Here are some thoughts (in no particular order) about our second day in Scotland:
- Do you know about serendipity? I learned the meaning of the word many years ago. Someone described it as follows. You're in a library looking for a particular book. You locate the shelf where the book should be, but it's not there. Instead of leaving, you browse. You pull a book with an interesting title off the shelf and open it. Before long, you're engrossed. The book changes your life. Katherine and I had a serendipitous moment this afternoon. We had just eaten dinner and were walking hand in hand along an Edinburgh street, heading in the general direction of our hotel (a Residence Inn Marriott). Out of the alley to our right come eight or 10 people in a line. Wondering what was going on, we looked into the alley. There was an open metal gate, at the top of which were the words "Grey Friars." Katherine suggested entering, which we did. To our amazement, it was a churchyard, which I later learned is known as the "Greyfriars Kirkyard." We wandered about for an hour or so in the fading light, reading the inscriptions and taking pictures. Another surprise was our first view of the Edinburgh Castle on a distant hill. What a magnificent sight! To think that we discovered this incredible place by accident is mind-boggling. It's not that we did no research on Edinburgh before arriving here, because we did; but our time here is limited (just part of today and tomorrow), and we have plans to visit the University of Edinburgh and the Edinburgh Castle. I'm glad we found time to visit Grey Friars.
- Speaking of universities, we spent time today on the campus of the University of Glasgow, where Adam Smith taught. What a delightful place. We walked through a beautiful, lush park on the way to campus. Along the way, we found a large fountain that honors Queen Victoria for her work in improving the water supply of Glasgow. The park was filled with flowers and large, moss-covered trees. When we reached the campus proper, we asked directions to the bookstore. As we walked along the street in that direction, Katherine spotted a sign saying "Philosophy." I had no intention of visiting the Department of Philosophy at the University of Glasgow, but how could I omit doing so when I was so close? We walked half a block or so and found the building. The door was open, so we went in. I looked at the list (and photographs) of the faculty members (none of whom I recognized, incidentally) and walked down the hallway toward an open door. I peeked in and saw a man sitting on a sofa with his back to me. In front of him was a large glass-enclosed bookcase with what appeared to be very old books. Needless to say, I wanted to examine those books! Just then the man turned to me. He asked, "Are you here for the conference? The next talk is at one o'clock." I told him no, that I was merely a philosopher visiting from the States. He showed me the agenda for the conference. Guess what? It was on philosophy of religion, a subject I teach and to the literature of which I have contributed several times during my career. We could hear someone speaking inside the conference room, and I'm sure I would have enjoyed entering, but we had a schedule to maintain, so we thanked the man for his time and left. Katherine took a picture of me outside the main entrance with the word "Philosophy" next to me.
- Our dinner this evening was at Namaste Kathmandu, which describes itself as serving "Unique Royal Nepalese & Indian Cuisine." We had heard or read before our arrival that Scotland has excellent Indian food. I have no idea why this would be, but both of us like Indian food and decided to give it a try. We were not disappointed. The atmosphere was pleasant (though one table was occasionally boisterous); the service was good (and the servers friendly); and the food was delicious. Both of us had good appetites after many miles of walking during the day, in two historic and beautiful Scottish cities.
- I've ridden on Amtrak a couple of times in my life, but that's about the extent of my experience with trains. Today we made our way from Glasgow to Edinburgh on ScotRail (known as "Scotland's Railway"). It was fun! The views of the Scottish countryside were superb. The Edinburgh train station was teeming with life, and overhead was a jaw-dropping view of the Balmoral Hotel through the glass ceiling. I must confess that I thought this was the Edinburgh Castle. Let's just say that if the Castle is grander than this, it must be grand indeed.
- My general impression of Scotland so far is that it's old. I know that sounds strange, but there's a different sense of time here than in the United States. Americans love new, shiny things. A building is considered old, obsolete, and even decrepit after 50 years. Many of the buildings we've seen in Glasgow and Edinburgh are several hundred years old. The buildings are thick and solid, often with original engravings and sculptures on them. You can see that each stone of which the building is composed had to be quarried, cut, and honed to fit perfectly with the others. These buildings were made to withstand the ravages of wind, rain, snow, hail, dirt, heat, and cold—not to mention bird droppings. Admittedly, the stone buildings look stained and dirty all or much of the time (especially when wet), but that adds to the sense of age. In America, we flee our past. Scotland embraces its past.
See you tomorrow!