– from Slovenia across Germany and to Scotland with a car
(is it really doable? Not just doable, but arguably the best way get to Scotland 🙂 )
I realize that having a good blog requires an interesting life. That or a lot of imagination and creativity. As I have been struggling with the creativity and imagination aspects since I hit 40, I would really need to spice up my life to achieve the blog’s glory days. It dawned on me that it was so easy to write good blog posts when we were living abroad, constantly challenged and enticed with new things and changes in our lives. Writing it all down then required only enough time which I had in abundance. Now, our life is much different.
All these revelations came to me during our annual vacations – we went with our car to visit both of the places where we lived in when we moved from Slovenia in 2014 till 2017 (for all those people who do not know us yet, we lived in Bayreuth for 13 months and then 2 glorious years in Scotland).
The trip took us first to our friends in Hunderdorf near Straubing, then to Bayreuth where we lived in 2014/2015, then we stopped for a night in Brussels with on of our friends that live there, which gave us a good waypoint to the Amsterdam port from where the ferry took us to Newcastle and then to Dundee, or specifically to Kingoodie. During this massive trip which resulted in additional 5000 km on our car’s odometer, I began to realize that next to the relative ease with which I am currently writing this post (well it is still massive and the completing it took a loooong time), it is effortless to be a good photographer when you have Scotland as your subject in front of the lens. It is truly an amazing country. However, even with this lovely subject in front of me I must admit that I didn’t feel the same exhilaration when preparing the scene and thinking about the photos that I took. It was more like point-and-shoot type of photography – I was the same as most of the tourists. But the pictures get better and better as you progress through this post – just keep reading, just keep reading… It is just that the photos might have been incredible with little more effort from me – but now they are just good.
My wife and I have been planning this trip for almost a year and I must admit that I was a little worried that something is going to go amiss. Like covid restrictions, or covid infection, or EU fuel shortages, or the war in Ukraine, or Putin, or Boris, or Janez (Who?!). Yep, I am a pessimist and now you know what my wife has to deal with every day. Despite my calculated worries, everything went as it should have – regardless of the exuberant fuel prices across Europe. Once we were underway it seemed surreal – at least to the grown-ups in the car, because the kids admitted that they had no special feelings towards most of the places we were visiting. It turns out that outside of specific people our kids remember little or close to nothing of their time in Germany, and much less than we expected from their time living in Scotland. So it is a good thing that they at least remember the English language. But let us take it step by step – it is a 5000 km trip and here is a stop motion video of the entire trip, taken by my wife from the car :D.
Step-by-Step (uuu baby – New Kids on the Block still rock – fuck yeah) narration
Hunderdorf, our first stop, is a large village or a small town, depending where the margins for categorisation of the urbanized areas are set in Germany, in the south of Bavaria in Germany. It is the home of our German friends that we met during our stay in Bayreuth and with which we stayed in contact for the subsequent years after we left Germany. It is roughly 600 km from our home and it was a perfect stop on our way to Bayreuth. We spent two days with our German friends and I confess those two days were so full of activities that it seemed to me that we were with them for at least a week. Hunderdorf, with towns of Bogen and Straubing in the vicinity, is a great vacation spot with many wonderful activities and entertainment possibilities. One of the most impressive things are the two large adrenaline/amusement parks right at the doorstep of the Bayerische wald – Bavaria forest region.
These abundant options for all sorts of activities were of course coupled with the company of our gracious and potently interesting hosts. There are some people that you can see every day and do not know what to say to them or how to strike up a conversation. On the other side of the spectrum are people like our hosts, that you can see once in a while but feel as if they were with you all the time. The conversations and the laughs were crowned with a very local Fish picnic that was organized by the local community. And I had a blast – the typical German 1 litre beer glasses called Mass, coupled with one of the best fish I have ever had in my life, the Fish picnic was a treat which is accessible only to tourists who know locals that have the information about these events (the picnic area was a secluded fish pond in the middle o a small forested area, located in the middle of grain fields and there were absolutely no signs leading towards it.
Bayreuth, our second stop, is a small town (this I know is a town), located in the north part of Bavaria, very near to the Czech border. Bayreuth was once a cultural centre of the infamous Nazi party due to the appropriation of the composer Wagner’s legacy as part of the Nazi sentiment during the first half of the 20th century. Bayreuth has dealt with this history and is now a cute cultural and university town that offers a great living standard and incredible richness in both culture and other infrastructure. Bayreuth was our home for a better part of 13 months and it was our first experience with living anywhere else than Ljubljana. It was a strongly pleasant experience, perhaps one of the best years of my life which still resonates within me with persistent nostalgia. In Bayreuth we stayed with my wife’s former boss, a University professor, who was kind enough to offer their house for us to stay in for two days. As during our one year stay, Bayreuth again impressed me with the beauty, cleanliness, cultural wealth, but most of all the peaceful nature of this small town. We needed that stay in Bayreuth, to get our bearings, to rest a bit and to remember that we were once courageous enough to leave everything we knew in our lives and to head into the unknown. Bayreuth proved to be a very nice family town with countless parks and playgrounds, all equipped and maintained to perfection – everything a father with two 4 year olds would need and wish for. I also remember that Bayreuth became the place where I reinvented myself, starting with my appearance – I started to shave my head due to the increasing sparsity of hair on my head and I let out a prominent beard which I shaped and experimented with until I settled onto the one I still have today. However, this reshaping or reinvention of myself also paved the way to my inability to quickly readapt to my previous life once we moved back to Slovenia three years later. But lets not get side-tracked again. There are too many things to see in Bayreuth in the two days (well, one full day with some change) that we had allowed ourselves to linger on our way to Scotland. So, we selected those few places that really defined our stay in Bayreuth. The City centre with the main street and the Hofgarten, which was near our apartment and was our to-go place when we had no other ideas what to do with our ourselves. Then it was the Hermitage on the East side of the town, which was the park we often took our visitors too, to impress them with the rich history of this small place that sound awfully like a Mid-eastern city. I didn’t expect to feel anything when visiting Bayreuth, the main goal was always Scotland that is my long-lost love. However, seeing Bayreuth for the first time after we left in 2015, made me very nostalgic. It is an amazing town, a Bavarian gem which was very good to us.
Brussels was our third stop and one that was way overdue – my good friend and former roommate from University times has been living there for 6 years and is due to return to Slovenia in few weeks’ time. While I am a bit envious that they were able o enjoy a life abroad for a longer period, after experiencing the difficulties of returning to a “normal” life, I am not envious of their transition period. Again, negative thoughts aside, we needed to visit them as this was basically the last opportunity to see them in their Brussels element. And I am very glad we did so. While we stayed with them for only one day, it was so intense that it seems to me like we stayed there for at least a couple of days. While Brussels isn’t my coup of tea, it is definitely a place to visit if just to see the EU buildings and to get a feel of the city that is in the centre of our European Union. And visiting good friends while enjoying a new city is so much better.
Finally, we get to the last stretch of out trip and the true beginning of our vacations. From Brussels we headed towards Amsterdam ferry port. As my wife adopted the tendencies to be too early to about every event and meeting from me, we got to the port of Amsterdam three hours too early. However, we already had a plan to spent those three hours as comfortably as possible. We went to a sandy beach nearby and this sandy beach got us in the mood for all the sandy beaches of Scotland.
The relaxing part of our holiday has begun. Just before that I had to go through a sea sickness spell on board of a huge ferry that barely rocked, but still enough to make me queasy. But when we finally landed in Newcastle, we got treated to a full dose of English sea-side loveliness at a beach near the Bamburgh Castle:
We recharged our trip weary batteries almost immediately and then we headed to our destination – Kingoodie. Driving through Scotland has always been an enjoyable task, despite the fact we were all weary of the car. Seeing the land change from the green fields next to the blue expanse of the sea, separated by the white-yellow sandy beaches that stretch end on end to hilly areas that signal the border to the highlands, which I where our beloved city of Dundee lays. This is where all those years ago we left little parts of ourselves and maybe we will be able to find just a small amount of what we have left here. As we parked in Kingoodie, we were immediately embraced by the loving family and our Ruby.
First few days I was restless as I wanted to start visiting the places that we planned and I felt that two weeks in Scotland would not be enough to fill the empty spaces of my heart. However, my concerns were only a panic attack like the ones you get when you can’t eat the shortcake before eating lunch. The main dish was meeting the friends and then I could have my pudding in a form of Scotland beaches and hills. Next to the family that hosted us we also met with our kid’s first year teacher, we met with our friends that come from Italy, but have been living in Dundee since before we came to Scotland the first time, we met with a couple of my wife’s co-workers, I met with a friend of mine from London, who drove all the way from London to see me for a couple of days. Meeting all these people in the scenery of Scotland after such a long time has enabled us to really enjoy their company in the original setting. I really enjoyed spending the time with all the people that were part of our time in Scotland, but in my own style, I enjoyed most the moment when we were outside doing new things and (re)discovering a few of the most beautiful places I have had the opportunity to see in my life. Here are just a few places we visited during our stay in the East of Scotland – the greater Dundee area, which include Kingoodie, Dundee, Broughty Ferry Beach, Tentsmuir Forest, St. Andrews Beach (yep, that is Fife I know, but still the East of Scotland), Lunan Bay (yeah, Angus council people I know Lunan Bay is not part of Dundee :P), Loch Brandy (way up in the Highlands and part of the Cairngorms). Anyone who will visit East of Scotland and not stop in Dundee and instead (perhaps understandably) head for Loch Ness and Isle of Skye, might want to check the pictures below and make a new plan.
We were also treated by our hosts to a 5 day trip to Arran, to the lovely cottage near Brodick on Arran. We have been to Arran several times before, but never have I seen it and experienced it in such a way as this time. The difference was that our kids are bigger and more independent, which gives us as parents more freedom in planning activities. Also, I was introduced to the swimming in the cold North Sea by our host Anita, which is something I have never contemplated before and after almost panicking in the cold cold COLD water will likely not repeat the experience any time soon. But, the fact about Scotland is, if you want to experience it, you have to be ready for all situations and weather conditions and experiences that might seem mad at first glance. Our two week stay started with temperatures about 11 degrees (the cold eleven degrees due to high winds and persistent drizzle) and ended with almost 30 degrees, as we left just before the most extreme heat wave struck Britain. With fear of sounding as a recluse, the most pleasant time for me on Arran was when I was able to go for a long walk, accompanied only by Tess, which is Anita’s dog, while the entire other party went to the Arran’s Holy Island. Walking a hill path in Sannox North Glen all by myself, reaching the peak of the hills on Arran, seeing the Witch’s step covered by the permanent rolling misty cover gave me renewed appreciation of the vastness of the Scottish nature.
Beaches of Arran
Regardless of my inclinations towards solitude, which is mostly coincidence of my selfish desire to experience and feel Scotland as intensely as I can, I am very conscious that the essence of our trip lies forever and always with one family. The family that kept us in our hearths, that went out of their way to keep us feeling like we are still part of Scotland and that has managed to keep the ties with this beloved country alive. Anita, Ruby, Leon and Oran, thank you for making this trip happen and thank you for your patience and time shared with us. You enabled us to finally say goodbye to Scotland in a way that is not painful but instead hopeful. Hopeful of all the future adventures that we still may have together. And maybe this is the closure that I needed in these past 5 years after our adventures as Hertourage ended.
Last walk (Loch Brandy) and dinner