Tuesday, 23 March 2010

Granite City

Aberdeen Harbour

We went to Aberdeen for five days in March.
Aberdeen has a fascinating history - see here.
As it was my first visit to Scotland, I was thrilled. Here is a short travelogue.

The trip up consisted of taking three trains. A regular train to Ashford station. A high speed train from Ashford to London St. Pancras (no not pancreas, Pancras). Then a saunter across the street from St. Pancras to King’s Cross to catch the train up to Aberdeen. Before you ask, platform 9-and-3/4 had been temporarily relocated during a remodelling project. I was not able to test my theory that hurling myself at the brick archway would indeed allow me to enter a fantasy world: a world of unconsciousness and brain contusion. Next time.

The high speed train is the same style of train that crosses under the channel into France. In England they travel at a whopping 120 miles per hour. Or at least that’s what my partner claims. I believe that’s accurate because we were almost keeping up with the cars on the dual carriageway (see previous blog entries for commentary on the British propensity to drive like bats out of hell). If we had been travelling in France, however, I understand we would have enjoyed the ripping sound that’s produced by the train going 185 miles per hour. I’m looking forward to hearing that sound one day soon.

A train ride of just a few minutes and you’re outside of the Big Smoke. The countryside is lovely. Flatter than I expected. The hills and mountains are, for the most part in the west. We were on the eastern line. One thing that surprised me was how the landscape seemed to change just as we crossed the border north of Berwick. There were rolling hills, stone walls, and evergreens. It was noticeably different in those ways, but also in some subtle and unnameable way that filled me with joy. A low cheer went up in the train car as we rolled into Scotland and our fellow passengers seemed to develop a sudden interest in looking out the windows. And we soon got our first glimpse of the sea. Sorry England, but the land is greener and more interesting in Scotland and the sea is bluer as well. The only disappointment was that the sign saying ‘Welcome to Scotland’ was no longer there.

Aberdeen is a very walkable city. It perches on hillsides surrounding its small but formidable harbour; nothing is very far away. There are miles of golden beaches. The city is made of granite, which is at once imposing and reassuring. I developed a theory as we walked the streets that in ten thousand years or so, when humans are long gone and alien cultures have finally reached Earth, Aberdeen will remain as the glittering and solid testament to the existence of the human race. The buildings will still be standing. The alien visitors will naturally think Aberdeen was the center of human culture. My theory seemed to draw guffaws when I mentioned it; apparently that would be akin to saying that Spokane, Washington was the center of human culture. Ah, this is the self-effacing charm of the Aberdonian at work.

Aberdeen Harbour

Shoreline north of harbour entrance

It was very nice to see the old haunts of my partner, as she is an Aberdonian by birth and lived there until she was thirty. The weather cooperated. It was either sunny or rained only when we were safely indoors. The season of extended daylight approaches. Aberdeen sits at very nearly the same lattitude as Sitka, Alaska. In the summer, it only gets as dark as twilight. But in the winter, twilight is about all the light you get. There are trade-offs to having so much summer light, I suppose.

Fonthill Terrace, my partner's street: she climbed one of those trees as a child

Aberdeen seems fairly bustling, though I suppose it had been even more so when fishing was good and when the oil boom of the 1970’s was in full swing. My partner says that when the North Sea drilling took off, Aberdeen was transformed from 1954 to 1974 overnight. Aberdeen, with its sleepy, post-war fishing town sensibility, suddenly found itself host to gregarious Americans and supermarkets and bars. Disco and the Village People were not far behind. This transformed the culture in ways that are still apparent. There are more hip retail shops than you can shake a stick at, and loads of different ethnic restaurants as well as a very diverse population.

Fonthill Maternity Home: birthplace of a girl named A. Lennox

One A. Lennox: sweet dreams are made of this

Arty tanks at the harbour

One of Aberdeen's local cop shops: do you see what I see?

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