Steve, The Weez and I are just back from a trip to Scotland, with a short stay-over in Belfast, Northern Ireland, on the way. Seeking to avoid airlines and airports at all costs, we took a train from Dublin to Belfast, picked up a rental car, took a car ferry to Scotland and toured a great swath of that incredibly beautiful country.

Scotland. This land now has a special place in my heart. We drove off the car ferry into the little village of Cairnryan and proceeded first up to Glasgow. One of the first things I noticed was that, each time we drove out of a little town, there was a sign that said “Haste Ye Back.” It was charming and friendly and oh so Scottish. Glasgow was nicer than we had been led to expect. We toured a beautiful old cathedral with stunning stained glass, and almost as an afterthought, visited The Burrell Collection. The Burrell turned out to be the highlight of Glasgow. It’s in a recently updated Scandinavian-style building amid lots of green parkland, and houses an incredible collection of artwork and artifacts from ancient China, to the Islamic world to medieval Europe to French Impressionism, including several paintings by Degas. Amazingly, it’s free to visit.

From there, we spent five days touring around Scotland and saw cities, villages, castles, mountains, bridges, ships, lochs, rolling landscapes, cattle, sheep, goats and every shade and hue of green you can imagine. We drove over to the Isle of Skye, heard a bagpipe player out in front of Blair Castle and toured Her Majesty’s Yacht Britannia in Edinburgh. (I had an egg salad sandwich, lemon cake and a white wine spritzer in the Britannia’s tea room and it was a little slice of heaven. I think it was more like purgatory, or at least limbo, for Steve and The Weez.) We saw rainbows and ruins and rocks. We did not eat haggis.

Belfast. For me, the highlight of our quick visit to Belfast was the Titanic Museum. The ship was built there by Harland & Wolff and the museum is fascinating. We also took a Hop On/Hop Off bus tour of the city, and learned a little more about The Troubles. Sadly, some parts of the city are still highly segregated, with Nationalist/Catholic and Unionist/Protestant neighborhoods separated by “peace walls.” We saw the Europa Hotel, the most-bombed hotel in the world. On a lighter note, our bus driver noted that, while NYC has the Statue of Liberty and Paris has the Eiffel Tower, Belfast has Samson and Goliath, the two huge yellow gantry cranes in the Harland & Wolff shipyard. These are the tall, bridge-like structures that straddle the dry dock where ships are built and repaired. They move back and forth on rails, and lift heavy equipment and parts into and out of the ship below. They are a fitting landmark for such a maritime city, though not too pretty. The driver also told us how to tell your whiskies apart. In Ireland, it’s whiskey and in Scotland, it’s whisky. It’s all firewater to me, but my Dad has always enjoyed his Scotch and soda with a twist.

I cannot wait to Haste Me Back to Scotland.