April 23, 2013

A model train, clickety-clack.

“What is worn under your kilt, sir?” asked the lassie.
“Why, nothin’s worn under me kilt, lassie.  Everything is in fine working order.”

Ahhhhhhh the anticipation of stepping on board a grand and majestic train and wondering being on board this charming anachronism-a private luxury train-will be like.

Inside, passengers settle in for the evening, enjoying perfect touches of comfort and luxury, echoing that of a romantic, bygone era.  The new journey commences, the heart flutters momentarily and one is not sure what to expect. 

The Royal Scotsman is a touring train that winds its way through the Highlands at a leisurely pace and stops for side trips off the train.  The trip combines the idiosyncrasies of train travel with the pleasures to be found in the Scottish countryside.

Inaugurated in 1985 as a joint venture The Royal Scotsman is a well-heeled train buff’s dream come true.  Originally the day-cars were beautifully restored antiques.  The dining car was the oldest operating in the world and the varnished teak and mahogany saloon car was built as a family car in 1912.  Decorative details-crystal sconces, silver saltcellars, fabrics of tapestry, polished brass fittings and fold-down sinks, framed antique etchings-conveyed a Belle Epoque sense of privilege.  The carriage leases ran for five years and it was a success – the train won the Queen's Award for Export. After the initial five-year period the decision was taken to purchase outright a different set of carriages, designed to the owner’s specifications. Ten Pullman carriages were bought and transformed by a specialist woodworking company in Bournemouth. This second rake of carriages replaced the first in May 1990.

Choose your journey; they all depart from Edinburgh.  The romantic landscapes that appear beyond the windows are soft and lovely-gold and russet moors alive with deer, silvery lakes, pastures of black faced sheep, small farms, rural villages, and patches of bright purple heather everywhere.

The weather is capricious in Scotland which makes for an ever-changing backdrop.  Thick gray clouds that open up to patches of blue sky give way to brilliant sunshine, which turns to a smooth pearl-grey sheet of clouds, which yields to rain, all in a morning.

Enchanting as the countryside is, it would probably not make the days on board engrossing.  What keeps the journey from becoming tedious, if not claustrophobic, and makes the journey so appealing, is the full schedule of off-train excursions to towns, distilleries, and houses of note made interesting by the guide with lilting brogue and an irrepressible enthusiasm for his native land.  He is the motherload of Scottish history, anecdotes, myths, and colloquialisms.  When glancing through the memory book signed by passengers at the end of the trip, it is the crew that is praised again and again.

Though most of the passengers enjoy after-dinner drinks and conversation on the train, be intrepid and venture out onto the country lanes to raise a wee dram or two of single malt whisky-Glenlivet, Glenfiddich, Glenfarclas, and Laphroaig-with the locals.  Pubs offer a distinct change from the rarefied atmosphere of the train and a chance to talk to the local Scots, if only about their preferences in malt whisky. Invariably some crew members appear, out of their uniforms and in their blue jeans, and in the spirit of democracy we imbibe or shoot pool side by side until the bartender’s hearty, “Drink oop, drink oop, bar’s closing’.”

By the last night of the trip a sense of camaraderie has developed.  And as the candle burns down, and talk turns to future trips, most feel the happy nostalgia of partners in a shared experience that has lasted just long enough.

April 5, 2013

Case Notes.

Someone asked if I was an expat living in Europe.  Alas no, I'm someone who wishes she was an American. I am, horrors, a wannabe.

I have a theory that all of the optimists sailed off to the Colonies hellbent on the pursuit of life, liberty and the perfect pair of elasticated pants whilst my forbears stood torn-faced on the doc muttering, "Abandon the button at your peril".

I dream of riding the trains across this vast continent, with a dog called “Boomer” by my side, slipping Patsy Cline’s interpretation of "Sweet Dreams" into the CD player, rolling up the sleeves of my checked shirt and swillin' mineral water out of a brown paper bag.  Not big or clever, but I'm dreaming, remember?

So if anyone wants to adopt me I'm fully house trained & don't cost much to feed...