Discovering Family History in Scotland

Hello once again from Scotland! Today we enjoyed one final day in Glamorous Glasgow before forging onward to Edinburgh, the highlands and other points north. Our ten day visit to Scotland is going to end up being the longest we’ve spent in one country since our time in Japan way back in August. It’s shaping up to be an awesome country visit…provided that it doesn’t continue to rain every single day that we’re here. I’m starting to think Scotland might be a lousy country if you’re an avid biker or dedicated long distance runner. On the plus side, we’ve already accomplished the impossible and found a pub that serves food past 7:30 PM. The highlight of the day, however, was digging into a bit of genealogy in the nearby town of Blantyre.

With the maternal family name Donaldson, I’ve always known of family roots in Scotland. I have a hunch that I’m a natural prodigy at both the caber toss and hammer throw. However, it wasn’t until my mom recently pointed out that distant family was from the Glasgow area that I ever really give it much thought. But since the small, former mill-town of Blantyre is only about a twenty-five minute train ride from Glasgow (and I do love a good train ride), Brooke and I decided it was worth the visit. Here is where it gets interesting: my great-great grandfather was born in the same tenement block as legendary Scottish missionary/explorer David Livingstone. All of the other housing and remains of the mill are long gone, but in 1929, “Shuttle Row” was saved and turned into a museum. Er, a museum honoring Livingstone, not my family. What are the odds?

A ten minute walk from the train station brought us to the David Livingstone Center – a small complex of green spaces, visitor centers, gardens and the museum itself. The white, simple, 225-year building is incredibly well preserved. And, for a building that served as living space for twenty-four families, incredibly small! Before long, we were touring and exploring Shuttle Row. If we’re in the right place, my great-great grandfather was born right here in 1810 with Livingstone born in a neighboring room three years later in 1813. Both spent their childhood working hard hours at the mill for 12+ hours a day and attended school at night. Not surprisingly, both were long gone by the time they were in their 20’s. Livingstone ended up navigating and surveying Africa for the next 30 years only to return to England twice and my great-great-grandfather ended up in the considerably less exciting Patterson, NJ. One of the rooms of the museum had a room set up exactly like Livingstone (and presumably my distant family) lived. It was really hard to wrap my head around how small these quarters were! One medium sized room housed a family of nine!

Overall, it was a very cool moment. It’s not every day that you get to to visit the very building where your great-great grandfather was born. Especially as an American where most family roots beyond a few generations are overseas. And it’s an amazing set of circumstances that I was able to do it! Mark it down as another first for this sensational trip.

The David Livingstone center itself is a comprehensive, impressive museum about a rather impressive, dedicated and intense man. Given Livingstone’s rough beginnings, it makes his story even more impressive. The building has been turned into a series of exhibits detailing his beginnings, education, journey to Africa, famous meeting with Stanley and more. It was complete with sizeable collections of his own belongings and correspondence. He had an intensity that led him to explore the unknown continent of Africa until he died, but it also came with some pitfalls such as exposing half of his party and wife to a deadly malaria outbreak. Fun Fact #1: Livingstone was the first European to come across the waterfalls that he named Victoria Falls, but that was one of only two discoveries that he rechristened with an English name. Need more? Fun Fact #2: Within his first three years in Africa, Livingstone was mauled by a Lion in an attack that almost killed him and cost him full use of his arm. There is an intense, giant statue out front documenting this particular crazy event.

After our trip to Blantyre, we grabbed a seat on the inexpensive MegaBus and took the 90 minute ride from Glasgow to Edinburgh. Brooke and I have become champs when it comes to navigating transportation. At this point, we really feel that there is no hurdle we can’t tackle and no riddle we can’t crack. It helps when everything is English, but it can still get tricky when you show up at the ticket window and they say all tickets need to be bought online. Hey, team work makes the dream work! After snagging some WiFi in a nearby cafe, we bought tickets and were on our way to Edinburgh. Even though it was raining, we could instantly see that Edinburgh is going to be a very different town from Glasglow. Gargantuan Edinburgh Castle on the hill is quite the welcoming beacon and only one of several sights that make your jaw drop slightly and get the pulse racing for a chance to explore it all!

Today was a great day. After all, what’s the point of an amazing Round The World trip if you can’t take the time to take a small side trip to explore some family history. That and sleeping in. We might sleep in a bit tomorrow because we’re on a big trip and we can. Ahhhhh….


Categories: Exploring, Family, Museums, Rail, Reflections, Scotland, Trains | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

One Month to Go

We have officially hit the “One Month Left” mark on our round the world trip. It is amazing how fast the whole thing has gone! It seems like we only just began except that we have seen and experienced so much. It is hard to believe we have a whole month more left to see and do. Now that we have been on the road for a while, whenever we meet people or even talk to friends and family back home, we get many of the same questions. We thought we’d address some of those here for all of you. Here are some of our Frequently Asked Questions:

Lovely Wellington

1. What has been your favorite place?

This is a toughy. Favorite for what reason? The people? The food? Favorite as a place I’d like to visit again or as in a place I could see myself living? If you have been reading lately, then you know that Dubrovnik, Croatia certainly gets top billing when it comes to scenery. And if you’ve spoken to us, you know that Hanoi, Vietnam is a strong contender due to its vibrant nature and the ways it is vastly different from our own lives back home. However, if we had to choose and overall favorite, a place where we could see ourselves living, that has delicious food and beer, a place with friendly locals: Copenhagen, Denmark (with Wellington, New Zealand a close second). A surprise, right? It is an all around cool city and we wish we could have spent a little more time there. (I could go for one of those delicious hotdogs right now!) Although after a few days in Munich, it could easily fit the same bill. The truth is, there are just so many great places out there, it is hard to choose!

2. Have you been able to stick to your budget?

Absolutely. And not at all. It really depends on the region and the day. When we began our trip, we sat down and created a budget for each region we would be visiting. We have a daily budget and a separate one for nightly accommodations and transportation. We spent a lot of time on this, but really it was all a best guess. We came in under budget for our time in New Zealand and slightly over budget for our time in Japan. Not too bad. We were basically right on budget for Southeast Asia and the Cruise. Then we got to Europe. We found in Europe we easily stayed on budget with accommodations (we allowed $65/night), but our daily budget ($70/day) often was not enough and we found ourselves going over our allotted budget each day (I know this sounds like a lot, but keep in mind it is for 2 people and includes everything from museum tickets to pay toilets). This was especially true when we were with our friends both in Budapest and Dubrovnik. For them, they are on short vacation and they have a different mentality towards spending. Looking back, we should have budgeted more for these sections and thought of them more like a vacation from our trip. We allowed ourselves more for the UK ($90/night, $120/day) and hope we might be able to make some of the overage back while we’re here. The most important thing is that we are very conscious of our spending. I write down everything we purchase in my phone and then transfer it into a notebook where we can tally up the totals. This consciousness is very helpful and much advised for anyone on a trip like this because it is amazing how fast the spending adds up.

Brooke in Hong Kong

3. Are you still having fun or are you ready to go home?

We are definitely still having fun and enjoying every single day. However, now that we are one month away from going home, we have started thinking about real life just a little bit more. Not too much, just a bit. There is a lot we miss about home like cooking for ourselves each night and having access to all of our things–clothes, pillows, my hair straightener. We also look forward to being in one place for longer than three days. And oh, a guaranteed good bed and shower each day! But man, there is so much to see and do everywhere we go, how could we not have fun? Each day brings new surprises and we are looking forward to savoring every bit of the last month. But when we get on that plane to head back to the States in November, we’ll be ready.

Hanging out in Belgrade

4. Have you gotten sick of one another?

Before leaving, my dad kept joking that he only hoped Phil and I would come back married. Of course, he was exaggerating, but not too much. Another friend wondered if we were worried about spending so much time together to the point where we might get sick of each other. Because so many people voiced similar concerns, we planned on having one day a week where we spent the day apart. We are happy to be travelling around the world, but it certainly isn’t worth risking our relationship. Surprisingly (or maybe not), we haven’t really needed these planned days apart. We haven’t gotten sick of each other yet. Sure, there are times of frustration and we take 20 minutes to go our own way and meet back up. But generally, that is enough. We really like hanging out with each other and are interested in a lot of the same things. We are so happy with how it has worked out and think it definitely bodes well for our future.

The doors are quite big in Kyoto, Japan

5. What else do you have left?

After sharing all the things we have done already, people always want to know what is left to do. So, we are currently in Glasgow, Scotland where we will be for a few days. After this, we head to Edinburgh then a tour of the Highlands. We will say goodbye to this part of the world and fly south to our final destination: Argentina. Arriving in Buenos Aires, we will spend almost 3 weeks travelling around Argentina and perhaps even make a visit to Chile. Then, on November 14 we arrive back in Cincinnati, Ohio to the warm hugs and kisses of family and friends.

Hopefully, this has answered some questions you may have been having, or at least given you some interesting insight into how we feel about the trip. If there are any other questions, just ask. We are more than happy to share. Now, I must go explore Glasgow! Perhaps a dram of whiskey to get me started!


Categories: Budget, Doccuments, Exploring, Family, Finances, Homesick, Random Thoughts, Reflections, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Yokohama, Japan

Yokohoma!There is no doubt about it…we are definitely in a foreign country. Sure, in New Zealand there were cute little differences like saying “toilet” rather than “restroom,” but that was nothing compared to Japan. Okay, it’s true that Starbucks, McDonalds and KFC are almost inescapable, but otherwise the vast differences have quickly thrown us into sensory overload. It has been great, but very intimidating.

Ito's hideout

On the base of Camp Zama, Gaye showed us this: A secret (unused) bunker for the Japanese Emperor during World War II. When Americans claimed the based, this was found!

Today, we took care of a little bit of necessary business before really sinking our teeth into Japan. Gaye, my cousin who is the most gracious hostess ever, drove us around Sagamihara City and took us over to Camp Zama, the U.S. Army Base where she has taught for the last 25 years. Here, we visited the tourism office, stopped by the ATM and had a nice lunch by the golf course. There were far more Japanese working on the base than I expected, but overall US dollars could be used and in a lot of ways it did feel very American. We can understand why Gaye has chosen to stay here for most of her adult life–it is the perfect balance of living in a foreign country, but still having your own culture close by. However, this American culture stopped as soon as we said sayonara to the guard at the gate.

One of our biggest feats today was figuring out, at least a little bit, the train lines. Our pre-trip research led us to the JR pass – a train pass which allows us unlimited access to the national JR train line for seven days. This isn’t a subway, it is more like a combination of regional rail and Amtrak. The train line will get us around Tokyo and its suburbs, but also travels to all areas of Japan. Luckily, Gaye lives right next to the Sagamihara stop on JR Yokohama line. We decided to venture to Yokohama, a city of 3.5 million just south of Tokyo. Gaye walked us to the station and pointed us in the right direction, which actually turned out to be the wrong direction (to her credit, she usually uses a different train line–there are SO MANY trains here). Luckily, Phil and I checked the map, and even though most it is written in Japanese, the station names are also written in English and everything is well marked with arrows and time tables.

Donut Plant Tokyo

Amazingly, we never made it inside the Donut Plant in New York City, but to our shock we saw this store at the ShinYokohana Train Station!

Once on the train, it wasn’t much different from riding the train in New York–it is filled with people weary from a long day of work or tired out from the heat who just want to get where they are going. Except for us, of course. We were bright eyed and smiling, reading every sign we could to make sure we were headed in the right direction. The train moves fast, so catching the one word written in English on the sign was not as easy as we thought it would be. Luckily, we made it into Yokohama with no problems at all–we didn’t even have to ask for help!

Once off the train, we did what we do best–we wandered around looking for interesting things to see. It took us all of two minutes to happen across a large crowd of people gathered on steps watching a street performer. This wasn’t the same crappy dance group you see in the Times Square subway station who spends 15 minutes gathering a crowd to watch their performance but they never actually do anything. No, this guy was pure entertainment. He was cracking up the crowd, telling jokes, singing little bits–sure, we had no idea what he was saying, but we laughed when everyone else did and joined in clapping when it seemed appropriate. Adding onto his joke telling, he began juggling–of course. But then he lit the juggling sticks on fire, then he juggled fiery sticks while balancing on a rolling cylinder, then he spit fire! It was awesome! Being a part of this crowd of all Japanese people, and having no idea of the words but still getting the message just the same, was really neat.

Crazy Street Performer below Landmark TowerWe left the performer and wandered around Yokohama taking in the sights, the coolest of which was Yokohama Stadium. We know the Japanese love their baseball, and man was it obvious just walking by the stadium. A game had just begun and already the crowd was chanting, cheering and singing. The energy from the crowd inside was electrifying the air outside–it was almost contagious. As we walked around, we saw a big screen set up outside the stadium with tables, chairs and food vendors where people could sit and watch the game without having to buy a ticket and go in. The atmosphere was awesome, and got us even more excited for tomorrow when we get to have our experience at a Tokyo Yomiuri Giants baseball game at Tokyo Dome. We can’t wait to tell you about it!

For now, we go to bed with Japanese phrases swimming in our head, yen conversions fogging up our brains, and the question of how we can possibly retain all that we’ve learned confounding us.


Japanese Vending Machine

There are vending machines everywhere! For Cold Drinks, Hot Drinks and more. All sorts of unique goodies stocked inside

Categories: Destinations, Discounts, Diversions, Family, Japan, Self Guided Tours, Tokyo, Trains | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

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