Rest of trip follows:
Week Two: Scotland, and back to England.
Happy Easter! Edinburgh...ah, what can I say? It feels like home. Quite comfortable - which is not what I expected. I expected memories to overwhelm me and make me nervous and fretful; I expected it would feel "weird" to be here again for the first time in seven and a half years, after spending such a strange, tender, lonely, sweet season here. But it makes me happy. That whiskey-distillery smell, now drifting in through the window, prevalent everywhere you go in town, makes me calm and pleased. The sight of the crowded, spiky, ancient buildings is comforting. I love knowing which streets to take and which direction I'm going. Oh, sure, that only works for a certain portion of town, but it still feels good.
It is, in any case, a great way to finish a day that contained so much mind-numbing-ness. Word to the wise: don't travel the UK rail system on Easter. Few trains are to be had, and the ones that exist are crowded. We took a taxi from the Kirby Moor Hotel to the Brampton rail station - where, by the way, there is a phone; we just missed it the first time. Duh. Caught a train to Carlisle easily enough. Then had to wait for four hours in Carlisle for a train to Edinburgh; and when it came, it was so full we couldn't sit together. Only an hour's ride, though, and seeing the Scottish scenery emerge, with Edinburgh finally sliding to a stop outside the windows, cheered me up.
I did not know that Princes Street Gardens explodes in daffodils this time of year! The whole slope of grass up to the castle is starred with them. (Photo: Edinburgh Castle with daffodils.) Will have to get in there for a closer look. This evening we wandered around the streets - up to the castle, down a bridge, down Princes St., and past my old hostel (eek!), to the Rothesay Hotel where I worked, and then back to Princes St. for dinner.
Back here at our hotel on Calton Hill I gave Douglas (bluesound) a call, and that also went pleasantly. We're to meet up with him and Signe at 4 p.m. tomorrow for food and a ghost tour. Should be a good time.
Speaking of the macabre, this hotel room beats 'em all for the Goth factor: you can see graves from our window. Some churchyard or something, on the other side of a wall. Rather scenic actually. (Photo: a different cemetery, with the hill called Arthur's Seat looming in the background.)
Back to reading and breathing in that Embra air.
We slept quite late this morning, necessitating a stop at the Marks and Spencer food section for breakfast, as we missed our hotel's buffet time. Then we expended much of our newfound energy by walking over to Holyrood Park and all the way up Arthur's Seat. Only some 850' tall, but steep, and quite scenic. (Photos: view of Edinburgh from top of Arthur's Seat. Also available in wallpaper size. And: Steve on Calton Hill, looking totally hot as the wind is giving him Robert Smith hair. Rowrr.)
Discovered a place called Chocolate Soup, which serves up the most luscious steamed-milk-and-chocolate hot drinks. Yumm.
Anyway, round about 4:00 we met up with Douglas and Signe. He seemed familiar yet changed - like the older brother of the kid I knew in '96. She took some time to warm up, but was soon chatting comfortably. Her English is good; and they seem content with each other. And by the way, never try to keep up with a Scotsman and an Eastern European when it comes to drinking. They kept buying us more rounds, at dinner before the ghost tour and at the cafe afterward. We somehow got away sober, mostly by strategic choosing of low-alcohol-content drinks. :) (Photo: Signe and Douglas, our intrepid companions.)
As to the ghost tour, I quite liked it. Our guide amused us with gruesome historical stories on the Royal Mile, then spooked us with ghost stories in the vaults under the South Bridge. These (the vaults) were very creepy indeed. Can't imagine wandering around down there alone - especially with only a flashlight, and not their atmospheric lanterns and candles placed about. Still, I didn't experience anything paranormal, so it's possible I wouldn't even when alone either. (Photos: a "close," or narrow alley, in old Edinburgh. A locked grating down in the vaults.)
So - Inverness tomorrow, the farthest north I will have ever been (on the ground anyway). Goodbye for this time around, my Edinburgh.
Ooh, the Highlands are pretty! Took quite a long train ride up here - well, 4 hours or so - and we saw some beautiful wild terrain. Hills with heath and patches of snow; streams running through mossy banks; thick forests; very few villages compared to the population density of England and other places farther south. Besides the scenery, there was also the old fellow next to me to liven up the trip. The train was crowded, so Steve and I couldn't sit together for the first hour or so, and I ended up with a chatty seatmate, a spry 60-ish man from Leicester. He was an engineer in the oil business, did a lot of traveling, and had some useful tips on stuff to see and do in Scotland. He and I also shared some important views, such as being against the idea of Britain being subsumed into the EU (which isn't going to last long anyway); and "I've got no time for the bloody French." Ah, I love the elderly Brits. (Well, 60 isn't really "elderly," but whatever...)
We got into Inverness, and found our way to the hotel here on the banks of the River Ness. The daffodils are out in force on them as well. (Photo: daffodils near a church in Inverness.) We picked a good time to come to Britain, from the daffodil-lover's viewpoint. Had some dinner; bought some scotch - Talisker, the only single malt made on the Isle of Skye; quite smoky-flavored; a bit odd, but I like it.
Wandered around the town a little, and got rained upon in a spring shower, of which more are likely on the way. May make for a damp visit to Loch Ness and/or Nairn, but we'll survive. Makes everything smell nice and fresh, at least.
So, yeah: add the Highlands to my list of Places I'd Like a Vacation Home. So many such places, so little money...
Failte to our last night in Scotland for what could be a long time. We shall think back on it fondly - Scotland, I mean, not just this one night.
Got onto a tour bus with 2 other American youngsters this morning, and were taken down to Loch Ness by an old fellow who conversationally told us about the places we were passing, and their histories. A good deal about Bonnie Prince Charlie was said. All I clearly remember is that he escaped by putting on women's clothes on one memorable occasion. Very bonnie he must have looked indeed.
Our tour then shifted to a boat, which cruised us around the Loch for an hour. It was gray and windy weather with some misty rain at first, so we got more than a few wave-splatters from the dark waters of Loch Ness. But, hey, that felt about like home. (Only, Loch Ness is freshwater, not saltwater like Puget Sound.) Saw the ruins of Urquhart Castle from the lake, and many beautifully stark hills and forests, but no monster. Not surprising, that. After our visit to the Monster exhibition centre in Drumnadrochit, we're pretty well convinced that people have been chasing seals, birds, sturgeon, boat wakes, and logs all these years. However, it's a beautiful area, so that's reason enough to visit. (Photos: Steve and Molly on shore of Loch Ness. Stupid hat alert! Urquhart Castle from the Loch. Also comes in wallpaper size.)
Back here in Inverness, Steve and I had lunch, then took a late afternoon walk over to Hill of the Fairies on the other side of the river. No, it's not the local gay scene: it's a quiet, thickly wooded hill carpeted with sweet-smelling moss and fallen leaves, and covered with graves and tombstones. (Photo: the path leading down the Hill, with a couple tombstones in sight.) A cemetery mingled with a forest on a wee hill, you might say. Something enchanting about it. Just the name "The Hill of the Fairies" makes me want to write a story with some mythological-folklorical basis; featuring, like, a hill. And fairies.
Had a disappointing dinner at a local steakhouse - but at least my dish featured haggis. I always rather liked the stuff. Oh, but word to the wise: don't order "Scotch trifle." It was basically red Jello with custard, Cool Whip, and sprinkles on it. There was a small portion of gelatin-soaked cake under there too, but not enough to be counted. Yeah. Disappointing. Though, as my wise husband pointed out, "We did not come to Britain for the food."
True. But that Scotch is still pretty good.
So, we are in York. And though I have been getting tired of travel and of moving in and out of new places, and was considering skipping this city just to reduce the total number of hotels, I'm now glad we kept our reservation and stopped here. It really is a beautiful historic city, and a great place to spend an evening. It's touristy enough to be friendly to newcomers, but not so touristy that it's ruined - not this particular day of the year, anyhow. When we walked into York Minster at about 6 p.m. (having spent most of the day on the train from Inverness), we practically had the place to ourselves. And it really does take the cake for amazing cathedrals. Plus, it has some quiet gardens behind it - more what we'd call a "park" - which were restorative to the soul to walk through. (Photos: Steve with the impressive exterior of the Minster. Interior of York Minster. Another cool shot of interior, also available in wallpaper size. Famed stained glass in the Minster, which similarly has great wallpaper potential.)
Had dinner, and strolled through the cute cobblestoned narrow streets, then joined up with a local nightly ghost walk. (Photos: The Shambles, a favorite for those fond of narrow old streets. Did I mention this makes a lovely desktop?) More of a historical tour than a ghost tour, in some ways, but fun nonetheless. We stayed above ground, unlike the one in Edinburgh, so it was never particularly spooky.
So, maybe we'll try to have the hotel keep our luggage safe tomorrow after checkout, and explore York a bit further before going to London. See you there.
Back once again at the Georgian House Hotel in Westminster; put once again in a basement room. (Well, ground-level, actually.) That's okay. I'm feeling generous. I like the idea of being home this time tomorrow, but I'm also feeling generous toward lovely Britain, as I shan't be seeing it for who knows how long, after tomorrow. London, truthfully, is a bit much. I could do without it. But the other destinations have practically all been good enough to spend a whole week in, if not move to.
This morning we braved the rain in York, and climbed the 275 steps to the top of a tower in the Minster. Quite the view, and a cool experience since they don't usually let you in the tops of those cathedrals. (Photos: View of York from the top of the Minster.) Also climbed into the much lower but still attractive city wall, and strolled along it, admiring people's gardens below. Then we decided we'd done all we could in the rain, and caught a train to London.
Didn't arrive in time to do Kew Gardens, but did go over to Knightsbridge for some minor cheap sightseeing. Namely, we walked through a few rooms of the Victoria and Albert Museum (free admission), which has some huge Raphael paintings among other interesting eclectic things; and the next-door Natural History Museum very briefly (also free admission). Went down the road to Harrod's to gawk at the prices, then escaped via Tube back to Westminster for dinner. Watched some British TV to amuse ourselves, and now I think it is bedtime.
Wish us a safe and pleasant flight. Cheers, ol' UK.
Must say this about Seattle and the Northwest, now that I'm back: I already knew it, but, even on the tails of having seen beautiful Britain, this area is still amazingly gorgeous. Clean air, clean water, hills, mountains, forests, flowers, an edge of wilderness around the borders of all our new streets and houses - The American West, in short. So very young. Let us not forget it or take it for granted. One of my pet peeves is people who feel that once they've seen how attractive another country is, they can no longer appreciate their own. Nonsense. That translates to deliberate blindness and, often, ingratitude. Let it never be said that I should become such a one. Thank you and goodnight.