberdeen Beach so we headed in that general direction, walking along the edge of the city center, then through a residential neighborhood. It was a beautiful autumn day and we walked leisurely in whichever appeared to be the more interesting direction, chatting about our trip thus far and the history present in the neighborhoods in which we were walking through, and stopping occasionally to snap photos.

Aberdeen Walk

Our path to the beach


Winter is coming

Homes Along Constitution Street

Homes along Constitution Street

Aberdeen Granite Works War Memorial

A World War I memorial, part of a now-gone factory

Soon, we arrived at Aberdeen Beach. The first thing that I was reminded of was Ocean Beach back in San Francisco. We had actually gone to Ocean Beach just a few months ago, so the image was fresh in our minds. Both beaches stretch for miles and have a road alongside (the Great Highway in San Francisco and the Beach Esplanade in Aberdeen). One major difference would be the presence of groynes (the wooden structures designed to slow erosion) on Aberdeen Beach.

Groynes on Aberdeen Beach

Groynes on Aberdeen Beach

In the photo above, the groynes aren’t actually that close together; I just zoomed in all the way and the perspective changed. For comparison, here’s a photo of me standing in the North Sea showing how much space there is between groynes:

Standing in the North Sea

Standing in the North Sea

Both JC and I have always been around the Pacific Ocean, being born in Hong Kong and then growing up and living in the Bay Area, and now Hong Kong again. I never thought that we would one day splash around in the North Sea. I told JC that we were standing at the northernmost point on the Earth that we had ever been. It was a moment to remember.

We made our way down the Esplanade and to the boardwalk, stopping for ice cream at one of the many stands. There were families, couples, children all happily enjoying a pleasant Sunday afternoon at the beach. Before, my life was a full-time job during the week and trying to relax on the weekends. Was it the same for the people here in Aberdeen? What is it like to live here? What would it be like to spend your whole life, to be one of the many generations who have done so, here? As a first-generation immigrant living in a place full of immigrants, it is difficult for me to imagine life as an entrenched native of a place. Of course, Aberdeen has its share of immigrants as well, especially with its energy (i.e. oil) industry, but I think I can safely say that its level of diversity does not compare to the melting pot that is the Bay Area.

Walking Along Aberdeen Beach

Normal folks just going about their Sunday

Soon, we had made it all the way down to the end of the beach, to Footdee, an old fishing village. This incarnation of the village has been around since the 1800s, but the site itself has been around since medieval times. Even so, it is still fascinating to walk through such an ancient place. It is still populated, as we saw with the cottages with little gardens and clotheslines, not to mention the still-used mission in the middle of town. Today, these old stone buildings have power lines and antennas attached. I imagined being inside one of these dwellings on a cold winter night, the sound of the waves crashing, the wind howling, and the fireplace crackling. That would be pretty cozy, wouldn’t it?

Footdee, Aberdeen

Footdee, Aberdeen

Footdee, Aberdeen

PSVs in the North Sea

We went through the entire village and reached Aberdeen Harbour. This was probably where the PSVs (platform supply vessels) we had seen from the beach (pictured above) pass through to dock. We had seen a few of these ships up close the day before as the harbour extends all the way to our hotel. While I was working at my computer I saw a couple of them coming and going.

The Olympic Commander Docked in Aberdeen Harbour

The Olympic Commander docked in Aberdeen Harbour – October 20, 2012

After walking a couple of miles and being on our feet for over two hours, we were pretty tired, so we found the nearest bus stop to take the 15 bus back to Union Street. The thing I remember the most about the bus ride was that it passed through a shopping complex, and I saw the locals going about their Sunday shopping. I was reminded of going shopping with my grandmother in Vancouver, Canada, just another example of what I had realized about people everywhere being the same at the most basic level.

Shoppers in Aberdeen

Just stocking up on a Sunday

Back at Union Street, the sun was setting and it was getting colder. We took advantage of the remaining daylight to walk through the Kirkyard of St. Nicholas, the graveyard that’s outside the kirk. Walking through graveyards always fires up my imagination. I see names, dates, couples buried together, and I wonder how these people lived and what their world was like. Many of the graves at the kirk were from the 1800s, and a few were from the 1700s. I wondered if their descendants were still living in Aberdeen. Conversely, I imagined that it must be comforting for Aberdonians to know that this is where they came from, that they could trace their lineage back hundreds of years.

It had been a few hours since lunch, and along with all the walking we were now pretty hungry, so we tried to find a place to eat. We crossed the street to the Trinity Centre (where we picked up our car a couple of days ago), but they were closing. There was a walkway inside leading to the train station, so we gave that a try. Luckily for us, adjacent to the train station is another shopping centre, Union Square, and inside is a place serving Scottish cuisine. I finally got to try haggis, while JC’s Highland stew was just as delicious. Similarly to lunch, I had but one complaint, which was that although the menu listed Highland Park 12-yo Scotch, it was not available for order. It would have been perfect to eat that haggis with some whisky.

Haggis, Neeps, and Tatties

Haggis, neeps, and tatties

Highland Stew

Highland beef stew

Saying Goodbye to Shiprow

Saying goodbye to Shiprow

Computer, Arch

Computer, arch

The sun was now gone and it was getting really cold outside. While still warm from our hearty meal, we quickly headed back to the hotel to pick up our bags so that we could wait out the last few hours at the station. Instead, we spent the next couple of hours at the mall because although the station was covered, it was open to the outside air and was too cold. The mall was pretty standard fare, save for the information kiosk which resembled a holodeck interface from Star Trek. I got a few laughs out of that with my Captain Picard impression. Later, we spent some time at yet another Starbucks before spending the final quarter-of-an-hour inside a heated waiting room in the station, which we didn’t see earlier.

Relaxing in Caledonian Sleeper Cabin

Hanging out in our cabin

We boarded the train at around 21:30, and fifteen minutes later we were on our way back to London Euston. This time, we tried taking our bags with us, and lo and behold, they fit in our cabin rather comfortably. Dang. We should have done it the first time. It was the end of a wonderful day and I was very happy about having visited Scotland, so I went to the lounge car for a celebratory Glenfiddich. JC and I spent some time taking photos of ourselves in the cabin before turning in. We were a lot more relaxed this time around, maybe because we had already done it once, or maybe because we had our bags with us. Either way, that night I slept very soundly.

Next: Whisky Leaving Scotland

Scotland Rest Day

Sunset, Aberdeen, Scotland

Saying goodbye to the day in Aberdeen, Scotland

October 20, 2012

As we had done in London a week earlier, we spent this Saturday in Aberdeen resting. After several restless nights in a row, plus a full day visiting Glenfiddich the day before, we needed to recharge. I went out to return the car and buy lunch, and then stayed in the hotel for the rest of the day.

It was a slow, relaxing, pleasant afternoon. I spent the majority of it sitting at my computer and balancing our finances while JC sat on the bed and read the paper with the TV on. At one point, the most recent Star Wars movie was on. There was a cooking show from BBC Scotland. It was just like spending a lazy afternoon at home, and I imagine it was not too dissimilar from the afternoons of some other people in Aberdeen on that day.

Speaking of TV, I do like watching local TV to get a glimpse of what it might be like to live somewhere. When we were in Japan, it was the commercials that caught my attention. In Scotland, it was the late-night gambling shows with scantily clad women spinning roulette wheels and wishing people good luck. I also enjoyed listening to the local newscasters speaking in their native Scottish accent.

Later in the evening, it was morning back home in SF, and it was also the day of my cousin’s memorial service (he had passed away a few days earlier). I drank Laphroaig and thought about my cousin while I waited for news from my family. As I’ve written before, it helps to have a drink to unlock the mind as well as the heart. I ended up finishing the bottle since I knew we would be flying back to the U.S. in a few days. I probably also wanted to sooth my regret at being unable to be at the service.

We finished the night with some late night pizza and curry from the hotel restaurant. Gotta love the former British Empire and its curry.

Next: Our Last Day in Scotland

Visiting the Glenfiddich Distillery

October 19, 2012 (Friday) – After a pleasant drive through the Scottish countryside, we arrived at the Glenfiddich Distillery.

I first became interested in single malt Scotch in 2008. Prior to that, I would sample all kinds of spirits just to see what they were like. Gin, vodka, tequila, even absinthe, I tried them all. Since that time, however, Scotch has become my preferred drink. In a little neighborhood bar (in Hong Kong, actually), the very first single malt Scotch that I had was a Glenfiddich 12, and four years later, I was at the place, the only place, where it is produced and distributed all over the world.

We hadn’t really eaten anything since the train ride so the first thing we did after signing up for the tour was stop by the restaurant inside the distillery’s old malt barn. If I remember the tour guide correctly, the restaurant is housed inside the original building of the Glenfiddich Distillery (circa 1887), and since most Scotch whisky distillers no longer malt their own barley (Glenfiddich included), the malt barn now houses a restaurant and bar, as well as the distillery’s main reception area.

We didn’t have much time before the tour so we just had a couple of soups. One of them was a Cullen skink, pictured last in the row above. It was delicious.

Soon, it was time for the tour and we made our way back to the main reception area. The first stop was the film room, where we watched a short video about the distillery, it’s history, and the distillation process. Next, we walked outside to another building where the actual production takes place. In the first room, we saw the giant mash tuns where milled malted-barley (i.e. flour, technically called grist) is combined with heated water to form mash (I guess because the flour is “mashed” with water), which itself is then further physically agitated to stimulate the conversion of starch into sugar. Once the water absorbs the sugar, the resulting syrup, called wort, is drained into a collection container called the underback. More water is added to the mash tun until all the sugar is extracted from the grist; the leftover bits are filtered out and used as animal feed.

From the underback, the wort is transferred to a cooler until it reaches a temperature at which yeast will survive, when it is then transferred to giant fermentation vats called washbacks, where the yeast can be safely added to begin the fermentation process. For us, we went up some stairs (yes, the vats were that tall) and down a corridor before reaching the washbacks. Along with a multitude of smells and sounds, the air was thick with heat from the fermentation.

Once yeast is added to the wort, it takes about three days for the fermentation process to complete. During that time, bacteria in the wood of the Douglas fir vats contributes its part to the flavor of the final product. At the end of fermentation, a liquid with about 9% alcohol, called wash and similar to beer, is ready for distillation in copper stills. To see where that happened, we exited the mash house and moved on to the still house.

Glenfiddich Still House

Inside the still house

As whisky is distilled twice, here you can see at least two differently shaped* stills. The wash produced in the mash house first goes through a wash still, resulting in a liquid with about 21% alcohol, called a low wine. Next, the low wine itself is distilled in the second type of still, a spirit still. Now, we have a liquid, the new make spirit, that is quite a bit stronger than what we started with, at roughly 70% alcohol.

*Because different compounds have different boiling points, the shape of the still affects what flavors make it into the final product. Some vaporize and make it to the condenser, some don’t. More info can be found here.

In the photo above, there is a third shape of still. As Glenfiddich uses two differently shaped spirit stills and then blends the results together, I can only surmise that that’s what the third type of still is for.

Once the new make spirit has been produced, it is mixed with water to slightly lower the alcohol content and then filled into oak casks for maturation. In my opinion, this is the part that makes whisky special: spending years, decades maturing and taking on different characteristics from the wood, undisturbed, silently waiting while the outside world continues with its trials and tribulations. Do you remember where you were and what you were doing 12 years ago? What was going on in the world 15 years ago? How much have I changed in the past 18 years? I think about all these questions when I sit and enjoy a single malt Scotch.

Due to the flammable nature of alcohol and the sheer amount of it inside the warehouse where the casks are stored, photography is not allowed. I took one just before we went in.

Glenfiddich Warehouse No. 1

Glenfiddich Warehouse No. 1

Inside, the first thing you notice is of course the smell, a cold, damp, woody smell. The casks are stored horizontally on racks, one on top of another. One thing that I didn’t expect was that the surface of the casks is smooth, even between staves. I had imagined it would be like a planked floor, with clear separation between the planks, but that was not the case.

After showing us how the casks are put together, the guide walked with us to the other side of the warehouse, where we were given an opportunity to smell whiskies from bourbon versus sherry casks. Although I no longer remember the smell, I do remember a distinctive difference between the two. Also at this end of the warehouse were some casks, stored vertically, that were being used for “marrying” different batches of whisky. A common misconception regarding single malt Scotches is that they are not mixed with any other whiskies, that a bottle of 12-year-old whisky contains only 12-year-old whisky. When we consider that the whisky-making process is a multi-variable one that takes many years, it makes sense that no two batches will come out exactly the same. The malt master must mix and match whiskies in order to achieve a product that is consistent with the label. So, although different bottles of Glenfiddich 12 taste more or less the same, they might contain different proportions of whiskies from different batches (though none of the batches will be younger than 12 years old). The one exception would be bottles labeled “single cask” or “single barrel”, for obvious reasons.

Having seen the entire process of a how a bottle of Glenfiddich is produced, we ended the tour at the Dramming Centre, where we enjoyed complimentary tastings of the 12, 15, and 18 year-old expressions. I got to take home a tasting mat as a souvenir. There were many bottles on display, as well.

With the tour over, the only thing left to do was to visit the gift shop to pick up a couple of souvenirs. I bought a hip flask for myself and a miniature 18-year old for a friend. I was going to say “Here, this bottle came hand-delivered to you from Scotland”, but then I realized, all Scotch is shipped from Scotland anyway!

The Glenfiddich Shop

The Glenfiddich Shop

I had made my Scotch whisky pilgrimage and was happy as a dram (pun intended). When we left, it was raining, cold, and gray, but we were nice and warm inside our car, driving back to Aberdeen. It was appropriate and just how I thought it would be in Scotland, a place I had never even dreamed I would be just a few months before. I had traced back the path that bottles of Scotch had taken to reach me in the New World.

Back at the hotel, our room was now available and we were able to take our long-awaited showers. We had had a long day, beginning with our early arrival in Edinburgh, combined with almost 4 hours on the road. We ended the night with a Chinese takeout feast and a Hong Kong drama marathon. The highlight, though, was a pint of draught Coke from the hotel bar. Wow. It was fizzy, it had real sugar, and it was one of the best Cokes I’d had in a while. Of course, I had to have some Laphroaig (purchased earlier in London) as well. What a way to end the day.

Next: Scotland Rest Day

On the Road to Glenfiddich

The Glenfiddich Distillery

The Glenfiddich Distillery

October 19, 2012 (Friday) – Continuing from where we last left off, we had arrived in Aberdeen and walked to our hotel. After spending half a day touring around London the day before and then sleeping on the train, we were eager for a quick shower before proceeding to the Glenfiddich Distillery. Alas, we were too early and no rooms were yet available. We had to make do with the bathroom in the lobby. At least the full-flowing faucet was better to splash the face with than the trickling one on the train.

Having left our bags with the concierge, we next proceeded to the car rental, located inside a shopping mall on Union Street. The rental was a bit hard to find: we circled around the mall a few times, the directory had no indication of any car rental place, and there were no signs. Eventually, we checked with mall management and they called the car rental guy for us. Turns out that there was no storefront yet because it was a new branch, so they just had a guy in the parking office doing the rentals.

Once that was figured out things went smoothly from there. We signed the papers and got into an Audi A4 diesel wagon with GPS (a nice surprise, considering the fact that you don’t always know what car you’re going to get with a rental). I spent some time getting acquainted with the vehicle and getting used to being on the right. One would think that everything would just be the opposite of being on the left, but for some reason I’ve always thought that the viewing angle of the left mirror is steeper* when sitting on the right side. When driving LHD, the angle of the right mirror doesn’t seem as steep.

*This is how I judge if a mirror is “steeper”: as a passenger in LHD cars, I can look into the right mirror and see traffic behind us. As a passenger in an RHD car looking into the left mirror, I see the car itself. I can’t remember a time when this wasn’t true.

Getting Acquainted with the Audi

Getting acquainted

Getting out of the parking garage was good practice for driving RHD. The exit ramps were narrow and steep, and I told myself that as long as I kept close to the right where I could see how close I was to the curb (kerb), the left (far) side of the car would be fine. This rule-of-thumb later worked well on the road, especially in two-way traffic.

Now, we were on the streets of Aberdeen headed northwest for Dufftown. It was a nice, leisurely drive through the city and then the Scottish countryside. Like a crazed man, I kept telling JC, “We’re driving through the Scottish Highlands! We’re driving through the Scottish Highlands!” I did have some minor difficulty entering my first RHD roundabout, but since there were so many of them I quickly got the hang of it and learned how to proceed smoothly with the flow of traffic. At one point, I even drove behind an Accord Euro (the European version of the TSX):

Honda Accord Euro

Honda Accord Euro

A little over an hour later, we were at the Glenfiddich Distillery!

Next: Visiting the Glenfiddich Distillery

To Aberdeen, Scotland

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.

Caledonian Sleeper Guard's Van

Our bags 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.

Coffee and Shortbread Aboard the Caledonian Sleeper

Coffee and shortbread just before arrival

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.

Train Ticket

The man in seat 21F

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?

The Forth Road Bridge

The Forth Road Bridge

As we passed by various stations, I wrote down their interesting names along with my random thoughts (present-day commentary in parentheses):

Aberdour (like the whiskey? No, that’s Aberlour, this is Aberdour)
BurntIsland (actually one word, without the capitalized “I”)

Nice house in the countryside.
Lots of stone
Cold and gray
(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)

Bird Flying North for Winter?

Flying North for the winter?

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)
                                                          thumping chest

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)

Google Maps, Leuchars to Aberdeen

Leuchars to Aberdeen

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.
Power transfer
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.

The World Flies By

The world flies by…

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!

Next: On the Road to Glenfiddich

Scotland Souvenirs

Continuing from last night, here are some souvenirs from our visit to Scotland. First, some brochures I picked up from Edinburgh Waverley Station:

Welcome to Dufftown

Welcome to Dufftown

Discovering Distilleries 2012

Discovering Distilleries 2012

Dewar's World of Whisky!

Dewar’s World of Whisky!

Glen Grant

Glen Grant

Next, some materials from our visit to the Glenfiddich Distillery:

Glenfiddich Contact Card

Glenfiddich Contact Card

Become a Glenfiddich Explorer

Become a Glenfiddich Explorer

Glenfiddich Tasting Mat

Glenfiddich Tasting Mat

I still can’t believe that I actually went to Scotland. Well, more on that later. Enjoy the brochures!

Whisky Leaving Scotland

As I sit on the top bunk of our cabin in the Caledonian Sleeper leaving Scotland, I enjoy a miniature 50ml Glenfiddich single malt Scotch whisky. On the carton, it reads:

The Glenfiddich Distillery
Dufftown, Banffshire, Scotland

Drinking this whisky is no longer the same, for I have now personally been to the distillery, seen the fermentation vats, the copper stills, and the oak casks in which the whisky matures. Now, when I drink this whisky, my mind will flash to the duty-free warehouses where it matures for 12 or more years. I will appreciate more the work that goes into the process which brings us this wonderful drink.

Next: Goodbye London, Goodbye Europe