CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- As my husband and I planned our trip to Scotland, everyone we talked to would say, "I have always wanted to go to Scotland."
We had too. The fact that the Scots will vote next year whether to leave the United Kingdom added a timely quality to our decision to go this year. Later in London, we also sat in on a session of Parliament. The question of whether the Scots will stay in the kingdom added weight to all of the discussions we heard. Each time anything even remotely connected to Scotland was mentioned, politicians seemed to stretch as much as possible to accommodate the Scots.
Many people want to visit Scotland for its castles, its heritage, its tartans. But the main reason I wanted to visit was to see and to touch Fingal's Cave.
While others would say they wanted to visit Scotland, I never encountered anyone who shared my interest in Fingal's Cave. Now, though, I think the Fingal's Cave Chamber of Commerce will be sending me a little something extra in the Royal Mail.
My interest began with pictures in National Geographic. You can check out those same pictures on the Web. Just type in "Fingal's Cave" and click on images. I thought it was one of the most amazing creations I had ever seen. I was not disappointed in person. In fact, it was even better.
Just looking at pictures, I could understand why people might consider it mythological or sacred. I have stood inside Chartres Cathedral in France and seen the sun pierce its cobalt blue colors, heard music from inside Canterbury Cathedral in England, and listened to human voices soar inside St. Paul's Cathedral in London.
It takes no stretch of imagination to think of God raising a cathedral from the sea on the island of Staffa. Basalt columns rise straight up from the water. Now uninhabited, Staffa belongs to the National Trust for Scotland. The top of the island is covered with velvety grasses and wildflowers. If angels inhabit cathedrals, winged creatures of all descriptions live on top of the island. Puffins abound.
Before I continue with descriptions of this wondrous place, I should write about how to get there. We knew we could not just go directly to an uninhabited island. So for months, we planned our approach.
We flew into London and hopped onto a train as soon as our passports were stamped. We investigated different methods of travel from London. We planned a three-week trip with one week dedicated to Scotland, a week in Amsterdam and our last week in London, so flying in and out of London worked for us.
We considered flying from London or breaking up the trip, but for our purposes a train worked best. I have always liked trains, and the train trip to Glasgow provided us with great views of the countryside. As we left London, we soon started traveling through countryside that climbed higher and higher on each side of the tracks.
I understand Edinburgh is a beautiful and elegant city, and we hope to visit there someday. But we needed to be on the western side of Scotland, in the Hebrides, to make it to Fingal's Cave.
We discovered that Glasgow is an amazing venue for music. Just a few blocks down from where we stayed, a marquee announced that Jimmy Cliff would be playing that night. I was too tired after a plane and train trip, but my "teenage" husband was ready. Cliff has always been one of his reggae heroes, and David thought his performance was great.
I did not know the incredible number of musical venues Glasgow offered until shortly before we arrived. The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization designated Glasgow a UNESCO City of Music because it is home to more than 130 concerts a week.
I did know the city is home to the Glasgow School of Art and part of Charles Rennie Mackintosh's world.
Before we left home, we made reservations for the dormitory at the Glasgow School of Art. We have had great experiences staying in college dorms during our summer travels, and this one was absolutely amazing. The house is across the street from the art school and beautiful in its own right.
Having stayed in college dorms, we were used to tiny rooms and minimal amenities. But this was an elegant old house. Our bedroom was huge and had a mantel with white tiles.
By staying in college dorms, we save money, and the colleges are usually located in places that help us save on transportation costs. But this place, called the Old School House, was genuinely elegant.
I have always been a Mackintosh fan, and many years ago, art advocates moved one of his tearooms to Washington, D.C., as part of an exhibit. A woman who owned four tearooms in Scotland commissioned Mackintosh to design the rooms inside and out.
When we walked a few blocks over to dine in the Willow Tea Room in Glasgow, it was like walking into a picture book. The place was exactly like I had seen in those pictures, and the food was great.
From our dorm we were within easy walking distance of several great places to eat. One of my favorites was Bradford's Tea Room; the women who worked there were proud to tell me everything they sold was made by hand in the great Scottish tradition.
We enjoyed our tour of the Glasgow School of Art. A bright young art student showed us what an architectural marvel the building is.
Mackintosh also designed furniture, and the school has the world's largest collection of his furniture. Again, what a satisfying experience to see pieces I knew so well from art-book photographs.
We were lucky to be in Glasgow on a Saturday night. What fun to watch the young folks! Dressing up is the thing. Many of them enjoy dressing alike. We saw one group of thirtysomething women all dressed in versions of "Where's Waldo." I observed and enjoyed, but I cannot explain. We saw another large group dressed in Hawaiian outfits. Some dressed up like movie stars, even wearing elaborate evening gowns. Red shoes are very popular among the young and the restless.