Thursday, July 30, 2015

Sixteen Days in the UK - part 2

Part 2: Edinburgh and Scone

We flew into Edinburgh on Friday evening. The flight was relatively empty, but there were clearly some shenanigans in store - "Marilyn Monroe" and his buddies were on our flight, probably heading for a stag party. 

We figured out how to take the tram into town, picked the tram station that looked like it was the closest one to our hotel, and got off. Edinburgh is beautiful, but I wish someone had warned us in advance about the hills. The path we chose from the tram stop to the hotel, while shortest on the map, took us past the Royal Scottish Academy and the Scottish National Gallery and up a GIANT staircase, over the same hill that the castle is sitting on. Once we made it to the top of the hill, we turned right and took a lovely curved little street (Victoria) back down the hill to the "Old Town" part of the city. Our hotel was on Grassmarket, which is a lovely open space that had been a marketplace back to the 1300's. One side is lined with pubs and restaurants, and the other side has a couple of hotels. The view from our hotel room was worth all of the hiking. (Photo above: Edinburgh castle, left, and the giant stands that they built for the Military Tattoo, which are really ugly.

After we recovered from the hike, we went across to the Beehive Inn for dinner. We ordered their "favorites" platter, so we got a little bit of fish 'n' chips, sliders, meat pies, and mushy peas. We were soon surrounded by a huge group of guys speaking .... Norwegian? Swedish? German? ... who each ordered the giant fish 'n' chips platter. We finished our tasty vittles and our beers (or cider, in my case - I became a big fan on Strongbow cider on this trip) and went back to the hotel to sleep. 

On Saturday, we had breakfast in the room overlooking the castle, and then hopped on the sightseeing tour bus (love those hop-on, hop-off buses!) to go to the Palace of Holyroodhouse. This is where the current Queen stays when she's in Edinburgh. This was also the first of many places we visited that had a connection to Mary Queen of Scots. We toured the palace and then the Holyrood Abbey (right), which was founded in 1128. The ruins were beautiful. We also went to the exhibit on Gold in the Queen's Gallery. 

Then we started another tradition for the trip: we stopped for a bite to eat at the cafe in most of the castles we visited. (Usually because we ate a big breakfast and finally got hungry after all of our touristing!)  

After Holyrood, we got back on the big bus, and rode all the way around the city to Edinburgh Castle. We could have walked the Royal Mile, but this way we got to see more of the city (and sit for a while). The castle was incredible. So many buildings, with so much history! We saw the Scottish Crown Jewels, and got our first glimpse of the Stone of Scone in the case with the jewels. Of course, we couldn't take a photo, so we don't know if it was the real thing. 

On the outer ring of the castle, we came upon Mons Meg, a massive cannon that has been there for almost 600 years (left - and those are the cannonballs, next to John's right foot)! There was a military history museum, and the Scottish National War Memorial, which was overwhelming. Every regiment that sent fighters to WWI and WWII had a memorial wall carved in stone, and a book with names of soldiers lost. A new book was set out for soldiers lost in Iraq and Afghanistan. (There were quite a few McAlpines in the various books.) 

The Castle is so high on the hill, on this impregnable stone, it's easy to see why the location was ideal hundreds of years ago. We couldn't imagine how soldiers in any kind of battle gear would be able to climb the walls.  

By the time we had seen everything, the castle was closing for the evening, so we walked
down the stairs back to Grassmarket. (I was really glad we hadn't walked UP them...) We had to have a little bit of a rest, and then we went back out to a different pub for dinner. The White Hart Inn has a really interesting history - many famous patrons, including Robbie Burns and a clever pair of grave robbers broke bread there. The cellar is supposed to be haunted! The mugs hanging from the ceiling (see right) apparently contain notes from previous staff members, to be taken down and read by the new staff. We watched a girl climb up and grab one of the notes during dinner. The American couple next to us tried some haggis for an appetizer - they had never heard of it before. We opted not to have the haggis nachos, but more Guinness and Strongbow hit the spot.

Sunday we got up and looked for a less hilly way to get to the tram. Turns out that going to the next stop, while it was a slightly longer walk, was mostly flat. So off we went, back to the airport to get our rental car. Yes, that's right, John was going to drive us around Scotland - with a manual transmission - on the wrong side of the road! 

We made our way out of the airport and onto the highway, remembering to stay in the slow lane on the *left* side as much as possible. About an hour north of the airport, we followed signs to Scone Palace. This is the home of the "Stone of Scone" - or at least, it was the original home. Turns out it's also an actual home - the family still uses the downstairs quarters when they are in the area. It's also the house where Dido lived, and where the painting still hangs. Dido Elizabeth Belle (her story was dramatized in a movie, called "Belle") was the daughter of Rear Admiral Sir John Lindsay and a slave woman. Lindsay brought her to live with his uncle, the 1st Earl of Mansfield, who later would be instrumental in ending slavery in England. 

Inside the palace we saw a couple of display cases with large brown serving pieces and bowls that looked like they were ceramic, but we'd never seen ceramics in such a rich brown color before. The guide told us that they were made of papier mache! We weren't allowed to take pictures, but this image is in the guidebook. There are 70+ Vernis Martin papier mache pieces in the collection. 

Outside the Palace, next to the chapel, is the stone. Being a McCalpin, John decided it was high time that his family reclaim the crown of Scotland (Kenneth McAlpine was the first King of the Scots, in 841). So he sat down on the stone and proclaimed himself king. (Looking back on this now, I think he may have "angered the faeries" when he did this, and brought a little bit of bad luck upon us later in the trip.)   

We stopped for a sandwich and a scone (of course) in the cafe, and then went on our way to find Kinloch House, our next hotel. This is one of a few properties in the UK that are part of the Relais et Chateaux group - our honeymoon hotel in Santa Fe was also one of these. Needless to say, two nights in a country hunting lodge were a little bit different! 

We were slightly disappointed that there was no air conditioning, and in fact no real way to move air in the room at all. We left the windows open as much as possible. But the room was lovely and the bathroom was huge - and strangely, covered in mirrors. The lodge has a beautiful walled garden up the hill in the woods, so we went exploring. We chatted with the gardener for a while, and took some pictures. Then it was time to go back and freshen up for dinner. They served an amazing three course meal (not inexpensive) - this is the kind of place where they reserve a table for you automatically, and you have to specify that you won't be there. We chose to have dinner elsewhere the next night. 

Having exhausted ourselves from driving and castles and excellent food, we went to bed. Monday would bring a whole new kind of adventure: Laundry day! 

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