Tuesday, June 12, 2012

June 12: Our Last Day

    The day began relatively late today, with the group leaving the hotel in Edinburgh at around 9:30 AM. We set off on a two hour bus ride to Lindisfarne, an English island, to visit an ancient monastery that brought Christianity to Scotland and England. It was a pretty grueling drive, but the pain of it was dulled by the beautiful countryside of Scotland and all of the sheep and rabbit warrens in the sides of hills that followed the path of the asphalt road. bright yellow fields of barley lit up large patches in the hills mixed in with every shade of green that you could imagine. In addition to the ruins of a cathedral, other sources of excitement seemed to draw the attention of the pilgrims away from the ruins. Perhaps the most entertaining of these distractions was a mysterious fire that was burning about five hundred yards away from us at the closest, and this led to an argument over whether the fire was a deliberate part of the exhibition or an actual fire....

    Another interesting part of that day way the absolutely awful lunch service half of the group that included Louise and I received. Not only did they take a good half hour to find us and take our order, they took an additional forty five minutes to bring the food, and still got the order wrong. However, there were some very touching parts of the journey that occurred today. The most important one being a journal entry that we did that helped us to really root out what we got out of this trip. This really made a difference in our perception of the pilgrimage and the fact that it was not just a trip to a great country to have a great time....it was geared towards helping us find ourselves and what makes us really find ourselves.

    The Cathedral was built of beautiful stone blocks that were beautiful shades of orange, pink, and red, and it sat on the top of some cliffs overlooking a beautiful view of the ocean and the tide at its low point. interesting stone structures littered the seabed at the base of the cliffs, giving the shore quite an interesting appearance. Some of the original arches from when the church was first built. Our guide, James, pointed out the differences in the structure of the arches and how the older arches were rounded at the top, while the newer arches that were built after the possession of the church changed, as did some of the other structures.

    This trip was an amazing experience for everyone involved. As a group, when we first left Atlanta, we in a way grouped ourselves based on schools or interests and we were quite divided. However, as the pilgrimage progressed, we came together as a group and disregarded our differences. Spiritually we had found parts of ourselves that we had not ever known about before. Even though the trip may have only lasted ten days, the experiences will most definitely last a lifetime.

Louise and Edward

Monday, June 11, 2012

St. Andrews and Edinburgh

 Today we left the Glen Tar estates, which I must admit has probably been the nicest place we've stayed at, in Aberdeen to head to St. Andrews. That's right people the birth place of golf and where William and Kate first met. We walked around the ruins of the St. Andrews castle and were able to comprehend the monstrosity that was this building. We really got the feel of the building when we all walked the 155 steps to the top of the tower overlooking the entire city. Now we probably all can admit how awful it was to walk up these steps, and these priests must have been really fit. When we all descended the tower to head towards the towns center, lead by James. We broke apart for lunch and shopping. I (Bella) at that moment decided to be a picky eater and did not eat during my opportunity to eat and was punished by having to eat peoples leftovers from lunch; this was because my mentor and fellow pilgrims got lost on our way to the bus in order to leave and had to sprint in order to ensure that we wouldn't be the last ones on the bus. I (Lydia) got some pizza and was able picnic on the historic St. Andrews golf course, where I was bothered by a bird the whole time.

From St. Andrews we road the hour in a half journey to Edinburgh. Once we reached Edinburgh we quickly hopped off the bus to St. Giles Cathedral, which is probably one of the largest and most extravagant places we had ever seen. We were guided, by James, to the Thistle Chapel. This Chapel holds the chairs of Knights of the Thistle. Now this Chapel is the most extravagant place I had ever seen. It was covered in hand carved woodwork, green marble, and family shields. The most lavish chair is held by the head of the monarch (thats right the queen), with the second most laves chair to her right, and the rest of the knights down the sides. We left the Chapel and walked around the main church talking about history, and looking at memorials the people had given to fallen soldiers. This part really touched my heart because of the ridiculous loyalty the Scottish people have for each other. They are so diverse yet so passionate as a group, which I think defiantly reflects and fits our pilgrimage group perfectly.

We left the Cathedral to head towards the Edinburgh Castle. This Castle was build on top of volcanic rock so you can image how pleasant it was to climb this giant hill. However a surprise waited for us at the top, when everyone reached the top there were Scottish soldiers dressed in full uniform (Yes kilts and everything) marching on command. Now you might think well that probably happens all the time, and you would be wrong! Apparently it was a Princes birthday (We don't know which one we just know someone in the royal family) and since they don't work on Sundays we got the treat of seeing them today. Anyway we continued up the hill until we reached the highest point at the castle (which is exciting cause that meant that all other walking was downhill) where got an amazing view of all of Edinburgh. Now most of us made the mistake of wanting to see a special chapel that happened to be the oldest thing on the property. This event led to a waiting game where we waited for thirty minutes for a wedding to finish (and something happened in the middle and the bride came out and didn't look very good) but all in all the wed and we got to go in bodies freezing. Let us tell you it doesn't matter how many layers you have on if you're from the South you don't like the cold.

Anyway after we saw the Chapel, which was worth it, we headed to the Elephant House. What is this you might ask, well it's the birthplace of Harry Potter! J.K. Rowling started writing the very first Harry Potter book on this site (on a napkin I might add); and after almost wrong turns we reached it and all ordered some hot chocolate. We then scurried to the bus in order to reach it on time (which very difficult for Americans). When we were all situated on the bus we headed towards the hotel, where we had to say good-bye to Graeme, who was our wonderful bus driver during our trip. Now being the Episcopalians we are we didn't just say bye, but we all sang a song, and gave him gifts that we had brought. Emily made a card from all of us, which was really well done by the way. We then parted ways and found our rooms. An hour or so later we ate dinner and after promptly came to the boys suite (this place is really big they even have a living room) to do compline, slideshow, and another exercise we had never heard of. This was defiantly the most meaningful part of the day (to the both of us). We all stood in the middle of the room and everyone placed their hand on you (which of course was a stir because people were putting hands on faces) and all were encouraged to say one word (or more) about the person. Then at the end when there was silence we all said, "you are loved". This statement alone is a powerful one, and proclaiming to love someone after only knowing them for eight days is really something interesting. But we can tell you honest that everyone in the room meant what they said. It showed our journey together and how we had all grown to notice that special something about that one person. It made everyone feel close and was really something different. Spiritually it was really a gift from God to know that He enabled all of us to attend this trip and that He allowed us to get to know twenty other FANTASTIC people. Today though is close to the end, it has been a spiritually blessed one.

Lydia and Bella

Sunday, June 10, 2012

June 10

We all awoke this morning to the excitement of playing mini-golf right outside our hotel windows. After breakfast the group said farewell to our last chance to play golf in Scotland, and we began our journey to Aberdeen, the capital of the Scottish Highlands. The first stop we had on our way to Aberdeen was inside the ruins of the Elgin Cathedral. You could view the entire cathedral's grounds from the top of one of the towers still remaining, measuring at over one hundred forty one stairs. Afterward, we all gathered into the Chapter House where we had communion.

During the communion service, Edward read a reading from Genesis regarding the story of Adam and Eve. This passage reveals Eve being tricked by the serpent causing her and Adam to eat the fruit from the tree. Because of this, God "condemns man to a life of toil and women to painful childbirth." After the reading, John presented a sermon before us. John's sermon addressed the fact that life is hard, plain and simple. The fact and the matter is that there is no right or wrong way to experience the gift of life. Its ups and downs are what make the entire experience so much more memorable and enjoyable.

After our spiritual encounter in the Eglin Cathedral, the group made our way to Baxter's, a delicious pancake house! I'm sure everyone reading is quite proud of our healthy dietary choices, eating pancakes in Scotland with chocolate, ice cream, toffee, maple syrup, and raspberry sauce.

All of us then went to St. Andrew's Cathedral in Aberdeen, the location of where America's first bishop, Samuel Seabury, was consecrated in 1784. This Gothic sandstone marvel unveiled the significance of America's history when referring to our rich Episcopalian heritage. It was interesting to hear about the kinship between the Scottish Episcopal Church and the Episcopal Church, USA.

Upon reviewing today's bonding experiences and the powerful sermon from Euchurist, I, and probably the rest of the group, realized how clues from God can be powerful to one's life. Another thing that was explained today is that all of us here on Earth are here to help create everlasting life on Earth as it is in heaven. Today's portrayals have brought us all together and taught us many things spiritually.

-Tyler and Noah

Saturday, June 9, 2012

June 9: Back to the Mainland

Hello all,

It's been a long day. We were awakened in the wee hours of the morning. 5:00 in the a.m. to be exact. We then proceeded to eat a continental breakfast of cereal ad toast. After that we boarded a long ferry, which took us back to the mainland. It was a wee bit bumpy. After we arrived Edward, Patrick, and Stephen busted out the fishing pole that they bought earlier in the trip, however casting the line right next to the ferry proved ineffective. We then took the coach all the way to Loch Ness and Urquehart  to try and see the monster. Needless to say, we saw it... In the gift shop. We also learned that the Scots blew up Urquehart in defense from the Government, so that neither side would have the strong-hold. All we got to see was a pile of rubble that used to be the castle. We did not have time to tour as the ferry left almost right after we arrived. It was interesting to learn how much history there is in Loch Ness other than its famous monster.

Then, we  stopped in Inverness, which was full of kilt-shops and other stores, where we received free chocolate, and our waitress busted her knee cap in the most awkward way possible. The bustling streets were full of all sorts of people. People of every race, and every different talent. We saw a group of highland dancers of all ages dancing in uniform to bag-pipe music. We saw many other street artists as well, like a girl playing the violin and a one man band playing up to four instruments at a time. He was strumming a guitar with his hands, playing a full drum-set with both of his feet, while switching off between singing and playing the harmonica. It was cool for me seeing all different kinds of music, because music plays a large part of my life, and it was inspiring to see a man with so many talents.

We then boarded the bus and went to a battle field called Culloden, where the Scottish skirmished the English in an unsuccessful attempt to keep clan power. It was amazing how much of a focal point the clans played in the history and government of Scotland. We saw the types of weapons that were used in the battle, and we even watched a reinactment movie of the battle. I'm not sure how blown out of proportion it was, but nonetheless it was very eye-opening to see the amount of destruction that humans can cause when fighting over something they believe in.

We then went to the hotel, where the first thing we saw was a putt-putt course. Have you ever tried to play putt-putt with an iron? It proved difficult, but someone still hit a hole in one. We met an entertaining elderly man who was the manager. he quizzed us on Scottish history, and proceeded to tell us that we wouldn't get dinner if we didn't know the answer to when St. Columba went to Iona. Thanks to the internet and our mobile devices we learned that the answer was 563, allowing us to get dinner. He then proceeded to tell us that we were "gonna make it". I feel we connected, and he will probably be the recipient of my next gift.  Then we ate a three course dinner at the hotel, and now we find ourselves blogging to all of you. The whole group seemed to grow closer as we experienced all of this. This seemed to be more of your stereotypical touristic day in Scotland, as we did not visit any churches or religious grounds today. But don't worry, tomorrow is Sunday, and we all know what that means. It's been a blast so far, as Scotland is so beautiful and cool. Well that's it, we're signing off for now.

Stephen Borrelli, and Patrick Hayes

Friday, June 8, 2012

Day 4

So today we got to sleep in. Yay! After a delicious breakfast at the hotel we boarded onto the bus for a full day of traveling. Our first stop was a blackhouse, which is a small house that used to house the inhabitants of Scotland until the last person was forced out in the 1960s. The entire house was handmade, with an open fireplace that burns peat, and everything was recyclable.  After touring the blackhouse, we drove to a broch, which is an ancient fortification that the Scots used to protect themselves from various tribal and Roman invasions.  Today however, the circular structure acted as protection from the strong winds and as a fun photo-stop.  Next on our schedule, we ate lunch in a cafe surrounded by cows and then walked up to the Callanish standing stones.  It was hard to believe that these stones have been around since almost 3000 BC.
    The last site of the day was a 12th century church called St. Moluag's.  We walked through a backyard to the small, stone building.  Everybody became silent as we filed in and looked around-- we were somewhat overpowered by the simplicity and peacefulness of this holy place.  A local woman taught us some history of the church and then Lisa led our journal activity.  Today's journal entry was about a place that was very memorable to us and somewhere we could go where we could think by ourselves without any interruptions. And while I was contemplating this place I realized that it was here in Scotland. The feeling I got when I would stand on top of a tall mountain with a beautiful view of the amazing greenery was extremely calming and relaxing. But what I also saw was it was not just one place it was everywhere because everywhere is so amazing.  After this long day of travels, we earned a dinner buffet and dessert, followed by compline in the nearby St. Peter's Church. This trip has been very eye opening and so memorable. I cannot believe it has already gone by this fast. It has been so much fun and I cannot wait to travel to the lake of the Loch Ness monster tomorrow!! I hope it will be as much fun as our travels today.

-Riley and Audrey

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Day 3

Hello All!

Today was mainly a travel day as we journeyed from Iona to Stornaway on the Isle of Lewis.  Taking four bus rides and three ferries while simultaneously battling traffic and engine problems, the day was exhausting.  Beginning on Iona, we retraced our steps from yesterday back to the town of Oban, involving two ferries and one long bus ride.  From there, we took our coach bus across the Isle of Skye through the Scottish Highlands toward Portree.  Along the way we stopped at Fort William where we exchanged money, saw a memorial for the Scottish elite forces called the Commandos and a statue commemorating the McDonald clan's massacre of seven men who were accused of killing the chief's son, and even had the pleasure of listening to a bagpiper in full Scottish regalia.  At Portree, we visited the site of the Highland's Games where we started our meditation only to be interrupted by a traditional Scottish downpour.  Not to be deterred by the weather, the group found a local ice cream parlor in town where we enjoyed decadent refreshments and desserts.  From Portree, we travelled to the last ferry port, yet the ferry fairies were not happy and our ferry was delayed because of engine problems.  Aboard the ferry, the group enjoyed a fabulous dinner and scenic views followed by intense matches of ERS (Egyptian Rat Slap) and Go-Fish, especially the Go-Fish.  Finally, arriving in Tarbert, we embarked on another hour long bus ride to arrive in Stornaway just after 10:30.

Throughout the day, the group really bonded despite the long and tiring boredom of traveling.  Everyone was engaged in card games during the trip and even when the rain started to come down, no one ever complained.  No matter how corny it sounds, the magic of the Scottish landscape truly in enchanting.  The land, though rugged and bare, still remains beautiful.  On a personal note, it makes me really appreciate what God has accomplished through such a seemingly impossible combination.  The trip so far has been great and no hazards will slow us down.

Joshua Rogers and Michael Maxey

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Day 2

The morning started out interesting when Patrick, Edward and Stephen walked down to breakfast... wearing kilts. Apparently they each bought kilts yesterday and decided today was the day to wear them. Lets just say I was impressed that they wore them the entire day. We left from Oban on a ferry, then boarded a bus to the Isle of Mull. From Mull we took another ferry to Iona. The first thing we did was visit the nunnery on the island. Then we walked to Iona Abbey and toured the abbey and then we walked through a small graveyard next to it. I thought the abbey was really beautiful and I really liked visiting there. It was all very peaceful and serene. We also journaled there after we stopped by the Iona shop.

After lunch, we went on a long walk to Columba bay where we hung out for a while and explored the area. The walk and the bay were both extremely beautiful and the free time we got gave us a good chance to get to know one another better and by the end of the afternoon we were all much closer. In total we walked about six miles, yay! Then we ate dinner and during dinner we met a true Scotsman who gave us a brief history of the kilt and a traditional outfit. After dinner, the girls made our way to the Hostel where we will be spending the night. On our way we ran into the nicest British women and her dog, Louie. She told us she had travelled for the past 2 months to Iona through public transportation and camping. A few girls gave her gifts before we eventually made our way to the Hostel. This experience opened our eyes to different people and what they've experienced on their own pilgrimages. This made us late for the night time service at the Abbey, but it was worth it. Afterwards we went down to the beach and stuck our feet in the water. It was downright freezing and after only a few seconds most of us got out, but you felt the effects of the cold for many minutes afterwards.  Overall, today was an AWESOMELY AMAZING day!!!

-AnnaB and Sara