Aberdeen, UK: Land of Grey and Seas of Oil

The initial reason we chose Aberdeen was cheap direct flights from Stavanger via Wideroe Airlines. We walked out onto the tarmac to a small propeller plane. I had ridden in one before, but it was not confidence instilling that time, either. The flight was about 30% full, and they asked if anyone could move to the back of the aircraft because we were front heavy. Only a couple of people moved (to claim rows to themselves), but that was enough to balance us out. As our trip got underway, it was surprisingly smooth and well accommodated. They served complimentary drinks and a “light lunch” on our 90 minute flight.

Aberdeen is a large mass of gray buildings. Some of the architecture still bore a historic charm, but the bland grayness was hard to escape. Locals told us that the typical rainy, dreary weather exacerbates the blandness. While there, much of the weather was sunny and windy, so it was not so bad.

There was an initial culture shock after Scandinavia. Everything seemed incredibly cheap and affordable. The movie theater had $6 tickets and the grocery store had items <$1. This was such a sharp contrast to Norway, where a pizza for 2 was $45. The ability to cook a bit and not be gouged by prices was welcomed.

A later day involved a walk to old Aberdeen. King’s College had a graduation commencement taking place as we walked through the campus. We toured the botanical gardens catered by the University and it started to lightly rain as we walked to St. Machar Cathedral. With the grey skies threatening a good day, we debated on our next step but elected to walk the park. One wonderful area was the “hidden garden” split into 3 walled sections containing various plants and flower arrangements. A long walk home left us hungry and ready for some rest.

While the grey architecture left much to be desired, the Aberdeen array of museums was impressive. A fair number of free galleries and museums are available for visitors. We chose to spend part of an afternoon in the Maritime Museum. It detailed the early history of maritime importance to Aberdeen and traced it through to modern applications in things such as offshore drilling and exploration. Some of the museum was interactive with the ability to try on wetsuits, drive underwater UAV equipment models, and generate electricity through a tidal energy model. After this, we scurried over to a cheap movie theater to see Rocketman.

Stonehaven, UK

About 16 miles outside of Aberdeen, there is a small town named Stonehaven. It is a picturesque coastal Scottish town with rolling hills of waving tall grass. Its main attraction is a dilapidated castle and fortress that once stood as a bulwark to Scottish defense along the coast. Hannah and I took a train there one sunny afternoon and had a wonderful time.

We started off the day wandering through the small village and finally settled on a patch of the pebbly beach on the Atlantic coast. Several visitors brought dogs who zoomed back and forth fetching balls and sticks or chasing one another. The pebbles on the beach appeared to gradually grow closer to the water. At the water’s edge, large boulders stood rounded by decades of tides and adorned with crowns of bright green algae moss. In the distance, a similar shade of green stood shockingly against the bright blue sky on the hill.

We made our way to the hill, eating quick baguette sandwiches from a waterside cafe. We elected the long route along the coast along the cliffs. Occasional cawing seagulls interrupted the sound of a gentle wind. The castle loomed in the distance, a mosaic of grey stones telling a story from years long passed. The nearer we approached, it was hard not to gather the idea that nature was reclaiming the hill fortress long after man no longer found it useful.

Travelling to the UK and Ireland meant our exit from the Schengen zone and the ability to finally slow down. We spent a good amount of time at a kitchen table in our Airbnb pouring over a calendar, Airbnb, and drawing out a route for further travel.

Footnote: I would be remiss if I did not mention a special restaurant in Aberdeen. Inside one of the city’s old shopping centers, there was a small Thai restaurant called Madam Mews. We ate there more times than we care to admit, but they had such great Thai food for excellent prices.


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