5,000 Years in 10 hours --- Orkneys
There is a thing that sustains a person longer and better than food sometimes. This thing, can be called by various names: unsatiable traveller thirst to see all, stupid Task A personality kicking in, awe at seeing new and wondrous sites...or whatever you want to call it.
From reading a ton of travel lit on the Orkneys, it supposedly holds Europe's oldest archeological sites. Now that I've personally held the skull of a 5,000 year old human being and seen tomb sites and living quarters from the same time period....I'd like to say that Canada, as a country, seems even younger than before. I used to think we might be a tyke in historical years, now it feels more like we're just newborn as a country.
Our first day in 'Keerkwull' (Kirkwall) was filled with brain rattling activity. I am not joking about my brains being rattled. Though it was April, I FELT the winds in this part of Scotland relentlessly pushing and shoving you irregardless of what month we hope it to be. There is a saying that stands true of this region. The winds DO blow sideways. Forget umbrellas if it's raining here--you won't need it. You need more of a body shield like what the SWAP team has. The rain ends up INSIDE YOUR coat sleeves because it never lands straight down. It comes down horizontally--that's how windy this place is. If you see my photos, half the time I was wearing a headband, a toque AND my rain hoodie to keep my brains and intelligence intact.
It was Easter Sunday weekend and I had big dreams of renting a bike and riding around the island. In my mind, I had romantic visions of a lazy, chillaxed ride by the waters admiring its flawless cerulean complexion.
What befell us was a town in Sunday dormancy. We discovered that apart from church and a couple of stores and restaurants, everything else would be closed. Thus, no bike. ;( However, it was amazing all the same. We attended an Easter service at St.Magnus Cathedral, the oldest on the island that dates back to the 1100s. A beautiful, ruddy building with spectacular hand-painted glass windows and hand-carved ornate pillars that line this rather long edifice. Frankly, it was one of the most touching moments of my life when I realized that I was sitting in a church, worshipping, in the Orkney Islands of Scotland. Unreal.
After we left the church in search of island adventure, we decided to walk to Scapa Beach, where the HMS Royal Oak was sunk during the Second World War when German U-boats clandestinely entered the water area and surprise-attacked the boats that were docked. Nothing could have prepared us for the cutting winds that we opposed the entire way. We walked, or staggered really, along the cliffs, overlooking history. The colour of the water was ultramarine and glistening. Though we could barely hear each other through the noise of the wind, Sneha and I managed to outline the beach out almost towards the open waters. Normally, a walk of that distance would have taken 20 minutes. However, with the wind factor we faced, it took us double the time. I felt like I was air climbing, clawing and breaking through this unseen web that kept dragging me back.
That day shattered all hopes of renting a bike. By the time we got back from the beach to our hostel, (it was still a ways to "downtown" Kirkwall) we were both knackered from fighting the invisible forces of nature. We met a fellow Canadian from Calgary who told us about his biking adventures and how it has been so physically taxing to ride a bike in the Orkneys. I decided to lay my dream of biking to rest.
That night we changed our plan of attack. We had a long discussion with our eccentric hostel manager (who had the most creepy, horror-movie laugh you've ever heard...who also told us some disturbing stories about a mentally disturbed lady who stayed in the hostel and who had a machete under her bed....yep....) who kindly told us of spots to go if we were able to rent a car.
Oh bliss! The first and only day during my European travels that were in a rental car! In the Orkneys, it made all the difference between seeing everything and seeing nothing. We TOTALLY lucked out by renting the only automatic car available. I couldn't drive standard/stick-shift to save my life so it was awesome that we scored this puppy. (Not that I drove or anything). Our new found Canadian amigo Xavier came too and the three of us set off for the most whirlwind day of our entire trip in Scotland.
As Sneha gunned our little blue vehicle out of the garage, we set off to see the Orkneys in 10 hours. All that history swallowed, whole and unmasticated, in 1 day.
First stop, we headed south on the island to the Italian Chapel. For those of you who have read the Da Vinci Code ( I still haven't yet), this is the Italian chapel mentioned in the book. It was a lovely little building constructed for the Italian Prisoners of War during WWII. The Italian artist who designed this PAINTED bricks on the wall, to create a fabulous illusion of what the building is NOT made of. My favourite bit was the wood carvings made in Italy depicting various moments in the life of Jesus.
Next, we headed to the most southern tip of the island to the Tomb of The Eagles where there, we had the most down-to-earth untouristy type of tour possible. The farmer who owns this land and who found the site, has converted the area so that it was like having a tour that started in someone's home. He keeps the numbers down so that bus loads of tourists cannot come all at once. We had a tour from some relative of the family inside the building--I got to see roughly made tools, knife-like instruments that they found on the site, hold a 5,000 year old skull, and check out interesting jewelry and pottery that were all dug up from the site.
To be cont'd...