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Terrell's 2006 Travel Journal

Part One Continued - Scotland

This is the record of the month I spent traveling in the summer of 2006, first to London by myself, then in Scotland with my younger brother and his family, then to Italy where I visited my niece, her husband and their two month old baby and finally in Turkey where I took my third Melitour trip in as many years along the eastern Black Sea Coast and down through Eastern Turkey. If you’d like to jump to the Turkish part of the trip, just click this link.

Saturday July 22 Day Five

I woke up a little later than I had planned and had to rush through packing and breakfast. I said goodbye to the girls, checked out of the hostel I had been staying in in London and headed to the tube one more time. As it was Saturday, there were lots of service shutdowns so I had to work out an alternate route to get to King’s Cross Station to catch my train to Scotland. I was quite proud of my newly acquired transit skills. I got to the station in plenty of time to queue for the train. (I had booked my ticket on-line before I left the states and picked it up at a machine in the station a couple of days ago.) Since we were all supposed to have reserved seats, I don’t quite see why they made us do that. I found my car and asked some nice boys to explain how to find my seat. It was the smallest seat in the car, but I figured that was OK since I had paid such a small fare. At least we had air-conditioning! I love train travel; it's so relaxing. It took about four and a half hours to get to Edinburgh so I settled back with my book and some snacks and then spent most of the ride looking out the window. We passed a large pond filled with model sailboats and no visible people. It looked like someone had shrunk a lake, the illusion was so complete. The golden blond fields of hay that rolled by seemed almost lit from within against the silvery gray sky. I caught occasional glimpses of the sea as we approached Scotland. The town with the river just before Edinburgh was particularly striking with its stone buildings decorated with flower boxes. One of my favorite parts of the trip was listening to the the extreme Englishness of the lady in the seat in front as she chatted with her seat mates. She actually said “never mind, dearies” to the little girls next to her, just like in the movies.

I arrived in Edinburgh almost on time. Just as I was trying to figure out how I was going to find my brother Matthew at the crowded station, there he was with his son Hayden. The three of us walked up the hill from the station, past a crowded Princes Street and the Scott Monument, over the crest of the hill to a quieter block in “New Town” (built in the 18th and 19th century) to the Ingrams’ B&B, which we had all to ourselves. They have four bedrooms and Matthew, his wife Alison, his daughters Margaret and Alex, son Hayden and I occupied them all. Matthew showed me to my large, blessedly cool bedroom with a huge en-suite bathroom and then he and Hayden took off to kick a football around while I showered, changed and did a little laundry. Alison and the girls came back from shopping a little later and the whole bunch of us piled into taxis and went to Old Town for a fancy dinner. I have come up in the world. It was still light when we got back from dinner so Matthew, Margaret and I took her laptop up to the Starbuck’s at the top of the hill so we could tap into their wireless network and check email. The street was clearly home to lots of bars and clubs, neatly disguised in gray stone, so we had a good time watching all the very dressed up young people walking up and down the street on their way to Saturday night partying. We walked back to the B&B where I had a lovely night’s sleep except that…


 

Ingrams B&B Edinburgh, Scotland          Edinburgh street

left: my lovely cool bedroom at the Ingrams'

right: the view from the B&B's front stoop including Alison and Hayden

 


 

Sunday July 23 Day 6

…a bunch of people talking—it sounded like a party—woke me up at 5 AM. I tried to go back to sleep since breakfast wasn’t until 9. We had a lovely English Scottish breakfast of eggs, bacon  and lamb sausages cooked for us by our host, David, a dapper little man with a steady supply of quips, and served in the B&B's elegant, antique-filled dining room. David thought it was funny that we insisted on clearing the dishes off the table. After breakfast we walked to Calton Hill east of the center of town which the kids climbed the steepest possible way. I followed more slowly. There were wonderful views from the top. This is the view, usually including the Dugald Stewart Monument that looks like a small Grecian temple, that you always see on the covers of guide books. You could see all the way to the waterfront at Leith, but the kids mostly just wanted to climb the monuments. There was a piper in full regalia playing for tips just to give things a little more color. I was a little surprised at the number of tourists who thought it was OK to take his picture without leaving a tip. From there we walked down the hill through an interesting graveyard and past the new Scottish Parliament building to the Palace of Holyrood House. Although not particularly large for a royal residence, the palace was very interesting to walk through, looking at furniture and paintings and, in one particular room, a number of personal effects of royal personages. I had a good time imagining scenes from Outlander, the book I couldn’t resist rereading while I was in Scotland, especially in the great gallery with all the "portraits" of previous monarchs real and imagined. There's a good scene in the book when one character explains to another that all the paintings were done by Jacob de Wet without any reference to actual appearances of the royals in question. The painter gave them all the same nose to make them look like the king who commissioned the paintings.

After the castle we walked a ways up the Royal Mile, passing the End of the World pub. We ate lunch  at a pub in the building once occupied by the notorious Tollbooth prison. After lunch we split up; Alison and the kids went to climb to Arthur’s Seat, Matthew went to find a beer and the golf match on TV in a friendly pub, and I went on up the Royal Mile to Edinburgh Castle where they had set up stands in preparation for the upcoming Edinburgh Tattoo and then over to the Museum of Scotland which was very interesting and housed in a beautiful building. After a nice wander we all met up back at the B&B. I had a chance to use the Ingrams' computer to post a blog entry on the Wide World Books website (sorry, that blog is now defunct) before Matthew grabbed it to find us a hotel for Monday night--not an easy task when you're booking for six people. Since the time was about right by then, Matthew and I called our mother in Dallas to wish her a happy 85th birthday. Dinner was at the oddly incongruous Monster Mex restaurant where we ate nachos and fajitas. Apparently you can take the kids out of Texas but you can't take Texas out of the kids.


 

 

Holyrood House Scotland         Calton Hill, Edinburgh, Scotland

left: from the gardens at Holyrood House

right: Matthew looms over Edinburgh on Calton Hill

 


 

Monday July 24 Day 7

One more breakfast with host David, and then we packed up the rental car and drove off, first toward the south to the Rosslyn Chapel that has a starring role in the Da Vinci Code. Matthew and the kids are all fans of the book and the movie so they wanted to see it in person. The heavily carved interior was very interesting and they had done a very good job with signage to explain the significance of the Christian and Masonic symbolism. I particularly enjoyed the presence of pre-Christian "green man" faces scattered around. Unfortunately, it was so crowded that it was difficult to see anything. They are a victim of their own success. From there we headed north to Stirling, stopping along the way at the Falkirk Wheel. This engineering marvel connects two canals at very different levels, about a hundred feet I would guess. It’s sort of a Ferris wheel for boats with one water and boat-filled car going up as the other one comes down. The boat riding in each car stays level in its own rotating wheel. When the wheel reaches the new level, the car opens up and the boat motors away.

We had a very late lunch at a pub in Stirling and then went on to the castle. It was very interesting, with rooms in various states of restoration. The kitchen area was a little creepy with life size figures set up to show what work would have been done there. I especially enjoyed the tapestry workshop tucked away in a far corner. They are using traditional techniques to recreate the famous "Hunt of the Unicorn" tapestry set that hangs in the Cloisters Museum in New York. It is planned to take years, if not decades to finish. It was wonderful to see a nearly lost art being brought back to life. From Stirling we drove north into the Highlands to Braemar, our destination for the evening and the next town over from the Queen’s house, Balmoral. The mountains got higher as we went and the blooming heather made swaths of purple across the landscape. It looked just the way I imagined from my books. We reached Braemar about 8 PM. It was still light, of course, as we were pretty far north here.  Our hotel, The Braemar Lodge, had three types of accommodations: regular rooms in the lodge, log cabins and a backpacker’s cabin that slept twelve. We got the backpacker’s cabin all to ourselves which worked out quite nicely and at a good price, relatively speaking. We had a mostly good dinner in the hotel dining room and then went for little walk through the village. It was very pretty with little shops, several elegant gray stone hotels and a picturesque stream that flowed under a bridge in the middle of town.

 


 

Rosslyn Chapel Scotland                    Braemar Lodge Scotland

 

left: My very bad picture of Rosslyn Chapel

right: the main building at the Braemar Lodge

 


 

Tuesday July 25 Day 8

After much discussion, we finally came up with a plan for the day. After breakfast we decided on a hike. The kids naturally wanted the uphill trail rather than the mellow ramble along the stream. Convenient signs around the village pointed us to the gate that marked the beginning of the trail where Matthew and company set a fast pace up the path through the woods.  I followed for a while but after getting very hot, I turned around and went for a nice walk by myself through the woods and then wandered into town and bought a newspaper. Please don't imagine that this was a particularly difficult hike I escaped. It's just that I'm lazy and out of shape. Once the hikers came down and emoted about the fabulous view from the top of the hill, the whole gang spent a little time shopping for souvenirs. Hayden had promised to get something striking for an uncle back home. After debating the merits of claymores and tartans he eventually settled on a stag's horn drinking cup with a silver base. After this purchase we packed up the car and left for Aviemore where I planned to catch a train to Glasgow. Matthew and crew were staying another night in the Highlands before making their own way to Glasgow for their flight back to the States. On the way we passed the Queen’s house—she was not in residence—along with lots of sheep and cows. We drove (have I mentioned that Matthew was driving, very fast, a left-hand drive car in a right-hand drive country?) through a National Park where people were camping and hiking and past a ski area called Cairngorm.  As we turned to drive southwest down the valley towards Aviemore we could see the cloud from the local tourist attraction, a functioning steam train. Unfortunately, we missed my real train, so I bought a ticket for the next one and we all went across the street for one more pub lunch together.

One last goodbye at the station and I boarded my nice, modern and only moderately crowded train to Perth where I had to change to an extremely hot and extremely crowded train to Glasgow. With no reservation for the evening and only a foggy notion of local geography, I went looking for a hotel. It was so hot, though, that I threw in the towel and got a room at the Holiday Inn Express which turned out to be not only very expensive but also deceptively un-air-conditioned (the lobby was the only artificially cool place in the building) and had  a window that refused to open more than a sliver. At least the shower worked. A sinfully delicious supper of crisps and biscuits from the local market eaten in front of the telly closed my last evening in the UK.


 

Braemar Scotland stream                         Aviemore Scotland train station

left: the stream running through the middle of Braemar

right: Goodbyes at the Aviemore train station

 


 

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