Travel day(s) to far off destinations are always tough, even if everything goes well. And everything did go well this time. The flight from Green Bay to Chicago is only 1/2 an hour and I had plenty of time to sit at a bar at O’hare and watch how poorly the Packers were playing in the first half. I had plenty of leg room on the overnight flight from Chicago O’hare to London Heathrow, which is of the utmost importance.
My seat mates in the bulkhead row were interesting; the guy immediately to my right is an engineer for Caterpillar Machines and works in commercial sales. He has lived all over the world and continues to travel all over the world. He was amazing – he was the last person on the plane. They waited for him because the later flight to Heathrow (the one he was ticketed for) was being delayed and he was able to move up to this flight. He has a gajillion miles on American Airlines. Anyways, what was amazing is that he was able to sit right down and within 2 minutes be fast asleep. He slept until dinner was served. Woke up. Ate. Watched part of a movie, then closed his eyes and went right back to sleep. I was envious, because I have never been able to sleep on a plane.
The guy to his right is a professor at Kentucky Wesleyan University. He field of study is linguistics. He specializes in Hellenistic Greek, but is on his way to India for a month to study Sanskrit. We were having some great conversations about Kentucky and traveling until Mr. Caterpillar sat between us. Later in the flight, the professor’s cold medicine must’ve worn off because he sniffed and snorted all night, sounding nearly like Felix Unger.
The connection at Heathrow wasn’t very smooth. The commute from one terminal to another makes O’hare seem like a stroll in the park. By the time I arrived at my gate, the plane was already half boarded. I made it though and it was only an hour flight to Edinburgh, Scotland. The only real adventure of the day was driving the rental car from the airport to my guesthouse in downtown Edinburgh. The driver sits on the right side of the car, with the stick-shift on the left hand side. One must drive on the left side of the road here. It took a bit getting used to, but I made it to the guesthouse with no incident. It’s a beautiful Georgian home on one within walking distance to the historic town center.
After settling into my room and resting a bit, I decided to walk the mile or so to the town center and the main shopping street called High St., or the Royal Mile. Along the way it started to mist, then sprinkle, and finally to a steady rain. An appropriate welcome to Scotland, I thought. Unfortunately, I wasn’t smart enough to bring the little umbrella along that I had packed. So I stepped into a little street-side store and bought one for $2. My very next stop a little further along the way was at a store called The Whisky Trail. They had bottles of scotch from across the country. I started talking with a guy at the counter about some of the scotches that I was interested in sampling while I was here. It was great – they had bottles from all of the distilleries I had made note of from pre-trip research. I made a few notes about suggestions he was making for stops along the way. As we were talking, I mentioned that I was going to stop at Glencoe because I was interested in the battle that included the MacDonald Clan. ” Why’s that”? He asked.
“Because I am a Donaldson,” I replied.
“I am a Donaldson as well,” he responded. ”You know the Donaldsons descend from the MacDonald Clan. What’s your first name?”
“Gary,” I said. What’s yours?”
“Could that be James?” I asked.
“Yes, same as my father and his father.” He replied.
Now, my wife, Amy will know what a shock this must’ve been for me. You see, leading up to this trip, I have been – a bit obsessively – trying to track my ancestry back to Scotland. I’ve been told that on my father’s side the Donaldsons came from Scotland, which makes sense. The problem is, my great grandfather, left his family soon after my grandfather was born and the trail to the past becomes a mystery from there. In my research, I verified that my great grandfather’s name was, James. And it appears (but not verified at this point) so was his father and his grandfather. And, indeed, they were from Scotland. I was hoping to eventually run into some other Donaldsons while here in Scotland and strike up a conversation about the family name and history here. So now, you can imagine my surprise that the first person I speak to, other than my host at the guesthouse, is a Donaldson…and a James at that!
Well, within a few minutes, Jamie Donaldson was asking to leave the shop and take his long, lost relative out for a pint. He guided us through the rainy streets of Edinburgh, away from the touristy Royal Mile and down quaint Victoria street where mostly locals hang out. We sat at a window seat, watching it rain, talking of Donaldsons, sipping whisky and beer that had been drawn from a cask. I had only been in Edinburgh for a few minutes and already I was hanging out on a gloomy rainy day at a local joint with a friend (distant relative?) who shares my sir name. The whisky I tried here was the Aberlour A’Bunadh from Speyside – an excellent scotch!
We walked a short distance to one more local bar that Jamie had previously worked at because he knew that they carried one particular whisky that he wanted me to try – the Glenfarclas 15yr. They had it and it was very good! At this point it was getting to be dinner time and I hadn’t eaten anything since the flight from London early that morning. So, we invited his girlfriend to join us at another pub/restaurant a few blocks away. It was great to meet his girlfriend, Clair, who claimed we both certainly “looked like Donaldsons” and as we talked about Donaldson family traits, it was interesting to note there were many similarities. We had really good burgers and fries and waters all around because by now, after not sleeping for nearly 2 days, I was fading fast.
It was still raining as we walked the streets of Edinburgh back towards both my guesthouse and their flat. About halfway home, we parted ways. What a chance encounter! And what a fun first evening in Scotland. Thanks Jamie Donaldson and Clair!