Monday, August 15, 2016

isle of islay

I tell them I brought them the good weather. The island people have been living under sheets of rain for months. They say their summer ended in June. But miraculously, Sunday, the day I arrive in the Isle of Islay, the rains retreat.

Sure, it's just a fluke, but I am grateful for these small favors that Islay is so good at delivering when I am here.

And it isn't easy for me to get here. Take Sunday's travels: I wave a very fond farewell to Sylvia and her daughter -- hosts of my stay in the Borders -- and catch the bus to Edinburgh.

 (At the bus stop in Walkerburn...)


It's not a short ride -- maybe 90 minutes.

During it, I watch people get on, most buying return tickets (Brit speak for roundtrip) to Edinburgh. Are they going there to shop? To see a friend? To work? The bus runs every hour on Sundays and it is full by the time we pull into Scotland's capital (in size, Edinburgh is equal to Glasgow, but for tourism, it outshines Glasgow by a ratio so high that you have to wonder how the people living in the "second city" feel about their more prosperous and refined cousin to the east).

As I get off, I think -- I could rush to catch the next train to Glasgow. Leaving in ten minutes! But why? isn't it better to spend a few idle minutes here and to catch a later train out?

I walk to the large John Lewis store which is sort of a nice-ish place that anchors a big (if up to now indifferent) shopping mall. Signs of change: all the shops around it have closed. They're tearing them  down and putting in a completely new shopping experience, to be completed in 2020.  I read that this is one of the largest redevelopment projects in the UK right now.

It's a sign that Edinburgh is upping its game. It's popular. People come. People spend money. In the US, Macy's is closing 100 stores. But in Europe and in the UK, people still go out to stores.

Is this a good thing? Maybe. I'm reminded of Les Halles in Paris: theirs is also a multi year project where a much much bigger mall in central Paris is being completely torn down and rebuilt to meet the demands of modern (expensive) tastes. The new structure is gorgeous. The old one, like the Edinburgh one, was horrific. So, progress, right?

I am in John Lewis, looking at dresses for Snowdrop's first day of school. I mull over these...


... I make my purchases, I walk over to a window. Outside, the sky is gray, the buildings match the sky.


The new shopping center's images are glitzy and gold. You can see them here. Edinburgh is capitalizing on its ever growing popularity. For me, the city center is so packed with tourists these days that sometimes it feels like New York at rush hour. Someone has done the math: Edinburgh is surging forward.

(The sound of bagpipes -- ubiquitous in this tourist-filled city.)


I catch the little train that shuttles back and forth between Edinburgh and Glasgow, then catch the bus from Glasgow to the airport and finally board the little plane that does the daily run to the Isle of Islay.

It's a cloudy day, but on the approach to the island, we dip below the cloud cover and, as always, come swooping down along the shoreline, so that if you sit on the right side of the wee plane, you see the island's claim to fame: the whisky distilleries. Lagavulin, Laphroaig -- look, you can spot them, hugging the rugged coastline.






This is when I take in my island breath. It's where I deliberately let go. I haven't any plans for my stay here. I'll walk some, I suppose. I may visit a distillery, though I've seen all the main players. Maybe I'll not move from my room -- I'm at the Bowmore House, in the same room I've occupied for several years now. I'll come down to breakfast, chat with my most wonderful hosts -- is there a better way to spend a pensive (dare I say meditative) week?

I drive (yes, you do have to drive here) into Bowmore. Oh, so familiar!


To the guest house, where the view from my room is as grand as ever and, because of the changing sky, completely novel each time.


(Oh! Two Bowmore young women just in from a swim! It's barely 60F! Hardy Islay stock indeed!)


I eat dinner just down the road, at Katie's Bar. It's a place where locals gather for haggis and seafood, or just to have a beer at the bar.


I opt for the seafood. All Islay catches!


On the way back, I pull over to take a good look at the familiar landscape. I'd always visited here in June. How different will it be now, in August?


That's tomorrow's puzzle. For now, I return to the quiet of my corner room at the Bowmore House.

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