England & Scotland: Day 16 – Last Day in the UK

Saturday, July 18, 2009

We woke up to more clouds on our last day in the UK.  We ate our last British Breakfast, and checked out of the guest house.  Unfortunately, we couldn’t leave our luggage there, so we took it to the train station to store while we did our final sight-seeing.  It cost £7/bag, but it was probably worth that to not drag it around all over Edinburgh.  We also made sure to buy our bus tickets to the airport before we set out to see more sights.

The Dining Room on Britannia

The Dining Room on Britannia

We were about to board the Majestic Tour bus right outside the train station to ride to the Royal Yacht Britannia.  The yacht was launched in 1953 and retired in 1997.  It is now permanently moored at the Ocean Terminal Shopping Mall in Edinburgh’s port of Leith.  Again, they gave us an audioguide that told us all about the yacht.  It was interesting to see how the royals traveled in style and to learn about the crew that maintained the yacht.  We were able to eat lunch at the mall in a cafeteria-type restaurant overlooking Britannia.

Edinburgh from Advocate's Close

Edinburgh from Advocate's Close

We rode the Majestic Tour bus back to the starting point and hopped on the next tour bus that was going out.  We rode almost the entire loop on the top of the double decker bus with a half-top to keep us dry.  I feel like we were able to see the major landmarks and learn a little about them even though the weather prevented us from comfortably walking around the city.  We did take one walking tour right before we headed to the airport.  We met the Mercat Tour near St. Giles Cathedral at 2:15pm.  This 90-minute tour didn’t go very far, but pointed out things on or right off the Royal Mile that we had previously walked right by.  Some of the most interesting parts were going down some of the “closes,” tiny alleys between the buildings.  We also saw a leather ID holder that was made from the tanned skin of the murderer, William Burke.  While the tour was enjoyable, the weather was still miserable.  With only one broken umbrella between us, I finally gave in and used one of the rain ponchos that Mark had given us for a Nebraska game one time.  I felt silly walking around in a glorified garbage bag, but at least I stayed dry during the periodic deluges that plagued our walk.  Brandon kept fighting with the umbrella.  Both the poncho and umbrella were unceremoniously thrown away when the tour was over.

After the walking tour, we collected our luggage and rode the Airlink bus to the airport.  We didn’t have any problems at the Edinburgh airport, easily checking in with Lufthansa and going through security.  We flew to Frankfurt, where things were a bit rushed.  We had to go through passport control since we were coming from the UK.  That took us outside of security, so we had to go back through to catch our connection to Nürnberg.  Our connection was a bit tight on time, so we were a little worried when security detained us because they couldn’t identify my curing iron.  We made it to the gate on time to discover that this was a smaller flight and only allowed one carry on bag.  They checked our bags at the gate, and we were quite relieved to see them arrive in Nürnberg.  We were relieved in general to be back in Germany.  We had an hour drive (through more rain!) back to Großbissendorf, but we arrived home around midnight.

It was a long trip through England and Scotland, but one that we enjoyed and will remember fondly.  To see more pictures from our last day, please see my Picasa Web Album.

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England & Scotland: Day 15 – Edinburgh

Friday, July 17, 2009

Today was our last full day in Scotland.  We started with breakfast at the Airdenair Guest House.  We had to place our breakfast order last night, and the choices were basically the same as all the others with the addition of homemade scones.  Breakfast was a warm and filling way to start the cold and rainy day.

Scottish National War Memorial at Edinburgh Castle

Scottish National War Memorial at Edinburgh Castle

We decided to purchase the Royal Edinburgh Ticket that gave us admission to Edinburgh Castle, Palace of Holyroodhouse, and The Royal Yacht Britannia plus unlimited travel on any of the four tour buses.  Edinburgh Castle was the first place we went.  Our timing was perfect to catch the free guided introductory tour around the grounds.  Afterwards, we followed the self-guided tour in Rick Steves’.  We saw the Scottish Crown Jewels, which had been hidden for more than 100 years after Scotland’s parliament was dissolved in 1707 to create the United Kingdom.  Then we saw the rooms in the Royal Place, including the Mary, Queen of Scots room, where she gave birth to James VI of Scotland (James I of England).  In the Great Hall, there was a lady in period costume telling the story of Mary, Queen of Scots.  From there we went into the Scottish National War Memorial  that was built to commemorate the Scottish soldiers lost in World War I, but also honors soldiers lost in British battles since. By this point, it was time for lunch so we ate at the Queen Anne Cafe right there at the castle before seeing St. Margaret’s Chapel (the oldest buildling in Edinburgh), Mons Meg (a 15th-century siege cannon given as a wedding gift from the Belgians), and the National War Museum of Scotland.

Palace of Holyroodhouse

Palace of Holyroodhouse

After the Castle, we caught another tour bus to take us to the other side of the Royal Mile to visit the Palace of Holyroodhouse.  This is the Queen’s residence in Scotland.  It stands on the site of a 12th-century Augustinian monastery that was destroyed in the 16th-century.  The ruins of the abbey are still standing next to the palace.  We had an audio guide take us through the rooms of the palace and then walked around the abbey and gardens.  There was an annual archery competition being held in the gardens that restricted part of what we could see, but it was interesting to watch them compete.

St. Giles Cathedral organ

St. Giles Cathedral organ

We got back on the tour bus and rode around to St. Giles Cathedral, Scotland’s most important church.  We followed the self-guided tour in RS.  The highlights were the Chapel of the Knights of the Thistle (private chapel with intricate wood-carvings) and the organ (built in 1992).  The organist was even there practicing while we were walking around the Cathedral.

At this point, we were tired and more than damp.  The one thing I omitted to mention throughout the day was the consistent rain everywhere we went.  We had started the day with two cheap umbrellas that we had purchased back in London; however, by the end of the day all we had was one broken umbrella.  Brandon had left his under the table at the Queen Anne Cafe.  Then, my umbrella gradually broke one rib at a time.  This was a hard trip on umbrellas!

We headed back to the guest house to get ready for dinner.  We made reservations at The New Bell Restaurant about 10-minutes from our guest house.  This turned out to be our splurge meal for the trip.  We started with a haggis crepe so we could say that we had tried haggis in Scotland.  You don’t really want to know what haggis is, but I think it tasted like potato bologna (you might not want to know what that is either!). For our main course, I had lamb and Brandon had pork. Of course, we had to end our last dinner in Scotland with some dessert, and Brandon even had a Scottish coffee to top everything off. After a lovely dinner, we walked back to the guest house in the rain with our sad, broken umbrella.

To see all of our rainy pictures from the day, please see my Picasa Web Album.

England & Scotland: Day 14 – Inverness to Edinburgh

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Today was a travel day.  We woke up this morning bright and early for breakfast at the guest house again.  Of course now that we were leaving Inverness, it was bright and sunny.  We said goodbye to the Ryeford Guest House, stopped to get some gas (petrol), and were on the road around 10am.

Brandon in Fordyce

Brandon in Fordyce

Our first destination was the town of Fordyce where Brandon’s relatives  on his mother’s side originated.  There wasn’t much to the town, not even a pub to eat lunch at, but it was quaint and historic.  We took the obligatory sign picture and then walked around the castle and old churchyards.  We hadn’t asked Linda about any particular gravestones to look for, but I managed to find a headstone for a Lamb!  We didn’t spend much time in Fordyce since there really wasn’t anything to do in the town and Brandon was eager to get the rest of the day’s driving behind him.

From Fordyce, it was about 4 hours to Edinburgh.  We stopped in Aberdeen for some lunch around 1pm.  The drive from Fordyce to Aberdeen was very scenic on small country roads, but the rest of the trip was uneventful.  We successfully drove through the center of Edinburgh to find to our final guesthouse, only making Homer Simpson recalculate the GPS route a few times.

Airdenair Guest House

Airdenair Guest House

The Airdenair Guest House is on a quiet street about a 15-minute bus ride from the city center.  We were greeted by our hostess who was very welcoming and helpful.  Since we had gotten to Edinburgh earlier than we had planned, we decided to take the rental car back tonight instead of in the morning.  Our hostess told us where to get petrol and we were on our way back through the city center.  There is lots of roadwork happening, so that makes getting around a bit more interesting.  About halfway there I realized that I had left the rental agreement in the guesthouse.  We didn’t have time to turn around and get it, but thankfully they were able to get the original agreement faxed from Bath so they could check the car for additional damage.  Since the car already had plenty of scrapes and scratches on the left side, the few we added weren’t noticable.  We are both relieved to be rid of the car and go back to driving on the right side of the road!

We took the city bus back to the guest house and then ate dinner at the Hotel Ceilidh-Donia down the street.  We were the only ones there at 7pm when we sat down, but when we left an hour later, most of the other tables had been filled.  The meal was good and filling.  We headed back to the guest house to prepare for another full day of sightseeing tomorrow.

To see all the pictures we took today, see my Picasa Web Album.

England & Scotland: Day 13 – Inverness

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

This morning came rather early again for being on vacation.  We had to be down at breakfast by 8:45am!  So far that is the only downside to staying at these small B&Bs.  However, breakfast was good.  We had to tell them last night what we wanted this morning.  We both had juice, sausage, bacon (which has been more like canadian bacon here in the UK), potato scone, and an egg.  Brandon also had baked beans.  Breakfast was so early, we were able to check our email back in the room before we had to walk to the bus station to catch the “Sensation” Jacobite Tour.

Branond and I on the Loch Ness cruise

Branond and I on the Loch Ness cruise

This 3.5-hour coach and cruise tour took us to Loch Ness, Urquhart Castle, and the Loch Ness Exhibition Centre.  The coach took us from Inverness to Loch Ness for a 30-mintues cruise to Urquhart Castle.  Unfortunately, Brandon and I were some of the last to get on the boat, so all of the seats on the top deck were taken; however, that turned into a fortunately when it started to rain about halfway there.  The loch (lake) is the third largest in Europe and has more fresh water than all the bodies of water in England and Wales combined.  We kept our eyes peeled for the Loch Ness monster, but didn’t see anything except some beautiful scenery.

Urquhart Castle

Urquhart Castle

Just as we were docking at Urquhart Castle, the rain stopped, and the sun came out.  We only had an hour at the ruined castle, so we moved pretty fast to see everything.  That was easier said than done weaving between all the other tourists.  The castle was deliberately blown up in 1692 to keep it out of the hands of the Jacobites, so only the shell remains.  There was a good 8-minute summary of the castle’s history in the vistitor’s centre that we were able to see before we had to catch the coach again.

The only Loch Ness Monsters we saw.

The only Loch Ness Monsters we saw.

Next, we went to the Loch Ness Exhibition Centre to learn about “Nessie.”  The exhibit consisted of 7 rooms with a video explanation in each exploring the facts and speculations about the monster.  Basically, they concluded that the sightings can be explained by reflections, boat wakes, etc.  We didn’t really believe we’d see anything, but it was still kind of fun to entertain the idea for a few minutes.  Of course, the souvenir shop was even larger than the exhibit!  Somehow we didn’t find anything that we couldn’t live without and came out empty-handed.

Erika at Cawdor Castle

Erika at Cawdor Castle

Once the tour ended and we were back in Inverness, we decided to drive out to Cawdor Castle.  This castle is the real residence for the Dowager Countess of Cawdor from October to April.  In the summer, she leaves and opens it up to tourists.  Thankfully, this castle was not in ruins since another thunderstorm passed through while we were inside.  The rain did lighten up enough for us to take a quick look at the gardens, which would have been beautiful on a bright sunny day.

Clava Cairns

Clava Cairns

From Cawdor Castle, we decided to check out the nearby Clava Cairns.  These are Neolithic burial chambers dating from 3,000-4,000 years ago.  Basically, they looked like a really old pile of rocks.  At least the sun had decided to come back out again at this point.

Chanonry Point on the Moray Firth

Chanonry Point on the Moray Firth

Brandon still wanted to drive around the area, because then he suggested trying to find the dolphin-watching area that the lady at the TI had mentioned.  Rick Steves was no help in this department, so we started driving in the general area that the TI map indicated.  We found the Dolphin & Seal Centre off the A9 highway.  Even though it was closed, we were able to use an outdoor map to discover the location was Chanonry Point on the Moray Firth near the town of Fortrose.  That was enough to put in the GPS, and we followed signs from there.  The point was very scenic, but we didn’t see any dolphins.  If we had more time here, we could have taken a dolphin & seal cruise.

By the time we made it back to Inverness, it was 7pm and definitely time for dinner.  The first restaurant we walked to couldn’t seat us until 8:30pm, so we walked on to the Redcliffe Hotel’s restaurant where we got in right away.  Even though there weren’t a lot of locals eating there, the food was very good.  I had the salmon and Brandon had haddock.  We even ordered dessert: Brandon had the Crème Brule with bananas and I had the Sticky Toffee Pudding with carmel sauce…Yum!  While we were eating, it rained some more, but stopped by the time we walked back to the guest house.  Even though there was plenty of rain today, it didn’t slow us down too much.

To see all of our pictures from Inverness, please see my Picasa Web Album.

England & Scotland: Day 12 – Glasgow to Inverness

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Today was our first full day in Scotland, and we experienced almost all varieties of weather, except snow.  The day started overcast in Glasgow.  We had breakfast at the hotel before getting on the road.  The drive to Inverness was about 3 hours and consisted of patches of rain followed by sunshine.  Brandon is really getting used to driving here, and I’m comfortable enough to sleep while we’re on the road.  I was tired after staying up late watching movies last night and then getting up early this morning to feed the parking meter outside the hotel to keep our car from being booted.

Room 2 at the Ryeford Guest House

Room 2 at the Ryeford Guest House

We arrived in Inverness around 1pm and found Ryeford Guest House pretty easily.  (A couple days ago, Brandon downloaded the Homer Simpson voice for our GPS.  Now Homer gives us our directions, and he is quite complimentary when you reach your destination!)  This guest house is definitely the most “cozy” of the ones we’ve stayed in during this trip.  The decor is primarily flowers and teddy bears, and the Kleenex box even has lace around it.  Still, the room is more than adequate and they have Wi-Fi.

After we got settled in our room, we headed out to find some info and some lunch.  The city centre is less than a five-minute walk from our guest house.  We stopped in the TI first to book tickets for the tour to Loch Ness tomorrow and pick up additional information about the area.  Then we ate lunch at Number 27 Restaurant and planned our sightseeing attack for the next couple of days.

Brandon in the rain at the Culloden Battlefield

Brandon in the rain at the Culloden Battlefield

We decided to go to the Culloden Battlefield this afternoon.  About 15-minutes east of Inverness, this was the site of the last hand-to-hand battle in Britain on April 16, 1746.  The new visitor centre did an excellent job of explaining the events that led up to the battle and the implications of the outcome.  (You can read all about it here if you’re interested.)  Unfortunately, by the time we were ready to actually go out on the battlefield, it was pouring rain.  We did go outside a little since we had our umbrellas with us, but the guided tour we were going to take was cancelled.  Of course, by the time we had looked around the gift shop and driven back to Inverness, the sun was shining brightly!

We ate dinner at The Mustard Seed.  We didn’t have reservations and were lucky to get a table right away.  We have noticed several differences eating in restaurants here in Britain compared to back in Germany.  Here we have needed to wait to be seated in restaurants, but it’s seat yourself in pubs.  Having water at the table is more common, and there is even a chance that there will be ice.  Finally, bread on the table is complimentary, unlike in Germany where you pay extra for what you eat.  Our meal was excellent and we finished with an apple cinnamon crumble.

Scottish Showtime Experience

Scottish Showtime Experience

After dinner, our evening entertainment was the Scottish Showtime Experience.  Rick Steves describes it as “a fun-loving, hardworking, Lawrence Welk-ish show giving you all the cliches in a clap-along two-hour package.”  It was one of the cheesiest productions I’ve ever seen, but it was fun to see and hear the traditional Scottish dances and songs.  The instrumentalists, particularly the bagpiper and violinist, were really good.  The only drawback to the production was the sound, which was turned up way to loud and had feedback issues.  Still it was a fun evening and gave us something to do.  It was amazing to me that as we were walking back to the guest house at 10:30pm, it was still completely light outside…we are definitely up north!

To see all the pictures taken today, please see my Picasa Web Album.

England & Scotland: Day 11 – Keswick to Glasgow

Monday, July 13, 2009

Fermenting beer at Jennings Brewery

Fermenting beer at Jennings Brewery

Today we had another traditional English breakfast before checking out of the West View Guest House. We drove back to Cockermouth to tour the Jennings Brewery. The tour was similar to most brewery tours we’ve been on, but now we just go so Brandon can taste the beer at the end. They had six varieties, and Brandon tried them all. I enjoyed chatting with another couple on the tour who were on holiday from the Bath area. He had been a captain in the British Army and had done guard duty at Buckingham Palace, Windsor Castle, and the Tower of London. He had also served 6 months in Iraq and had thought that was plenty long. They couldn’t believe Brandon had had to serve a 14-month tour. She was from Wales and said we needed to visit there the next time we came to the UK.

After tasting all the beers, we needed to find some lunch. We easily found a local pub to have a few sandwiches. Then we started driving to Glasgow. The drive was pretty uneventful and just a couple hours. We drove through some rain and it was not any drier in Glasgow.

George Square in Glasgow

George Square in Glasgow

We found the Ibis Hotel and got checked in. This is basically a traditional hotel. We walked down to the city centre for dinner at an Italian restaurant called Paperino’s. After dinner, we walked on to George’s Square. I wanted to walk around the city more, but the weather didn’t cooperate. We just went back to the hotel to get out of the rain. In order to get internet in the hotel room, we had to get the whole “media package.” IN addition to internet, we were able to watch the movies, Monsters vs. Aliens and Marley and Me. It turned out to be a nice relaxing evening that allowed us to recharge for the remainder of our travels. (And catch up on blog posts!)

To see more pictures, see my Picasa Web Album.

England & Scotland: Day 10 – Keswick

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Today started with a filling breakfast at the guest house. They served a traditional English breakfast of eggs, bacon, sausage, mushrooms, tomato, and baked beans. There were also cereals, toast, juices, coffee & tea. Unfortunately, the overcast and cool weather we had in Liverpool yesterday had followed us to Keswick today. We wanted to take a two-hour hike, but decided to do other things in the area instead.

Erika with a sheep

Erika with a sheep

Our first stop was the Lakeland Sheep & Wool Centre in Cockermouth (about 13 miles to the west of Keswick). There we saw a demonstration of about 20 different breeds of sheep. They also showed a couple cows and a border collie herding some ducks. It was interesting to see the differences between all the sheep and really fun to see the dogs at work. At the end of the show, we were able to go up on the stage and pet the animals. It was almost like being at a 4-H show again!

Waterfall at Lake Buttermere

Waterfall at Lake Buttermere

After the Sheep Centre, we decided to take a scenic drive that was in our guidebook and recommended by the owner of our guest house. The drive took us through the majestic Newlands Valley dotted with 500-year-old farms and plenty of sheep.

From there, we descended to the scenic lake and town of Buttermere. We ate lunch at the Fish Hotel in Buttermere, and then walked to the lake and waterfall. Again, it would have been nice to walk around the lake, but we didn’t due to the weather.

Brandon at Honister Slate Mine

Brandon at Honister Slate Mine

The next part of the drive was through Honister Pass, carved out by glaciers. At the summit of the pass is England’s last still-functioning slate mine and we stopped for the tour. The mine was a bit chilly, and all the natives were shocked that Brandon would go in with shorts and a t-shirt. They pretended to understand when we told them he had lived in Alaska for a time, but really we know that he’s just crazy. The tour was interesting, and they use everything that they pull out of the mine. Most of the slate is used for roof tiles, but they also make house numbers, gravestones, cutting boards, etc, and I bought a candle holder.

Ashness Bridge

Ashness Bridge

The last part of the drive went through Borrowdale and we stopped by the picturesque Ashness Bridge. Finally, the sun was starting to peek out at this point in the day. We enjoyed the scenic drive and I think Brandon had fun on the very narrow curvy roads!

Dinner tonight was at Morrels Restaurant right around the corner from our guest house. On Sundays, they have a special 3-course menu. We both had tomato basil soup to start. For the main course, I had beef and Brandon had salmon. For dessert, I had the Chocolate Pudding (a chocolate cake) and Brandon had cheesecake. Again, we had an excellent dinner that was more than filling! Before heading back to the hotel for the evening, we walked down to Lake Derwentwater for one more look since we’d be leaving tomorrow.

To see all of our photos from Keswick, please see my Picasa Web Album.