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 in....to 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.

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Museums and memorials

The schedule for Sunday included the Burrell Collection, the Hunterian, evensong at the Glasgow Cathedral at 4 pm, and then the Necropolis. We managed to maintain momentum for most of the day, even after a diversion or two, although we were yawning by the time we climbed the hill to the Necropolis in the evening.
Sometimes I want to kiss the satnav in our Kia, and other times I want to punch it in the face. Sunday was a punch-it-in-the-face kind of day. We programmed it for the Burrell Collection and it took us to a gate that had that name on it. We found some free on-street parking, always a nice bonus in the UK, and entered the gate. And we walked, and walked, and walked. We eventually caught up with a nice elderly couple who told us that the building was at the end of the road, but that they had come to see the trenches at an event called Digging In, which we were about to reach. We are always up for a detour, so we went into the field and spent a while at the trenches. It is an educational project intended to teach children about the realities of living in the trenches during World War I. We rather enjoyed it. 

The trenches will be left in place for a few years to weather, so they will end up looking very like the actual trenches in Europe. There was an Allied trench and a German trench. 

And there was a man in a kilt. 

We walked on and found the Burrell Collection, which is a free exhibit. It was right next to a very nice car park. The collection was donated to the city of Glasgow by Sir William Burrell, a shipping merchant who became an avid collector of ancient and rare artifacts, most of which he acquired at bargain prices! The collection contains over 8,000 pieces, not all of which are on display. I am only including two photos, the first of an oak trunk that is about 500 years old, and the second of a Flemish tapestry from about 1450. 

I am awed by the talent and number of hours that would have gone into this tapestry. It is about 9 1/2 feet by 10 1/2 feet, is made of wool and silk and the details are exquisite. The fact that is has survived for almost 600 years is amazing.

There will be random street scenes included in these posts, but I usually have no idea where they were taken. We just drive around with our mouths hanging open most of the time.

After we hiked back to the car, we drove back to the cathedral area that we had visited the night before to visit The Hunterian, a museum that is part of Glasgow University. It is also the legacy of a philanthropist collector, a man by the name of Dr William Hunter. He was an obstetrician and teacher and bequeathed his collection to the university in 1783. The museum is home to over a million artifacts. Jeff was interested in the Cradle of Scotland exhibit, which is all about the excavations at Forteviot in Perthshire. The dig has revealed much about Scottish history from prehistoric to medieval times. I was a bit bored by it, but after Jeff was done I did a quick whip through the art gallery while Jeff sat on a bench and had a rest. There was a pretty cool collection of Whistler paintings and other memorabilia. That Whistler was an interesting character.

Next we were off to the cathedral for evensong, which was accomplished in good time after finding another on-street free parking place. This was a completely free and culturally edifying day when all was said and done.

Evensong was beautiful, as always, and we called it church for the day. I was a little disappointed that the choir seemed to consist of university students instead of the male choir that we prefer, but it was still uplifting. Afterwards, we headed to the Necropolis, an ancient cemetery that contains many elaborate tomb monuments. It is next to the cathedral on an adjoining hill, so after asking a dour Scotsman where the Necropolis was (s'roit thur, we think he said) and feeling very foolish because I was standing almost right next to the entrance gate, we commenced the walk.

And he we are. 

We got rained on a bit, and I slid gracefully down a grassy embankment without breaking any bones, and the views were spectacular and the memorials were poignant and grand. We could see the cathedral from the hill. 

The tall statue that is next to the large memorial on the right is of John Knox, one of the leaders of the Scottish Protestant Reformation.

And back out again.

And a view of the cathedral from the place we parked the car.

And we went back to the flat and fell asleep at about 7 o'clock and woke up two hours later.
Jet lag is the pits.