Saturday, October 3, 2015

Day 4: Hills, castles, and terrorism

Tuesday morning, slightly brighter and earlier than usual, we packed our bags and left them in the flat while we put on our walking shoes and headed back through Holyrood Park, past the Queen's residence, Scottish Parliament, and up the Royal Mile.

The Parliament Buildings are very controversial, having cost over 8 times the initial estimate and taking three years longer than expected. They cost over 400 million pounds. The design is also quite controversial; Scottish Parliament placed fourth in a 2008 poll on what UK buildings people would like to see demolished! I kind of agree. 

Parliament is at the base of the Royal Mile, which is lined with shops that are a real tourist trap. 

This is the Parliament building from around the corner.

The wall on this side has quotes scattered on it. They are all from Scottish poets or other famous people.

Speaking of Scottish poets, this is Robert Fergusson, being pitifully mimicked by me. The poor wee lad died in a lunatic asylum when he was only 24, but he was very prolific when alive. 

I love the way people here express their displeasure with the establishment. This roughly knitted afghan says it all.

 We wondered what it was all about, but then we walked across the street and saw this: a building has been demolished, leaving only the facade. 

Up, up, and up some more. 

And we were finally at the top, having bravely ignored all of the siren calls of the shops.

There were, unfortunately, many tourist groups, but we did a fine job of avoiding them for the most part. 

There's something about a cannon that is very appealing.

Jeff has no pretensions to being anything other than an American tourist, and he asked this gentleman if he could take his photo. Sometimes I like to pretend that I'm not with him.

Edinburgh Castle has lots of smaller museums on the grounds. My favourite was the dungeons. They have housed many different kinds of prisoners, and among them were Americans and their allies from the Revolutionary War. They also housed prisoners from the Napoleanic Wars and the Seven Years War. The prisoners were treated fairly well, except for the Americans, who received less rations and supplies than anyone else and were kept longer. The prisoners became quite ingenious at making things out of unusual materials, even forging bank notes by making dies out of wood and bone from their meat rations.
These boxes were made of straw.

They slept in hammocks or on pallets.

Some of the best things in museums are the mannequins.

Oh wait! That last one is real! He was just down the hill from the castle, so we contributed to his pot of cash and sat down to listen to him. He was raking in the money, I estimated about 100 pounds an hour. Not a bad gig. I asked him if he took requests and he nodded, so he played Scottish Soldier for me. He didn't exactly play with passion, but beggars can't be choosers. 
Now here it is with passion. 

On the way down the Mile, we found a fudge shop that makes dairy-free fudge that tastes as good as the creamy kind, so we bought some for the d/f grandkids. I forgot to wrap it in a plastic bag until over a week later, so hopefully it will still be delicious. 

The Royal Mile is split into two one-way streets, so you only have to worry about cars and buses going in one direction. We did a bit of shopping on the way down, but most of the merchandise was made in China, so I didn't get too excited about it.

We walked back to the flat and picked up our bags and headed out of Edinburgh to Rosslyn Chapel, which, according to Dan Brown in The DaVinci Code, was the supposed home of the Holy Grail. . Or was it? This stop was for Jeff, as he was fascinated with the topic, but he was disappointed and decided, after listening to a talk in the chapel, that it was all a bunch of hype. Which, you know, I could have told him.

And on we drove. The stop at Roslin was somewhat spontaneous, so our route to Haltwhistle, our next bed for the night, was a bit of an unknown and the satnav was in charge.

In the early evening we decided to find a place to eat, so got off the highway at a town called Lockerbie. We ate a rather gourmet meal at a pub and got talking to an elderly couple next to us. They said, Oh, you must stop at the Garden of Remembrance. 
Okay, we said, totally clueless, we have time for that. We followed their directions and as we drew closer it dawned on us.
THAT Lockerbie.

And I wiped a tear or two away as I thought of all of those lives cut short by hatred.

And we drove on again, much sobered. After we settled down for the night, I consulted my friend Google. She knows everything. I found this website, that is very eye-opening about the effects of the disaster on the township. After all of the media spotlight went away and the rest of the world carried on with their lives, Lockerbie was left to deal with the aftermath, and it was terrible. I think they deserve a few minutes of our time today.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

In which our legs climb too many hills

We dragged ourselves out of bed on Monday morning, packed up, and set off for Stirling, home of the famous castle and the Battle of Bannockburn. 

The nice thing about the UK is that driving distances are comparatively shorter than what we are used to in the USA. We had booked tickets to the Battle of Bannockburn Centre but were early for our appointed time, so continued on to Stirling. It looked very appealing, so after our 3D encounter with Robert the Bruce and his armies and foes, we drove back to the town, parked the car, and walked up the hill to the castle.

The views were fantastic, as always.

I love the narrow streets; walking on cobblestones in minimalist shoes, not so much.

We couldn't resist a detour into the Church of the Holy Rude.
Who could?
The Holy Rude, in case you didn't know, is a piece of the original cross.
Disappointing, I know. I was hoping for something a little more Monty-Python-ish.

In the 1600s, a particularly rambunctious preacher caused such a rift in the congregation that a dividing wall was built down the middle of the church. It wasn't removed until 1936, when the church was renovated. The oak beams of the roof were also exposed at that time.
Note the chairs, which are apparently built for midgets. However, they weren't as bad as the seats we endured when attending evensong at Glasgow Cathedral, which were even smaller and had cane seats. They were excruciatingly uncomfortable. I will never complain about our padded pews again.

It was a steep walk up the hill. Castles, it seems, are almost always built on hills, so we are doomed to spend our days climbing them. On the way, we passed some lovely sweet peas. These are for my sister.

Our old friend, Robert the Bruce, surveying the land.

We walked up to the castle but didn't really want to pay to enter, so we wandered around the gift shop, used the toilets, and started back down the hill. I only mention the toilets because we have decided that the British have bladders of iron. Toilets are treasured and few and far between. One day we stopped to get petrol just so that we could use the facilities, only to find that they un-apologetically didn't have any. Rude!

On the way down, I noticed this sign. Our city's library is also a Carnegie library.

Edinburgh was the next stop and it didn't take long to get there. On the way into the city we were amazed by this sculpture called the Kelpies, which was right next to the motorway. There are two horses heads standing over 30 metres tall. They are next to a new canal and park development and are a monument to horse-powered heritage across Scotland. I wish we had had time to explore them further.

The dear old satnav had been behaving quite well until we tried to find our next airbnb host. The streets of Edinburgh are very narrow and windy, even more than Glasgow, and when the satnav announced that we had arrived at our destination we were clearly on the wrong street. After almost an hour of frustratingly driving around and trying to figure it out, we finally got hold of our host on the phone and he guided us the first place we had stopped! It turns out that streets in Edinburgh change their names frequently and the signs aren't always easy to find.
We were happy to find that our host's flat was immaculately clean and nicely decorated and our room was delightful. We set out immediately to climb Arthur's Seat, which is in Holyrood Park and only a short walk from where we were staying.  Not only is Arthur's Seat a dormant volcano, it is also the site of an ancient fort. In all honesty, I have to say that we didn't climb to the tallest point of the peak, which isn't shown in the photos. I shall just say that the climb was a lot harder than it looks, and leave it at that.

But the view was worth it. We could see all the way over the Firth of Forth.

And there is Edinburgh Castle, where our steps would take us the next day.

Going down was much easier than going up.

And by the time we got back to the flat we had worked up an appetite, so we walked to Sainsbury's to buy some food. Just like a local, wending our way along the dark streets and through the tunnels. And we ate bacon and eggs and put our weary selves to bed.

I hope you are enjoying reading about our travels and that (mostly) Jeff's photos are giving you a taste of all of the beauty that we encounter. We are loving Scotland.