Saturday, August 22, 2015

Dunnottar Castle (Another Castle Adventure)

Dunnottar Castle, sits on top of a hill at Stonehaven, Scotland, UK.
It was Sunday and the weather was looking good.  There were only clouds and rain in the previous days but the sun was generous that day, giving away all its rays, perfect for an adventure.  As suggested by Dr. Allison, our teacher and examiner, I should go to Dunnottar Castle in Stonehaven, located south of Aberdeen.  I just simply told her in our earlier conversation that before I came to Scotland, I was bragging back home that I would visit castles.  I don’t have an inkling how to get to that location but I was very determined.  Luckily, there is a tourist information center in the heart of Union Street (Aberdeen’s main street) and there I got all the information I needed.

Rocky road towards the beach.
The bus station was located in Union Square and the ticket price was around 8 British Pounds (585 Philippine pesos).  It was a double-decker bus, awesome!  The country side scenery was marvelous, the sea and meadows all together forming a perfect harmony.  Tranquility at its best.  After 35 minutes, we arrived at the bus stop and it would take another 15 minute walk towards Dunnottar Castle. Fortunately, with my superb English speaking skills (wink), I was able to ask for directions and mingled with the other tourists towards the castle.  There was a group of youngsters (like myself) who were in the bus with me, so I tagged along with them.

One thing about traveling is that you meet a lot of different nationalities with different English accent.  I retained my Filipino English accent, so that they will know that I come from the Philippines.  The Croatians, Romanians, Lithuanians and other non-English speaking individuals maintain their accent while speaking English.  It makes them who they are.  That being said, we should never laugh or make fun of other Kababayans (Filipinos) who speak English in Filipino accent.  Our identity is more important.  Just what my cousin (who is a former seaman, now a law student) said, what is vital is that you get the message across.

Going back to my journey, there were vast grasslands on each side of the road.  After walking for about 7 minutes, we had to make a right turn to walk to the direction of the beach.  This time it was rocky, I was glad I wore rubber shoes.  I saw many different kinds of people there (white, brown and yellow), the atmosphere was not so cold and it was a good day to be exposed to sunlight.  The temperature was 14 degrees Celsius.  Before reaching the castle, we had to go down the hill and climb up again another hill.  There was an entrance fee, 6 British Pounds (439 Philippine Pesos) for adults.  The trek was quite an exercise, I was catching my breath upon reaching the top, inhaling the cool sea breeze.

Dunnottar Castle sits on top on a hill by the beach.  It is a ruined fortress which for sometime in the past, housed and protected the Scottish crown jewels from its enemies.  Eventually, they had to transfer the crown jewels to a safer location.  They brought down the jewels on the far side of the castle by the cliff and was hidden inside a basket full of weeds.  The enemy never took possession of the jewels.

Whig's Vault

Worth mentioning is the Whig’s vault.  This huge prison, back in 1685, contained 167 men and women who were tortured and starved because they did not recognize the king as the head of the church.  This happened during the Reformation, when the Church of England separated itself from the Catholic Church.

My friend, Johnny who lives in Torphins, west of Aberdeen, described Dunnottar Castle ruins as the holiday home of Dracula, hehehe.  I think every old castle has its share of horror stories and this castle is not an exemption.  Some visitors claimed to have seen a woman wearing a green dress roaming around looking for her lost children.  I’m just glad I reached the castle around 1 pm, at least there were still a lot of people there and there was still sun.  Who knows how many souls are staying there.  God, give them rest. The latest movie done there was Frakenstein, starring Daniel Radcliffe (Harry Potter).
Click me to read more ghost stories!

One should be careful not to go on the edge of the hill because it’s a very long way down with sturdy rocks at the bottom.

After seeing all rooms and all the corners, I then went down to the beach to take some more pictures, it was lovely.  Then I climbed again another hill to take a good view of the castle ruins.  Such magnificent view.  I thanked God for creating such wonders.  A Chinese family asked me to take their picture, and in return, they took my picture, perfect!

After I had my fill of the scenery, I decided to head back to Aberdeen.  I tried to go to the town in Stonehaven but I was all alone this time, no one to guide me.  So, I just decided to go back to the bus stop and wait.  I waited for one hour in the bus station, I was getting a little scared that the bus will not come.  I am practically in the middle of nowhere in a foreign land (waaahhhh).  My friend, Johnny, said I’ve got some balls for going their alone, hahaha.  The bus finally came and on schedule.  I was relieved.

Thank you, Chinese family.  :) 

When I reached Aberdeen, I was really hungry because of all the walking I’ve done, I immediately searched for a restaurant that serves rice.  On the far end of the street, my eye caught the sign – KFC, yum!

Waiting for the bus in the middle of nowhere.  Alone and hungry.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

My Long Trip Home (Namibia-Germany-Bahrain-Manila-Cebu)

19 hours and 30 minutes lay over time in 5 airports and 32 hours and 20 minutes flying time in 5 airplanes. Whoah!

The feeling you experience on the morning of the crew change day surmounts the feeling you have when you get your paycheck. I have spent 28 days in the rig and the thought of going home is exhilarating. I left the rig at around 10 am and reached Walvis Bay port, Namibia 15 minutes after. The agent then brought me to the Immigration office and then to the airport for my local flight to Windhoek. The flight was only 40 minutes long in a small airplane which I really don’t mind taking.

Walvis Bay, Namibia

Once in Windhoek airport, I immediately went to my boarding gate.  The lay over is 7 hours and 30 minutes, quite a long one. Much to my surprise, I discovered that the airport lounge - Oshoto Lounge, is not that expensive, the fee was only 800 pesos/30 USD. There was food, wifi connection and no time limit plus unlimited alcohol drinks! So, I stayed there, had some time to write my medical blog and had a chat with my loved ones. I was able to taste the local popular draft beer!  RH (red horse) is better.

After the satisfying long lay over, I boarded my 10-hour flight via Air Namibia. The aircraft is quite new and I was lucky enough to have all the three seats for myself. There were nice movies on the monitor but the movie selection of Emirates airlines is still the best. The food served was delicious. The sleep-wake-sleep cycle then began and lasted for 10 hours. Back and neck pain surfaced after a couple of hours but it didn’t bother me because I am going home.

At long last, we landed in Frankfurt, Germany where the temperature was 2 deg Celsius. Thank God, the aircraft parked near the terminal so we went straight inside. The last time I was in Frankfurt, we had to take a bus from the plane to the terminal, so I was exposed to the cold temperature, creating smoke when I breathe. Just like a child, I would keep on blowing air to see the water vapor from my mouth, a rare site if you’re from the tropical areas like the Philippines.

Frankfurt, Germany
Frankfurt airport is very huge and classy but for me Dubai International Airport is still the best. Surprisingly, there were many discounted perfumes there, the cheapest prices I have ever seen. Unlike in Namibia airport, I was able to see familiar restaurants like Starbucks and Burger King. The duty-free was also nice and as usual, many kinds of chocolates with discounted prices. I was laughing at the price of the 500 ml mineral water – 1 Euro which is equivalent to 48 pesos. Designer clothes, shoes and other stuff are also present and good to look at during window shopping.

My lay over in Germany was only 5 hours, so I was not able to sleep. The last time I was there I stayed for 14 hours! There are hotels outside but I need a visa to get out, so, I just stayed inside. The lounge is very expensive and with time limit. I just spent my time reading and roaming around. The situation got worse when I found out that the internet was not working! Urghhh! Gladly, I was able to find a shower room and paid 6 USD (255 pesos) to refresh myself.

Next stop is Bahrain, the flight was only 5 hours, not so bad. Plus, I also had the 3 seats for myself, yehey! This time the airline was Gulf Air. Airplane food was good, same style with Emirates, South African Airways and Air Namibia. Movie choices were as limited as Air Namibia, but hey I can’t complain. The leg space is quite roomy than Air Namibia, so that is an added comfort. I was kinda stressed because the lay over in Bahrain is only one hour and 30 minutes. When I arrived in the airport, I immediately ran to my boarding gate. Luckily, all my flights were on time.


While waiting for my Manila flight (2nd to the last stop), I was able to check out the Bahrain Duty Free section. There was a very nice car on display and I was taking pictures (which I usually do). After a couple of minutes, I was approached by a sales attendant and was told not to take pictures, I just said okay. This is the first airport I’ve been to where picture-taking is prohibited. (Shoulder shrug with lower lip pout).

The flight to Manila was full packed with ‘Kabayans’! It was so refreshing to hear the familiar Tagalog language. I also heard my native Bisaya/Cebuano language, made me feel closer to home even though I still have 8 ½ hours to go. 

I felt almost every hour of the entire flight because I had a slightly stressful situation. My seatmate was suffering from severe back pain to the point that we were almost going to have an emergency landing. Apparently, she had the symptoms for a month with no consultation done and no medications taken. I had to tell the cabin crew that I am a doctor and I asked them what pain medicines they have on board. The patient was practically moaning loudly because of the pain. To cut the story short, we did not have an emergency landing, the pain eventually subsided but recurred after several minutes, she was able to tolerate it but every now and then she would moan. I was frustrated because there is very little we can do in the air.

At last we landed in Manila and everyone’s face lit up, especially those who have been working overseas for more than three years. As for me, I still had one more flight to take, huhuhuhu. I can do this! From terminal 1, I then took the transfer bus to terminal 2. I’m thankful with our Manila logistics for providing me with my Cebu ticket. I changed my flight to an earlier schedule and was happy to find out that there is no rebooking fee. Manila lay over was only 4 hours, not bad, I had my lunch at Jolibee! Manila to Cebu flight was approximately one hour and the excitement was pounding in my chest.

I arrived in Cebu on a sunny and hot afternoon. I was practically sweating inside my sweat shirt. Now, I know im almost home. All the waiting, neck and back pains are all worth it. Can’t wait to hug my kids and my wife, can’t wait to see them smile not only because of the chocolates that I brought but because I am home. As Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz would say “There is no place like home”.

Ayala, Cebu, Philippines

Exploring Aberdeen’s Granite Architecture

A short introduction.  Aberdeen is located in the east coast of Scotland.  It was previously a small fishing village but the discovery of oil led to its development.  I was lucky enough to have stayed in the area for a week because of an offshore medic course I had to take.  The average temperature was 10-12 degrees Celsius which was too cold for a Filipino like me. However, the place was very nice, trees seen along the street with well-maintained lawns of the surrounding buildings.  There were so many birds in Dyce (the town where I stayed), most of them are seagulls and twice I saw a rabbit in the street.  Awesome sight!  I walk daily to the training center, around 20-25 minutes, most of the time it was cold, so I have to keep my hands inside my coat pocket.   I can’t complain, I’m enjoying the sights and the fresh air.  The training wasn’t that easy because I am usually familiar with American medical guidelines, now, I am learning the UK guidelines.  During my free time, I explored the city center.

Aberdeen is also called the Granite City.  All buildings in its city center are made up of granite which they dug up in the middle of the city itself.  When the sun shines on these buildings, the granite reflects the light, making the building sort of ‘sparkle’.   That is why it is also called the ‘Silver City’.  The atmosphere looks depressing because of the gray color plus the gray clouds and the gray street, it should’ve been also called the Gray City.  However, the overall appearance looks very classy and sophisticated, the prices of the commodities are also very sophisticated

On my last day in Aberdeen, I made it a point to capture the beauty of the granite buildings and the castle-ish granite architectures.  I am always fascinated with castles, so here is my chance!  The city center is 30 minutes bus ride away from where I stayed.  The fare is 3.50 UK pounds round trip (around P245, hehehe expensive). 

St. Mary's Cathedral

I started my day with a mass at St. Mary’s Cathedral.  There were so many vacant seats, then I remembered, UK is mainly Anglican.  The mass was very solemn and everything is the same, from the prayers to the people’s responses.  Exactly the same, no alterations whatsoever.  What I was missing is the choir though.  As you can see, the church is made up of granite.  The locals said that granite is a very sturdy material, it can stand on extreme weather conditions.  It stays cool during the summer and stay warm during the winter. 

After the mass, I explored Union Street, this is the city’s main street.  I took lots and lots of pictures.

I saw another castle-ish type buiding, at first, I thought it was a church.  On close examination, it was really a pub/bar/restaurant.  Cool!

Church-style pub.
Marischal College is a magnificent piece.  It was used as a university but now it is where the government offices are located.  It is very lofty and the design is very intricate.

Marischal College

Look at the streets, how they are made is amazing. 

I was very happy because I found a department store/grocery which sells items for only 1 pound each.  I immediately ran to the chocolate section and bought me some Toblerone and Cadbury.  I was all smiles because I know if I buy them in duty free it would be very expensive. 

A fact worth mentioning, I have only eaten rice twice during my stay in Aberdeen.  I was able to find a KFC store though and ordered me some rice (purely Filipino at heart).

Seagulls conquer the city, you can see a lot of bird poop on the streets.  They just fly around and walk on the streets like there are no people around.  I had to get under the shade of a bus station because I’m afraid to have my hair wet with bird stool. 

Anglican Church

People were very friendly and the tourist information center was very helpful.  I was able to get a bus to Stonehaven (30 min south of Aberdeen) and saw the famous ruined castle of Dunottar.  It was really an adventure because I was all alone and that would be in another blog. 

I haven’t explored all.  My Scottish friend Johnny said I also need to see the music hall, His Majesty’s theater, museum and the central library.  Well, if I get lucky again, I will surely explore the arts side of Aberdeen. 

As what my Scottish instructor would always say, "See you again tomorrow, chaps."