Bill & Liz's Excellent Adventure

We wanted a second honeymoon. We got more than we bargained for.

On paper, it sounded like heaven: Ten days in bonnie Scotland, one for each year of our marriage. Just us and no kids, like a honeymoon without the jitters. We'd seen Braveheart, we'd read Robert Burns, we were ready.

Eight hours on a plane later, we found out why they call it "jet lag." Our bodies were in Great Britain, but the rest of us was lagging somewhere over Greenland.

And first task? To stuff our exhausted, bleary-eyed bodies into a tiny rental car, get behind the wheel on the right side of the car, and drive down the wrong side of the road. Well, wrong to us. Very right to the Scots, and in fact, the only safe option. It was soon easy to pick out the other Americans—they were the ones using turn signals.

I drove; Bill navigated. Correction: I hyperventilated and Bill worked with a map the size of a tablecloth in a car no bigger than a breadbox. On our first honeymoon, in North Carolina, we'd had a few minor disagreements about where to eat or when to stop for a stretch break. Now, ten years later, the stakes were much higher—we had what the Scots call an "argle bargle" over which road would get us out of the airport, for heaven's sake.

"It's that way!" I insisted.

"Stay in the right lane! I mean, the correct lane. No, the left lane!" Bill barked back.

Peace returned when we spotted a sign marked "Way Out," the first of many directives that had us doing double takes. The yield sign read "Give Way," a roadside trash barrel became a "Refuse Tip," and highway construction was announced with a simple "!" We were less certain about the sign that commanded, "Litter Please;" and the enigmatic "Heavy Plant Crossing," which suggested a large, leafy ficus dragging itself across the pavement. Then there was the petrol station sign that warned "No Naked Lights." Certainly not, even if we are married.

Driving along the A-75 into Dumfries, we were so taken with the pastoral scenery and the Solway Firth (a scenic bay) stretched to our south, that we hardly spoke at all. On our honeymoon, we'd read aloud every sign to one another and chatted constantly, trying to take in both our surroundings and the strange and wonderful reality of marriage. Now that our relationship was even stranger and more wonderful, we often communicated silently, holding hands. A gentle squeeze meant "I love you." A tender tap meant "Don't miss what's out the window." A soft caress meant "Only six hours 'til bedtime." A sudden grip meant "Don't hit the sheep!"

Sheep rule in Scotland. The edge of town wasn't marked by convenience stores and car dealerships, just sheep grazing in the fields, by the fence, on the road, under our car. Because we got so very close to these beasts, we discovered that, rather than branding their sheep, the Scots spray paint them. Picture a fluorescent red design on the south end of a northbound sheep. It looked like sheep graffiti.

We also saw signs posted near farms advertising "free range chickens," which made us wonder if they laid "free range eggs" that customers gathered in "U-pick" fashion.

Oddly, neither lamb nor chicken appeared on most Scottish menus. Haggis, maybe, but not chicken breast. The man I'd honeymooned with the first time had insisted on meatloaf and fries. But this ten-year veteran of my feeble attempts at cooking has learned to eat anything and smile about it. He ordered mackerel (not holy) served as a pate on oatcakes. Pate? My Bill? We have definitely moved beyond Denny's.

Our only culinary challenge was that Bill's a coffee drinker. Bad form in a land of tea pots. Every cup of java he drank was worse than the last one, and thick enough to blacken his teeth. We should've brought our own Maxwell House.

And our own umbrellas. After all, we'd heard Mel Gibson say, "It's good Scottish weather—the rain is falling straight down." Where were our heads? In the rain, that's where. It showered on our first honeymoon, too, but we cuddled under one small umbrella and thought it all very romantic. Now we were cruising for a Woolworth's (and found one), where we could each buy our own golf-course-type umbrellas.

The edge of town wasn't marked by convenience stores and car dealerships, just sheep grazing by the fence, on the road, under our car.

Most of our 1,350-mile adventure was spent on one-lane roads, which seemed to be created by pouring asphalt out at the top of a hill and letting it find its own way to the bottom. Imagine driving in the rain at twilight, with an ancient stone wall on one side, a sheer cliff leading to a loch hundreds of feet below on the other side, two nursing lambs with their mother in the middle of the road, and a car coming from the opposite direction, driving faster than, ah, might be prudent.

The most frequently heard phrase in our car was "Wha-a-a-a!"

Soon, though, we got the hang of it. Turn-outs along absurdly narrow roads allowed one car to pull aside while the other passed by. Very civilized, really. When oncoming motorists blinked their lights, it meant, "I'll wait, you go first." Or as we Kentuckians translate it, "Y'all come on ahead."

The urban routes were more dangerous. Arrows were painted on the road to show us when to merge, which was very disconcerting when we found them pointed straight at us. Traffic circles had us spinning around and going back in the direction we'd already traveled. Routes were rarely marked, with mere finger signs at intersections pointing in six different directions and written in Gaelic.

The tension mounted when we hit Ayrshire—and missed the bus. Not missed catching it, mind you, missed hitting it. Broadside. To this day, we can't agree whether it was Bill's navigating or my driving that put us between a rock and a Greyhound. Here's where the diminutive size of European cars comes in handy. We squeaked through, with only the angry blast of the bus horn to haunt us. Thank you, Lord, and sorry about that woman's snapdragons.

The ten days passed much too quickly. Our first honeymoon had been full of anticipation and apprehension. The ten-years-later version had less stress and more real romance. I cried when we passed the "Leaving Scotland" sign, certain that such marital bliss would soon be only a memory.

On the flight home, the featured movie was Sense and Sensibility. I drank in every delicious frame, oblivious to my surroundings, until the closing credits rolled and I looked around to find that all the women were crying and all the men were asleep. The honeymoon was definitely over.

Hours later, when we circled over our American runway, I asked Bill softly, "If you had to do it all over again, would you marry me?" The pause before he said "Yes, of course" was so long that I feared he was having second thoughts.

"Not to worry," he assured me. "I was just waiting for a burp."

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Arguments; Marriage; Vacation
Today's Christian Woman, Fall, 1997
Posted September 12, 2008

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