Saturday, July 09, 2016

Ireland & Scotland - Days 10 & 11

Day 10 - Goodbye, Ireland but hello, Scotland!

Sad day today – we had to say goodbye to Ireland. Truly, I loved our visit here. Our hosts, Mary and Tom, at Cnoc Breac have been wonderful and, remote as it is, there is a wildness about the Atlantic coast that speaks to both of us.

And yet, all is not lost. Today we also head for another country, another adventure! We left the B&B around 8:45 this morning and took the N59 back down to Galway. One of my concerns for this leg was getting through the city since, last time, it was congested with heavy traffic. But I needn’t have worried. Yes, we hit some traffic, but not nearly as bad as a few days ago.

Really the only original part of the
fort in Athlone.
We stopped in Athlone for two reasons: one to visit the castle and our primary reason: for lunch. Because it was just a bit before 11:00, we decided to visit the castle first and then eat.

I’m afraid it was a bit of disappointment. The round tower is still there, along with the battlements, but the displays inside didn’t tell the story I wanted to hear. Unlike the museum housing the Book of Kells, this display didn’t quite hit it.

And disappointed in lunch as well. We passed over half a dozen pubs – all closed. By this point it was noon, so we decided just to get back on the M6 and eat at the airport.

No trouble finding the Hertz drop-off point or the shuttle to take us to the terminal. We waited to eat until we got through security and had pizza on the other side (somehow we just couldn’t bring ourselves to eat at the huge Burger King). We were quite early for our flight, but I’m glad we had time to spare. No stress!

 Short flight – only a little over an hour. But we got off late by 15 minutes, so landed late.

And then it got…interesting.

No one with a placard with our name on it when we got through the maze that leads to the lobby (by the way, didn’t have to go through customs because we came from another European country. Yay on the speed, pouting because no Scottish stamp on my passport). We waited for several minutes, then Steven borrowed a phone from another driver awaiting passengers and called the number on our voucher.

He was told we were in the wrong place, that we had to go across to the car park. So we did. No one there with a placard, either. Back to a different waiting area. Steven called again and the person on the other end said she’d have the company call us direct. A few minutes later, his phone rang – we were close when we were in the car park. We just had to go around another corner and across several lanes of traffic to get to the booth where drivers were assigned.

Our fancy digs in Edinburgh!
But we’re here now and the doorman called us by name. We must be the last people to check in tonight. The woman at reception (whom I think is French) told us we’d gotten an upgrade and so we’re on a private floor and need to use our key in the elevator to get up here. The room is large, elegant and sinfully luxurious. Loving it!

Not doing anything else tonight. Long day. Tomorrow is the Royal Mile, Arthur’s Seat and whatever else we can cram in. We’re in Edinburgh, Scotland!

Day 11 - Edinburgh

It’s now 5:30 and I have logged over 20,000 steps. That’s ten miles. Steven has a few more than me because he went to the gym this morning and ran two kilometers on the treadmill. Silly him!

The breakfast at the hotel is a decent Continental breakfast with various Danishes, cold cereals, “lunch” meats, and toast. If you want something more, there’s a charge. After the past three days of Irish breakfasts, we decided we were fine with the Continental. An Irish breakfast, btw, consists of at least two slices of bacon (which resides in a middle ground between Canadian and American bacons – half is Canadian and half American), two or three links of pork sausage (which I didn’t like – too mushy in texture), a slice of black pudding and a slice of white pudding (I preferred the white over the black but the black wasn’t awful. Steven didn’t like either), a half of roasted tomato and a coddled egg (which is over easy in America). If you were keeping count, that’s four meats, a vegetable and an egg.

Clock on the Royal Mile -
notice the nearly-empty
So you can see why we were ready for a lighter breakfast! We ate and headed out and up the Royal Mile. We’re near the bottom of it and, for those who don’t know, entirely uphill from Holyrood Palace to Edinburgh Castle. And feels longer than a mile.

We knew we were early – it was only 8:30 – but we headed out anyway. It was actually fun, since mostly the only people out at that time were the delivery men (and women) and people on their way to work. Few tourists.

Steven by Mons Meg - that cannon is HUGE!
But we found those when we got to the Castle at the top. By now it was nearly 9:00 but they wouldn’t even let the queue form until 9:30. So we went in search of the Writer’s Museum, which we found tucked away in the Lady Stair’s Close, and which wasn’t open yet, either. Back to the top of the hill.

By now it was almost time, so we just waited. We were among the first in and boy, am I glad. We walked around, skipped the museums and looked at everything else, including the biggest cannon I’d ever seen. The Crown Jewels of Scotland are housed there and we ended up going into the exhibit from the end by accident. I’m glad we did, though. The story was told from the Stone of Destiny through the various iterations of the “Honors” as the jewels are called. By the time we reached the vault to see the actual items, we had a good idea of what they were and what they mean to Scotland.

Looking through the Lady Stair Close
to the Writer's Museum
Back to the Writer’s Museum for a visit. It’s free and dedicated to Sir Walter Scott, Robert Burns and Robert Louis Stevenson. A lot of the first and third, not much for the second. But there was a third floor we didn’t get to, so he might’ve been up there. Again, spiral staircases that were narrow and steep. Coming down from the second floor was a big sign to watch for the “Thieves’ Step” or the “Burglar’s Step.” Homeowners deliberately made one step higher than all the others. Everyone in the family knew which one it was, burglars didn’t. Any thieves that broke in would, theoretically, trip on the uneven stair, making their presence known. Must’ve worked because several of the houses in the Old Town have them.

St. Giles - you can see it was a rainy day
Along the Royal Mile is St. Giles Cathedral. It’s a Presbyterian church that’s VERY old and absolutely beautiful. Still active today, it is open for visitors so we went in.

We wandered around admiring the architecture and some of the more modern liturgical art when I got a nosebleed. I get them now and again but I’m thinking this one was because I’m a Catholic in a Presbyterian church. J

There was a children’s choir practicing in the center opposite the pulpit. They were quite good and I sat to listen and Steven wandered a bit more. After a few minutes more of practice, they sang “How Can I Keep From Singing” in its entirety. With the gorgeous acoustics, the notes reverberated and amplified beautifully. What a treat!

The song ended and Steven came back to where I was sitting, a huge grin on his face. I thought it was about the music and it was, but not in the way I thought. He’d met one of the parents of the kids singing – turns out they’re a choir from a church in Texas on a European tour. They’d just gotten to Edinburgh and had a concert in a half an hour. But the best part? The man Steven spoke to, who was about our age, went to East High School. In Rochester, New York! He grew up in the Corn Hill area, though, so he was a product of the busing solution tried then to desegregate the schools.

Talk about a small world! To go five thousand miles and meet someone from my old neighborhood.

Time for lunch! Walked down the Royal Mile and bypassed several restaurants that offered full meals. We’re still thinking we need to eat lighter today. Found a place called the “Filling Station” – serving American food. Wings, hamburgers, and wraps along with club sandwiches. So yes, we ate an American lunch in Edinburgh, Scotland. And it was good.

Back to the hotel to regroup and drop off a package (I found a wool wrap for myself). Not there long before we were off to Arthur’s Seat.

Hard to believe you're in the middle of a city!
Arthur’s Seat is this hill that’s at the other end of the Old City of Edinburgh from the Castle. It’s behind Holyrood Palace and legend paints it as a possible place for Camelot (which, sorry Scotland, I don’t buy. But you’re entitled to wishful thinking). It’s an extinct volcano and I wasn’t going to let that stop me from getting to the top.

After a false start on the wrong path (that was far steeper than I could manage for long), we found the right one and started around the Salisbury Crags. Easy-peasy. We walked for ten minutes, though, and realized the final leg was going to be VERY steep. Steven’s stomach had started giving him rumblings, too, so we made the decision to say, “Today, this is far enough.”

The Abbey ruins at
Holyrood Palace, the Royal apartments when the Royals are in town, is at the base of the hill right beside the ruins of an old Abbey. There were two parts to see, the Queen’s Gallery and the Palace itself (including the ruins). The Gallery hosts special exhibits of paintings from the royal collection; currently they’re showing several Dutch Masters, including a Vermeer. Spent over an hour in there, partly because we happened on a tour group that was being given a special lecture on one of the paintings. Of course, we stood in the back and listened. He gave a marvelous critique of the painting by Pieter de Hooch and I wasn’t even bored!

From there we headed to the Palace. The King’s Rooms, the Queen’s Rooms, separated by the Gallery – all quite impressive. Today when the Royal Family visit, they stay on the third floor rather than the second, however, so these rooms are museum pieces. Except for the Gallery. This is still a functioning State Room (knighthoods are dispensed here, for example).

The highlight of the tour is visiting Mary, Queen of Scots’ bedroom. Good history told through the audio guide, so I was looking forward to it. But we got hung up in the Queen’s Bedroom below her chambers. The room kept filling, but the warden at the door wasn’t letting anyone through (Really. The docents are called wardens). We stood for nearly ten minutes before we were told to go back a different way to go up to the chamber.

When we got there, we realized why. Off behind the red ropes was a tourist with an icepack on her head. The stairs we didn’t take were a spiral staircase with uneven steps. I’m sure she tripped and hit her head. I felt her pain. She was in good hands, though and, with any luck, will only come away with an egg on her head and nothing broken!

Our guides on the pub crawl
Back to the hotel for a break before our pub crawl. Never been on one before. This was a performance as well as a move from pub to pub. We started at The Beehive, a pub just down the way from Robert Burn’s apartments when he lived in the city. Two guys, one taking on the role of the upper class, the other of the lower, telling the story of several famous Scottish writers. It was highly entertaining and we walked about two miles on the tour, plus a mile to it and a mile back. All together, I’ve walked about 12 miles today! No wonder I’m tired.

1 comment:

Steve said...

Brings tears of joy to my eyes just rereading this...thanks for posting hon!