Sunday, September 13, 2015

Our last day with Ron...

We have one full day to spend exploring Edinburgh before Ron heads back to the U.S.  (In fact as I write this, he is already back home in Clayton...and our little band of travelers has shrunk to 3.)  But we had a fun and busy day seeing the sights of Edinburgh while Ron was still with us.  I was going to title this "oh my aching bones". Lenore's hip and my knee are both killing us...I think the cobblestones and stone castle floors are taking their toll on us "women of a certain age.

We hit the ground running...early breakfast in the hotel...good, but not as good as the breakfasts in Norway with all that smoked salmon!!  We have found that the "hop on hop off" busses work really for us.  We get a good understanding of the city by taking the full loop, and then get off at the sights we most want to see.  Edinburgh surprised me by being such a compact city...there are only 5 million people in the whole country, so even their biggest city is not very big!  The city is much more hilly than I realized.  The Edinburgh Castle sits high above the city in "old town".  It is at one end of The Royal Mile...Hollyrood Palace is at the other end.  Our hotel is located just 1/2 block off the Royal Mile, about 5 blocks from the really  is a great location!  The old part of town grew up, of course, around the Castle.  In the 1700s, the "new town" was built, actually just a few blocks away.  The old town feels somewhat medieval/gothic, and the new town is very Georgian and orderly...both are wonderfully fascinating!

After making the loop on the hop on hop off bus, week we decided the things we wanted to explore further were the Castle and the Georgian Houses.  When we got off at the Castle we saw this sign...Bill McIntosh was with is in spirit, I guess! 

The Castle is really perched high up on a rocky outcropping. It was built in the 12 century!!

The first thing you see when entering the Castle grounds are statues of Robert The Bruce and William Wallace.  

We have now taken to calling our little band of travelers Gary the Allyn and the women of Clan Lenathy. 

Is one of the women of Len-athy being shy...or is she on an important phone call!?

Oh, and we saw lots of this...

We spent a lot of time in the War Museum at the Castle.  There were huge, and very interesting, displays of all the various Scottish military regiments that served through the years.  There were so many personal items on a real sense of the day to day life of the soldiers, from a personal perspective, not just a military view.  Lenore and I enjoyed the uniforms, letters home. Diaries, personal sewing kits, small books, etc. 

It was here also that we saw The Honors, or Scottish Crown Jewels (crown, sword, and scepter) and The Stone of Destiny. This is a piece of Scottish limestone that has been under the foot of every single Scottish leader since the year 700.  And it now goes under the seat of each British when Prince Charles becomes King, this Stone of Destiny will go under his thrown at his coronation.  We weren't allowed to take photos of these items...too precious are they in the eyes of the Scotts!

We were lucky to see "The One O'clock Gun" at the castle.  A cannon has been shot off at 1:00pm every single day since the 1500's!  Why shoot it at the unusual hour of 1:00pm, and not at noon!?!?  Well, the thrifty Scotts figured they could save 11 shells every day...why shoot 12 when you can delay one hour and only have to shoot 1!!  The guard marched up, checked his watch, waited a minute, checked again, put in his earplugs, then shot the cannon, removed the earplugs, and then marched off!

We even saw the little dog cemetery where the military dogs get buried...see the tiny little grave stones around the perimeter?

Also in Edinburgg we saw the famous statue of Greyfriar's Bobby.  This little dog,  named Bobby, lay by his masters grave for 12 years after the master died.  Local shopkeepers took up a collection to keep Bobby fed while he sat at his vigil.  I remember hearing about his when I was a little girl, and I became kind of obsessed by Bobby!

Another cool thing we saw on our bus tour was the lovely, and very modern Scottish Parliament Building.

And these are thinking pods on the back side of each politicians office...a little space where they can sit and think...
Maybe OUR politicians could benefit from"thinking pods"... A bit more thinking surely couldn't hurt?!

We were on to the Georgian row houses that we had seen in the morning on the hop on hop off bus.  This section of the new town is lovely...I felt as though I had stepped into a Jane Austin novel.  We toured the former home of the Lemont family who had lived here in 1740(?). The home was fully decorated, with a very knowledgeable docent in each room to answer all our questions.  We learned that a Georgian house can always be identified by having 3 stories with a basement and an attic. 

 The kitchen was my favorite room it reminded me of the downstairs kitchen in Downton Abbey...only this was the city version, not the country manor house version.  But all the tools were so interesting, and the docent was great at explaining the uses of so many unusual looking items!  (How the huge spit was turned by steam power, the huge cone of sugar and all the tools used to cut and grind it before use, how the beef tallow from cooking was used to make candles, how the irons worked, and even the special tool that looked like a curling iron that was used to crimp the collars of the was all so interesting!)  It was fun to see the wine cellar and servants quarters too.  This home had a household staff of seven.  The Lamont's had received a chamber pot as a wedding had a monkeys face in the bottom of the pot...and this poem written around the outside:

As we were all tired from our day of sightseeing, we decided we needed a "sit down". We headed to a lovely old style restaurant where Lenore and I opted for tea, and Ron and Gary had beer.

We boarded the bus back to our Ibis Center Royal Mile Hotel. Where we relaxed for a little bit, before meeting in the lobby for our glass of wine. Gary has been great at finding good dinner spots for us...just a little research on the iPad each day really pays off.  This time we headed out to Michael Neaves.  This was a modern hip restaurant and is part of the culinary metamorphis that is going on in Scottland.  While the pubs all offer steak and ale pie, haggis needs and tattles, and fish and chips, this restaurant had all locally sourced meat and fresh seafood delivered daily as well as beautiful fresh veggies...dinner was sublime!

We all rolled into bed, ready for sleep  (Of course Ron had to pack first!).
I guess there was a bit of frantic activity in the morning in room 505, as their wake up alarm for Ron had been set incorrectly...5:30 PM instead of AM!  While we in room 410 were blissfully still sleeping at 6:00am, there must have been a lot of scurrying round upstairs...but Ron made his flight with no difficulty, making it home to sunny California while Lenore, Gary and I were touring St Andrews, the home of golf!

Magical moments!

Going into this trip, I had certain expectations...and those things were just wonderful.  But I think it is the things that I DIDN'T expect...those things that we just stumbled upon...that were some of the best, magical moments of the trip!  One magical moment was the fantastic "proper session" of live Irish music at The Whisky Palace in the Templebar area of Dublin, that I already wrote about.  Another magical moment happened yesterday when we took a small tour into the Western Highlands.  I wanted to see more of Scotland than just Edinburgh, so I had booked 2 one-day small bus to St Andrews and the fishing villages of Fife, and the other one to the Western Highlands.  

We have had warm/hot sunny weather  for the past 3 weeks...yesterday it was grey, chilly, drizzly/rainy.  Just what I thought Autumn in Scotland should be!  I was thrilled!  We met our driver, Mackenzie ("Mac") and our 10 other day travelers and off we took in our super comfy little Mercedes tour bus.  As the weather was pretty drizzly, Mac decided to change the days itinerary a bit...he decided against the walking through the Ruins of Kilchurn Castle.  Instead he took us to one of his favorite little churches.  It was a private church, and is in need of some repair, but it's setting was beautiful.

As we were looking around, I suddenly had my magical moment...I heard bagpipes!  I looked around and found our tour guide, Mac, sitting in a chair in the church, playing  a beautiful wailing tune on the pipes!  The setting, the was pure magic!   THIS is what I came to Scotland for!

We continued for an amazing afternoon, driving through the amazingly beautiful Highlands, grey misty drizzle all around us, while Mac regailed us with tales of Clan rivalry.  He had tales about both the MacKinnon and McIntosh clans, among others...the underlying theme that Mac had for us was "never trust a Cambell!!"  He was the most antimated story teller with great expressive hand motions, and all sorts of different voices!  He was so passionate in sharing his knowledge of his people's history.  In between tales, we listened to fabulous traditional Scottish tunes, and bagpipe instrumentals.  We visited the Doune Castle which has been used in filming both Outlander (hey was Castle Leoch!!) and Monte Pythons Holy Grail!  

The tiny town of Luss was like something out of a story book...the flowers were amazing!

But I think it was the scenery that spoke to me the most...

On our way back we paused for a photo at the Firth of Forth ( it just makes me smile to say that!). We learned that Firth means the opening of a river.
This photo shows three very very happy travelers at the end of a magical day!
We are calling this group "Gary the Allyn and his women from Clan Len-athy"!

The day before, we had taken another small group tour offered by the same company, heading to St Andrews.  The coastal scenery was lovely, the fishing villages were quaint, and St Andrews was pretty cool.  Our driver/guide was very good, but nowhere near as good as Mac.

The fishing village of Fife, this is a little crab shack where we stopped for a bite to eat...crab or lobster sandwiches!

Sharing a fresh crab sandwich !

Can you see the lobster carvings above the door?

At St Andrews!  No golf for us...but it was fun to see!

The thrill of this day was when we were driving home from St Andrews, listening to the fascinating story of the life of Mary Queen of Scots when we passed a field some woods...through an opening I saw a HUGE Scottish Red Stag with a magnigicient rack of antlers.  He was with 5 or 6 other red deer...but this one stood out...he was so majestic and his rack was amazing! It was fleeting look...I saw him and quickly turned to Lenore to ask if she had seen it...and then we were passed them.  ANOTHER magical moment!

Scotland is a beautiful beautiful country, and there is so much history here.  I think in the U.S. we tend to learn the British version of Scottish history.  It was so nice to hear the Scottish version from these proud people. I urge you all to come here and hopefully find your own magical moments!