In 2012 I had the fortunate experience of traveling to Edinburgh, Scotland, and from the moment Katie and I stepped off the train to the sound of glorious bagpipes blasting “Scotland the Brave” (and other songs I was less familiar with), I knew this was going to be a great place. It was difficult to wipe the smile off my face as I learned about the history and culture on the Royal Mile by exploring the Edinburgh Castle and braving through an Underground City Tour of the vaults (where we got to take whiskey shots with a German group and eat shortbread with some native Scots and their terrified ten year old daughter). When I planned a “Return to the UK 2013” trip with my friend Andrea, I made sure Edinburgh was on the list, and we did not put the time to waste. We hiked up the Holyrood Park hill where Arthur’s Seat is located, went to a St. Gile’s service (relevant and beautiful? Yes, please.), explored museums and the National Gallery (I swoon at Monet.), and I even got to see Edinburgh through a Harry Potter perspective in a tour run by fans of the books. Next, we branched out of Edinburgh and did the tourist-y thing by participating in a Highland Day Tour, which was definitely the right thing to do. Andrea and I quickly befriended the guide, Billy, and learned quite a bit about local details of the country, like how Scot’s drink “Irn Bru” more than Coke and that it’s a great drink for a hangover. I doubt I will ever use that second tidbit of information, but it’s fascinating what you learn on these trips.
I would love to adopt this country as one of my own, so I guess that would make me in my fantasy world a Scottish African American. I am sure more countries will be added to that list in my future, but really, Scotland and Zimbabwe are the two places that stick out in my head to move to if I should ever leave the United States. Dear Scotland, please adopt me?
In March, Katie and I went to Llywelyn’s Pub on 151st Street in Overland Park, Kansas, a place I had been gasping and pointing at and wanting to go to since I saw it on the way to my sister’s house post UK2013 trip, and we stumbled upon the band Flannigan’s Right Hook. Our worlds were rocked, quite literally, and a woman gave us discounts to the Scottish Festival and told us we could see the band there again. Done. I would consider us to now be occasional part-time groupies.
Fast forward to June 7th, 8th and 9th and let the Highland Games begin! I couldn’t make it to the opening ceremonies because I was traveling to other planets and swimming with my nieces and nephew, but the Katournica trio were able to grace the festival with our presence on Saturday and Sunday.
Guys, I wasn’t even in Scotland, and I was gushing about the Scots and how wonderful they are and how much I want to be one. Monica and I are scheming up scenarios that will get us to Scotland after I return from Zimbabwe, so we’ll see, we’ll see. Auch.
Here are the highlights to the Scottish Festival—although I feel I need to stress that we were not able to make it to everything, and we did not stay for every moment of some events:
I am in the midst of packing for Zimbabwe, so I have not had the chance to research all the Highland Games we saw. I know these men were tossing weights like they were feathers (the mental image that came to mind is absolutely hilarious), and what I really want to know is where were these men when I was clearing the Towers pasture last year? I mean, really. The Scots are smart. “Let’s make tossing logs into a game.” So many chores would get done!!
Caber tossing is really an interesting game. The goal is not to toss and see how far it goes, but to see at what angle it falls. A 12 o’clock angle is the bee’s knees, but anything else, and you just didn’t quite get it. Like I said, I have yet to research the details of the game other than that, but I was mightily impressed by this 70 year old man steadily flipping this log around, especially because I vividly remember when I had to lift 8 foot posts for a wood fence I built with my coworkers down in Texas. Talk about core training.
On our way to find the Clydesdales that were indicated on the map, we were lured into a tent by a lone bagpiper and a dancing duel in progress. These girls are intense. If the men have strong arms, these women must have the ability to crush boulders with their legs with all the extended calf raises, leaps, and kicks involved in this actually very pretty style of dance. I am a big fan of Irish Dancing, so I am all about the flailing legs (of death and beauty) and loved watching the girls compete.
Sadly I did not snap a photo of one of the dancers…Monica and I did, however, try the style out afterward…
Again, as we searched for the Clydesdales we stopped at another tent where men in kilts fought to the death with short swords, quarterstaffs, axes, and anything that was sure to make a grievous wound if the weapon was placed in the right hands. Okay, so the dueling was clearly faked, but it was entertaining and the kilts twirled fabulously beneath the clashing of metals. I liked that they explained what each weapon was and its history before they demonstrated how deathly it could be.
Royal Mile: KC Style
There are lots of Scottish and Celtic trinkets that you can buy, so if you are ever in the KC area during this festival and you want a wooden sword, a kilt, shirts about kilts, Celtic charms, etc… you should check this place out. I felt like I was walking down the Royal Mile in Edinburgh again, which is a good thing because I really love the welcoming atmosphere of the Mile.
Unfortunately, no Clydesdales were for sale.
Food…well Beef, Funnel Cakes, and Candy Pecans:
How many times can we reference beef in one dish? How about, Highland Cow Beef Steakburger. It deserves that many words in its name too because it is delicious. I do not eat a ton of red meat, and I was wishing I had a teenage boy’s appetite so I could eat another. It was tender, it was meaty, it was savory…yum. My mouth is watering now.
Guys, I have finally been able to taste Irn Bru. Billy the Guide would be so proud. Strangely, as I sipped on it throughout the day, I had a hard time differentiating it from Cream Soda. Not bad, but not what I was expecting from an orange drink. I recommend it if you like carbonated bellies. I know I will have it again because I am a sucker for sentimental/ nostalgic shopping.
slainte! Oh hello, 5 shots of Whiskey in half an hour! Surprisingly, this part of the festival is still pretty vivid in my memory. This is partially because I just did a tour at the Guinness Storehouse in Dublin, Ireland a couple months ago, and I am absolutely fascinated with brewing but more particularly with the coopers.
Lorne Cousin was our guide into the Land of Whiskey Rivers and Scottish Husbands. Well, not really, either of those….but in my imagination, this is all truth. We met our long lost Aunt Stephanie there, who introduced us to Lorne, the Scottish Whiskey Scholar who preached from his perch underneath the big yellow tent. I found myself a date in the Scottish Clan Chaplain, who paid my way, and we shared stories of travel and adventure and the sounds of the Abbeys in the UK. I am making this sound rather whimsical. In some ways it was, probably because I am incredibly enamored with the Scottish Accent. Lorne could have talked about bowel movements and I would have been sighing away from behind the table, sipping on one of my five shots of whiskey, convincing myself he was serenading the group with poetry. I sadly missed a reference to Star Trek somewhere in his talk because I was lost in thoughts on the coopers of Guinness, but thankfully Katie and Monica heard it. Otherwise we would never have known that Lorne has good taste in television. Or movies. It’s hard to tell now whether people appreciate the classics or not with the J.J. Abrams movies being such a hit.
Kilts, Glorious Kilts:
Kilts are actually kind of attractive. Never thought I’d say it. Some men should keep a shirt on if all they have been working on is a six pack of beers per day, buuuuut I would not mind a man in a kilt someday.
Flannigan’s Right Hook:
Okay, so Flannigan’s Right Hook is the reason we even found out about the Scottish Festival, so I am extremely grateful for moments like this where two great things come together. Well, three…because Monica, Katie, and I arrived on the scene. (Heh, heh.) Anyway, the band is great. They write originals and they do fantastic covers of songs with their own twist. If you haven’t heard them, they have some songs on Spotify. I am not one who really enjoys covers of songs because I typically like the original artist and get all haughty and critical about anyone who tries to recreate something that was just fine beforehand… This band, however, can do whatever song they want and I will be that fangirl groupie wishing I could instantly download the song onto my playlist. The main singer, Cameron, has a versatile voice, Shane the Violinist is phenomenal and I am jealous yet no because he has worked a long time to be this great, and we got to see Michael show off some skills on the drums. Oh, I should mention, Michael does not only drum on cymbals and snares and things, he also is pretty good at drumming on guitar strings. He showed this talent off during a cover of Randy Edelman and Trevor Jones’ Last of the Mohican’s song, “The Kiss.” (Or was it “Promentory?”) He also wins points for giving me his broken drum stick.
Charles and Erna:
This couple drew me in with their selection of pottery and instantly charmed their way into my heart. I adore Erna, and Charles was fascinating to talk to. Charles does pottery and paints his pieces, and let me tell you, I was sold when I got a closer look at these pieces of work. He has an attention to detail that impressed me, and while I am not an expert on pottery, I am on a tight budget and incredibly picky about what I buy. I was not going to walk away without one of Charles’ creations. Then I got into a conversation with the man, and he told me all about his cat Gravelly Gertrude, or Gert, who walked right into his life one day while he was serving in the Army, and kept him company until she died. He seems like this rough around the edges veteran sweetheart, and I really became taken with him.
His wife, Erna, is darling. She was born in Amsterdam in the late 30s, remembers the Liberation in WWII, lived in Germany until ’64, got her degree in Theology and masters in German at Creighton University, works at festivals…this woman is just a dream. She is so tender-hearted, and there is something about her spirit…I can recall this tugging of my own spirit to hers, but I am unsure of how to explain it at this moment in time. I could have talked to her for ages about how Charles met her at an Italian festival she was bartending at, how he took her dancing, how he proposed to her during a dance, how she has adapted to living in the United States and created this life here… She’s a picture of hardship, and joy, and creativity, and intelligence, and I am stuck on this image of her performing this glorious contemporary dance filled with all of these emotions and beats and technical and beautiful movements. She is stunning.
The Kansas City’s Scottish Festival was a treat to attend. I highly recommend people taking time out of their weekend to go. The people are friendly, the games are fascinating, the bands are good and entertaining, the historical shows are educational and intelligent. It is a great way to learn about a culture and country. My only complaint was the lack of Clydedales. And sheep. And a Highland Cow would have been nice, though technically I did see one in a burger form.
If I am in the States when it is going on in 2014, I will definitely be returning. Please check it out!