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Spring Break Trip to Scotland with the Gadgeteers Article

on March 24, 2003 12:00 am

Julie’s comments are in BLACK and Judie’s are
in BLUE and italicized

A word of warning…this article is long and
has lots of pictures. It is not very gadget related – but it does
describe a good time. We hope you enjoy our trip.

Friday / Saturday
Julie: We left Columbus, Indiana and drove to the Indianapolis International Airport
at 8am. We got on a 2hr flight at 11:30am for Dallas, TX where we met up with Judie
and family.

Judie: We, on the other hand, had a four hour drive
to get from San Angelo to Dallas.

Julie: We had several hours until the flight to London, so we got a bite to
eat and sat around flipping thru Judie’s gossip magazines.

Judie: What can I say? Not only do I have
subscriptions to T3, Handheld Computing, Pocket PC Magazine and Pen Computing –
I also have subscriptions to Star and Us. <blushing furiously>

Julie: The flight to London lasted 9hrs and was probably the most uncomfortable
flight I have ever been on. There just isn’t enough knee room between you and
the seat in front of you.

Judie: Julie and I made a pact that the next long
trip we make, we will book just as far in advance as we did this one, and we
will use some of the substantial savings to upgrade to a "more legroom" class.

Julie: Definitely! First class even had foot rests… ahhhhhh, my kingdom for
a foot rest!…. British Airways does treat their customers very well though, we were
watered and fed several times throughout the flight.

Judie: This is true. We were treated to a better
than average airline meal, the drinks were free, and there was even a "tuck" box
in the rear of the plane when we wanted something sweet or salty to snack on.

Julie:
One cool feature of the flight was the color LCD monitor on the back of each
seat. Through it, you could watch movies and even track the progress of the plane
as time went by. A membrane style remote was in the arm rest of every seat. You
used this to change channels, adjust volume levels and even toggle the overhead
light above your seat.

Judie: The seats we were in had a remote control
like Julie described, but it came out of the seat arm and was attached with a
cord. It also functioned as an in-flight phone – not that I wanted to make any
calls for $5 a minute.

Julie:
I didn’t even notice it was a phone too! Darn! I watched 2 movies on the way to London. The Antwon Fisher Story with Denzel
Washington which was pretty good, and a lame family movie called Touching Wild Horses with
Jane Seymour. Although every passenger was given a set of headphones to use, I
used my brand new Bang & Olufsen A8
earphones. WOW, they are the most comfortable earphones I’ve
ever had. I was able to leave them on almost the entire trip and didn’t even
notice they were there. They have great sound while not isolating you from the
outside.

Judie: I watched The Four Feathers and Special Ops –
which was so bad it put me into a stupor. I used the headphones provided by the
airlines – and after a while, my left ear went numb; I won’t be doing that
again. I am open to suggestions for portable headsets…anyone?

Julie: Ok, so don’t take my word for it that the B&O’s are the most comfortable
ever! <pout>

Judie:  Well, we can’t have matching
everything, now….can we?

Julie: After what seemed like a millennium, we arrived at London Gatwick
early Saturday morning. Unfortunately, we had yet one more flight to take before
reaching our final destination.

Judie: Gatwick was different than other airports I
have experienced for several reasons. The first being that after we were let off
our Boeing 777, and after we had cleared customs, we were let into a communal
area which meant that we had to go through yet another security check-in before
we  could board our second British Airways flight. I thought it would have
been more efficient if they had kept us in a secure area and just allowed us to
board. The other major difference was that our pictures were taken as we checked
in this second time. As we walked to our gate, our faces were compared against
the digital photos in British Airways database at the next checkpoint. We didn’t
have to show our passports again, which I liked. It wasn’t like an American
airport where they want to see your driver’s license and boarding pass at every
point.

Julie: Soon we were loaded onto another plane for a short flight to
Scotland’s Edinburgh airport. By the time we unloaded, and retrieved our
luggage, I think we were all about ready to collapse.

Judie: It was shortly after 10:45am UK time – but it
was 4:44am at home. Jet lag was setting in…but we still had to catch a cab and
get to our Flat.

Julie: Speaking of luggage, I brought along
a great little gadget called the TravelTow. It’s a rugged plastic handle that
you can attach (with two very strong Velcro straps) to the existing handle on
your rolling luggage. The nice thing about it is that it swivels so that you can
hold your arm naturally as you walk with it. I really liked it, and it is now
permanently installed on one of my bags.

Judie: We walked out the baggage claim doors to one
of the more organized cab queues I have ever seen. All these funky little cars
were lined up and we were pleasantly surprised to see that all of us and our
luggage would be able to fit in a single cab.


These cabs look deceptively small on the
outside – but they can hold 5 people with luggage comfortably

Julie:
Due to some advice that we had been given here on the site, Judie and I were
both worried that we wouldn’t be able to all fit in one cab with all our
luggage. Our fears were unfounded though as we had no problems at all piling
into a standard sized cab. Soon we were headed to our rented flat in Edinburgh.

Judie: Riding down the "wrong side of the road" was
an experience in and of itself! Cars were darting in and out from everywhere –
buses were pulling out in front of everyone, and we could quickly see that we
had done the right thing by not renting a car to use in town. Honestly – I am
afraid that if I had been behind the wheel of a car there that I might have
endangered everyone on the road! We would soon find out that as long as we were
in town there really wasn’t any need to have our own car; cabs and buses were
readily available almost everywhere, and walking was almost always an option.

Julie:
When we arrived at the flat, we were happy to see that the lady we were renting from was
already there and had everything ready for us. The flat was very nice! Clean,
bright and well equipped. We were so lucky to find it! If any of you are
thinking of taking a trip to Scotland, you MUST contact
Mandy to check out the
availability of vacant flats. They are so much nicer than staying in a hotel!

Judie: We stayed in the
Grange Flats at 64 Findhorn
Place. This was a Victorian building dating from the late 1800s, and though
completely modernized, our Logan flat retained the quaint charm of the bygone
era. The ceilings were at least 12′ high and there were large windows in each
room – making everything seem open and bright. Radiators and space heaters kept the rooms comfortable
– and believe me, they were needed as it was in the upper 30s outside. Our flat
could have slept 7 to 8 people, but since we had no where near that many with us – we
were quite comfortable. (Oh – if you do contact Mandy, PLEASE tell her we
recommended her flats so that maybe she’ll give us a discount in the future.)

Julie:
Since we had all been up for almost 24hrs, we crashed and took a 2hr nap. Once
we woke up, we were hungry and ready to explore Edinburgh just a bit and find
somewhere to eat. Oh, just for future reference, EDINBURGH is pronounced as
Edin-burrow, and not Edin-berg like an ice berg.

Judie: We also heard that you can also call it
Edin-bruh. I think as long as you say it like you know what you are talking
about, no one will argue with you.

Julie:
We were a little apprehensive about how the food situation might be there.
Several people had mentioned that the food pretty much sucked. Boy, they
couldn’t have been more wrong! The restaurants and food there in Edinburgh were
some of the best that we have ever had the opportunity to visit and eat! And talk about
variety, every block probably had 3-4 different restaurants of different
ethnicities.

Judie: I had not seen such a selection of Indian,
Thai, African, Chinese, Italian, Mexican, Lebanese, French, Nepalese, Japanese,
and of course basic fish and chip storefronts in any city other than maybe New
York! This doesn’t even include the little French and Scottish bakeries that
dotted every block. I could tell right away that my fears of having to cook
every meal in the flat’s kitchen were completely unfounded.

Julie: That first night, we were fortunate enough to get into The New Bell
Restaurant
which was only 2 blocks from our flat. It was here that we had our first taste
of Haggis, and we loved it!

Judie: Who would have thought it! I ordered the
Haggis because I figured, "when in Rome," and we all took turns savoring it.
While I am sure that there are places in Scotland where the Haggis is bad (just
as there are places in the US where you don’t order certain food items), we can
highly recommend the New Bell for their fabulous Haggis. We also had ribeye
steaks and assorted desserts. Let me tell you right now that the ignorant
stereotype of UK restaurants’ meat being boiled down to bland rubber does not
hold true in Edinburgh. The meat was tasty and cooked to perfection. One
stereotype that did prove true was the cold and damp weather, and we were
walking – but hey – at least it wasn’t far and we had dressed for it.

Julie: After the meal, we headed back to the flat since it was late and most
shops were closed.

Judie: We were tired anyway, so we figured that if
we went to bed we would escape the worst of the jetlag effect, waking up the
next day ready to explore!

Sunday
Julie:
We all got up bright and early to start our first day of sight seeing. Upon
leaving the flat, we were greeted with a stiff breeze and temps around 40
degrees F. For myself, the weather wasn’t a big problem. This winter in Indiana
has been one of our coldest and snowiest to date. Scotland actually felt warm to
me. I don’t think Judie and family quite felt the same way…

Judie: No – we were freezing! We live in WEST
TEXAS, where we had already been enjoying spring-like weather before this trip.
Even though we knew it was going to be cold and wet in Scotland – knowing and
experiencing firsthand were two different things. Thankfully we had come with
leather jackets, scarves and caps. I definitely needed a pair of gloves, which I
figured I could pick up later.

Julie:
One of our first stops of course was for breakfast. We found a nice little diner
and were treated to tea, and morning rolls with bacon. To translate, it was hot
slices of ham on a warm roll. Yum!

Judie: Slices of ham with butter on them! It
was different, but very good. I also had one of my many Scottish lattes…for
those of you that like to indulge – you will definitely love this city! Almost
every restaurant serves coffee drinks, and if that isn’t enough for you, there
is even a Starbucks on the Royal Mile!

Julie: Soon, we were out the door and heading in the general direction of
Edinburgh Castle. Along the way, we became typical tourists, gawking and
pointing at every interesting building and point of interest. Anyone interested
in old architecture, would be in heaven while visiting Edinburgh.

Judie: We took pictures of everything! One of the
less obvious but very cool features of the buildings on the Royal Mile were
these little alleyways, called closes, that run in between the tall buildings.
Some of them had doorways leading into homes, businesses, or restaurants along
their way; some of the Closes were more like traditional alleys – acting as
strict shortcuts between blocks. Most went up and down steep sets of steps –
showing that the tall buildings we were standing in front of on the Royal Mile
had even more stories than they at first appeared. We would learn more about
that later, when we took the vault tour on Thursday.

Julie: We were also amazed at the fact that we saw almost no large vehicles.
Definitely no Sport Utility Vehicles. Cars were either compact or subcompact in
size.

Judie: The largest personal vehicle I saw was a Jeep
Cherokee. We saw plenty of the new (and old) Mini Coopers, Vauxhall’s (Suzuki’s) and
lots of cool little energy efficient cars made by automobile names you would
recognize – but models that we will probably never see here in the US, which I
think is a shame.

Julie:
Once we reached the Castle, we went on a self guided tour.

Judie: We wandered all around, taking pictures like
the tourists that we were, and we generally were in awe of our surroundings and
several facts: first of all – the age of the castle and the volcanic rock upon
which it was built, secondly – that the castle had been built at all. In case
you have never seen a castle (which was me, before this trip), it is almost
impossible to fathom the amount of labor and craftsmanship that goes into
creating a structure like this. It was massive, beautiful, and more than just a
little bit intimidating. I drug everyone into every castle gift shop hoping for
the perfect souvenir – but in
the end only got a couple little things because I was discovering that the
pictures we were taking were going to be the best souvenirs of all . Here are some
of the shots we took from inside the
castle area…

  
   
  
   
   
  

Julie: I didn’t buy much at all as far as souvenirs on this trip either. I was
more interested in seeing things then shopping. All the shops in Edinburgh were
fun to check out though, and there sure were a LOT of them!

By the time we finished at the Castle, we were ready for lunch. We lucked
out by going into the Scottish Whiskey Museum Restaurant where we had our second
great meal.

Judie: I spent most of the meal (when I wasn’t
savoring my honey-thyme chicken) convincing everyone that we should do the
whiskey tour – even though none of us even gives a fig about whiskey
!
But then I wound up changing my mind because I wanted to see what was down the
street. We had the woolen mill across the street, Camera Obscura, and a bunch of
cool churches we would eventually have to explore.

Julie: The Woolen Mill was really cool. You could look down onto all the
looms and even learn a little about the history. The sweaters, blankets and
scarves that were for sale were gorgeous. Expensive though!

Judie: In years past, I was active on the Eldorado
Woolen Mill’s preservation board, which supports one of the last operational
mills in the southwestern United States. I was interested to see that the
machines used in the Scottish mill were almost identical to the Texas machines –
they even looked to be of the same era, late 1800’s to early 1900s.

Julie:
At this point we started the trek back to our flat. On the way back we stopped
into many shops. The city is a shopper’s dream.

Judie: But amazingly enough, we really showed
remarkable restraint and didn’t buy much at all.

Julie:
After we got back to the flat, we started the process of downloading the
pictures that we had taken that day to Judie’s 5GB PCMCIA card. Using her
5455 iPAQ,
Whitney PC card sleeve and
I-O Data Reader
we pulled pictures from the Memory
Stick that my Sony DSC-U20 used and CF card that her Canon S320 used. We also used
Pocket Internet Explorer and the built-in viewer to look at some of the
pictures. Jeez, those two apps are painfully slow!

Judie: Well, we started with Pocket Internet
Explorer – which was incredibly slow, and then we used Picture Viewer expecting
to see an improvement in speed…and there was, but not much of one. :0P
Transferring the many pictures, some of them quite large, took a little while. I
wound up just setting my iPAQ on the floor as the pictures moved from card to
card, and we switched between the four channels available to us on British
Television.

Julie:
Using Judie’s NEXcell charger and our voltage converters, we also took turns
charging our digital camera batteries. I love that little NEXcell and want to
get one of my own. I really like the little tune it plays when the batteries are
fully charged. It’s fast too! The charger that came with my U20 took over 8hrs
to charge 2 AAA batteries while the NEXcell took less than 2hrs!

Judie: I actually wound up buying a blue U20 after
admiring Julie’s on the trip, and I can definitely vouch that the NEXcell
charger  is wayyyyyy better than the included Sony version.

Julie:
Speaking of voltage converters, both of us bought one for the trip. Mine is
called the Voltage Valet and came from
Packinglight.com
. It came with several different plug
adapters. I used it with my hair dryer and various PDA, camera chargers. It
worked great, although I did notice that when using the hair dryer with it, that
the dryer felt as if it was running slower than it should have.

Judie: We brought a converter from
Magellan. We
had a little bit of a scare when we were charging the iPAQ because the lights
started flashing between red and green on the converter, the charger was warm,
and there was a noticeable burning smell! Of course, neither of us had bothered
to read our chargers’ instructions, but once we did, we found that the switching
lights and the warmth were normal. We just figured the smell was because the
charger was new. This turned out to be the case as it never did that again after
the first night.

Julie:
Most evenings we watched TV there in the flat. No offense to any Scottish people
reading this article, but your TV channels are lame! I think we had 4 to choose
from. I did notice that they allowed the F-word and once we saw a commercial for
toilet paper that showed a bunch of butts! Ha! Supper ended up being
Chinese which wasn’t all that great because we had it delivered to the flat.

Judie: Now that I look back, I don’t know why we
didn’t just make ourselves rest for a while and then go back out, but it’s true – we
ordered in, and that was the last time we made that mistake. With all the great
restaurants right there in our neighborhood, we should have bit the bullet and
gone out. Ah well, we were exhausted. I for one had not done that much walking
in years!

Julie: Me neither! But, I’ll tell you what, it sure makes you sleep good at
night when you’re exercising like that all day.

Monday
Julie:
Another chilly, gloomy morning greeted us as we started out for Waverly Train
Station to see about tickets to Chester, the walled city. As it happened, we
decided not to go due to the expense and time. Instead, we booked ourselves on a
double-decker
Mac Tours tour bus and gave our feet a rest for a little while. As
we rode the streets of Edinburgh, a very nice lady narrated the trip, giving us
interesting information about buildings as we passed by them.

Judie: First we rode the red Mac Tour line, from
which we saw pass by: the John Knox house, the Elephant House where J. K. Rowling
penned the first Harry Potter book, the art school where Sean Connery posed nude
(!!!), the Greyfriar’s Bobby tavern and statue, the Scott monument, Alexander Graham Bell’s home from before he emigrated
to the US, the homes of many more famous, infamous, and literary people whose
names just screamed their history to us. I have to admit that even though I
knew
that there were many notable Scotts, this tour just drove it home for
me even more.

   
   

We were suitably impressed. In fact, there was so
much history being revealed to us on the bus tour, that Steve and I almost
decided to take the tour again the next day! After we rode the red tour route,
we hopped the blue tour bus, and enjoyed another ride to the Botanical Gardens.
As we were making our way across town, we passed a huge private school that our
guide told us cost £23,000 per year for students to attend. He named several
famous people who had attended, including British Prime Minister Tony Blair and
James Bond author Ian Fleming. Interestingly enough, he said that Mr. Fleming
had written that James Bond attended the school, too. Then the guide proceeded
to tell us that Sean Connery had also been to the school – but as a milkman! Who
knows if it was true or not, but it sure was fun!

Soon, we arrived at the Botanical Gardens.
We spent about an hour there, marveling at the "glass houses" and their interior
ecosystems and their accompanying plants. They were amazing!

   

Julie: There was even a jungle room that totally fogged up your glasses when you walked in. It had to have been a hundred degrees in there with 99.9% humidity. For awhile, we forgot all about being cold!

Riding this tour bus was a great way to find ideas for places to visit
further. As a result, I knew I wanted to check out the Scott monument. The tour
lady also told us about Jenners, the
oldest department store in the world. I wanted to get a look inside that store
as well.

The last stop for the bus was at the
Royal Yacht Britannia.


The Royal Yacht, Britannia

So we hopped off and headed into the Ocean Terminal shopping mall for lunch
and a tour. The mall was nothing out of the ordinary, but we did notice that
Scottish stores seemed way more trusting than US stores. One of the electronics
stores had a small table at the opening of the store with a variety of mobile
phones just laying there. Anyone could have just walked by and snatched them up! 
We also went into an Orange store and ogled at all the itty bitty phones that
neither of us could use here in the states <sniff>…

Judie: It hardly seems fair (not that anything ever
is) that in the US we don’t have as excellent of a digital infrastructure as
they do in Great Britain. We want cool phones, too!

Julie:
After lunch, we went on a self-guided tour thru the Royal Yacht Britannia. It
was interesting, but not especially exciting. Although the yacht has only been
retired for a little over 5yrs, the furnishings just seemed old fashioned. Actually, I
believe they were from the 50’s.

Judie:  That sounds about right. I guess this
was the first time I saw things that actually had been used by a living monarch,
and I was just expecting things to be a little bit more ostentatious. We were
told though, that the Queen is actually quite frugal and thrifty, so I guess
that explained it. I did think it was a little bit weird that in the bed
chambers there was a twin size bed for Prince Phillip, a twin size bed for the
Queen, and the only double bed in the history of the boat was the one Prince
Charles had had brought on for his honeymoon with Princess Diana.

Julie: I agree, that was strange about the sleeping situations… But you know
how old married couples can be ;o) I was also surprised to learn that they still
have dinners and events on board the yacht. While we were there, there were
people in the kitchen working. Also, when we walked by the little onboard
canteen area, the man there had fresh chocolate fudge that he let us sample.
Once we were finished with the tour, our feet were tired and we were ready to
head back to the flat for a brief rest before supper.

Judie:  Steve was worn out from all that walking,
so he
wound up staying at the flat while we went to have dinner at DeNiros, which was
an excellent Italian restaurant. By the time we got back, he had caught his
second wind and had gone up the street to get some fish and chips. He still had
room for the tiramisu I brought him, though.

Julie: Steve missed a good meal too! The Bolognese spaghetti was
wonderful. Unfortunately, I was a klutz and somehow managed to break a plate as
we were getting our coats on to leave. The waitresses there didn’t look any too
pleased… They also gave us funny looks when we kept asking for extra ice for
our drinks.

Tuesday
Julie:
Judie’s and my families went our separate ways this day as we all wanted to do some different things.
It was a really crummy morning, with wind and rain. So, we called a cab and had
it drop us off at the Royal Mile which is the heart of everything, so we wouldn’t
have to wear ourselves out walking that far right off the bat.

The first order of business was to book an all day tour for the next day to
the Highlands. We wanted to see the countryside.

The next item on the agenda was to check out
Camera Obscura. We had seen the building the prior day, and knew it was supposed
to be a good photo opportunity. It actually also turned out to be part museum,
and part amusement. After paying our entrance fee and learning that this was
Edinburgh’s oldest attraction (over 150yrs), we were instructed to climb up 6
flights of stairs. This was the real start of Julie’s fitness vacation, let me
tell ya! Anyway, once at the top of the building, we waited for the
demonstration. When it was ready to begin, we all filed into a small room and
gathered around a round white table. The lights were then dimmed and we were
told about the camera that protruded out of the roof of the building. Soon we
began to see the live image of Edinburgh Castle and the streets below us appear on the white table top. After
the demonstration, we made our wait out side to take a few pictures down to the
street below. Unfortunately, it began raining again, so we cut that activity short. On
the way down the 6 flights of stairs, we stopped into various rooms that housed
interesting photographic displays and hands on exhibits. Very cool 3D holograms
were all over the place.


View from Camera Obscura

It was still raining pretty hard, so we decided to duck into a really cool
pub called the Filling Station for lunch. What made this pub so interesting,
were the old gas pumps and car parts that decorated the walls. Their food was
good too!

Once lunch was finished, the weather started looking up, so we thought it
would be a good time to check out the
Scott Monument. 287
claustrophobic steps later, we arrived at the top.


Up, up and away!

Word of warning, if you are a
large person, you might not be able to make it all the way to the top of this
monument as the stairway narrows considerably the farther you climb. We were lucky that we didn’t meet anyone going up or down as it would
have been almost impossible to pass each other. Once we did make it to the top,
the views were fantastic! It was also cold and windy! From there we could see
the Jenners department store below which we had heard about on the bus tour the
previous day. We decided to make that our next stop.




Me in front of Scott Monument, View from on top of the Scott
Monument, and Jenners Department store

After a brief visit in the store, which had a great ‘old store’ feeling but
at the same time had totally modern wares, we headed back outside.

Next stop was St Giles Cathedral.
We had been intrigued by this building due to the top, which looked like a
crown. Built in the 1100’s, this just building oozed history from every stone.
Surprisingly, we learned that it is an living church with an active
congregation. The large pipe organ and beautiful stain glass windows were
breathtaking.

All day, I kept wondering what Judie and family were up too…

Judie: We started out with breakfast at Biblos, a
bar by night but a great coffee house/deli by day. Next, we took a cab to
Holyrood Palace. Our cab driver was something else! He wanted to know where we
were from, and when we said Texas, he said, "Ah – so you are Texicans!"
We loved the term, which believe it or not, we had never heard. Then he started
asking all kids of questions about America, like how much did our gas cost, how
efficient were our cars, etc. etc. He told us that his cab got over 30 MPG,
which I thought was pretty amazing. After a stern warning about how unless we
were totally "into royalty" we should skip the expensive palace tour, he let us
off at the gates.

The minute we walked through, I was so glad we had
come! It had nothing to do with royalty so much, but everything to do with
history and seeing things that were ancient and massive.

   

We took the tour of the palace marveling at the
sheer size of the rooms, their furnishings, the plaster work on the ceilings,
the antique furniture, everything was just amazing! Unfortunately, we weren’t
allowed to take any pictures from inside the palace. Trust me though, if you
ever find yourself in Edinburgh – take the tour. It lasts about an hour and it
is well worth the time and the expense.

We had a great tour guide that told us many stories
about the former occupants of the castle and the times they lived in. Right
away, Steve, Sarah and I were whispering back and for that we were going to
watch Elizabeth, Rob Roy, and Braveheart as soon as we got home!

When we reached the bedroom of Mary Queen of Scotts,
the tour took a turn for the dramatic and even my daughter Sarah – in all of her
13-year old coolness – got caught up in the moment…The story was how Mary’s
adviser/lover was having dinner with her and two ladies-in-waiting. Her husband
came up the secret passageway by her bed and entered the little room where the
others were gathered. He grabs the lover, and stabs him, then drags him
into the outer room, where he leaves him to bleed to death! It didn’t really
sink in that this was more than a history lesson, until Sarah called me over to
look at a plaque on the wall in the next room which stated that below it was the
place where the body had lain. I told Sarah to look down, and I thought she was
going to come out of her skin when she realized that the ancient wood floor
appeared to be stained where the body had lain! The cost of the tour was
worth the look she had on her face! ;0)

After the palace tour, we explored the adjoining
abbey’s ruins.

   
   

We then decided to couple some shopping with our
sight-seeing, and so we headed to Princes Street. We had lunch on the 5th floor
of a department store, and enjoyed a great view of the Scott’s monument across
the street. After lunch, we started a l-o-n-g walking tour that
took us by the Greyfriar’s Bobby tavern…

    

…and of course – the Elephant House, where Sarah
and
I got our pictures taken next to a sign that told about J. K. Rowling
having written there.

As we were darting into various stores, we actually
ran into Julie and her family! We heard about each other’s days, and agreed to meet back up at
the flat for dinner after a while.

Julie: By then, I was ready to collapse and shortly there after, we hailed a
cab for the flat.

Judie: When we got back, we were once again so exhausted
that we had to take a cab when we left for dinner at Izzi, a Japanese restaurant.

Julie: Which again, had great food! I even ate it entirely with chop sticks
which I’ve never done before. Ha!

Wednesday
Julie:
We got up early to head back to the Royal Mile to catch our van to the
Highlands. We booked with Rabbies Tours,
and I can’t recommend them enough! Our tour guide was
Shelby, and she was awesome! A master story teller, comedian, and even a singer,
she made the whole day a fun and educational experience. The tour we chose was
the Loch Lomond National Park & Stirling Castle tour.

As we made our way out of Edinburgh, Shelby entertained us with the story of
William Wallace (Braveheart). The first stop on the tour was the castle. It was
a beautiful day, blue sky and no wind (yes, we were still in Scotland). As such, we were happy to take an hour to
walk around exploring the castle. According to our tour guide, Stirling Castle
was called the ‘Key of Scotland’ and even more important than Edinburgh Castle
as far as defending the area. This castle had more of a castle look to it too.


An hour later, we were loaded back in the bus and on our way towards the
Highlands. During the ride, Shelby gave us another story, this time of Rob Roy
who was the Robin Hood (sort of) of the area. We stopped in a small town called
Aberfoyle and ate lunch at the Forth Inn. I had the Mince and tatties which
translated into what looked like ground beef in a rich gravy with cooked
carrots. The tatties were potatoes. It was YUMMY!

Once lunch was finished, we were back in the bus and heading farther into the
Highlands and to Loch Lomand. We did make a quick pit stop so that we could meet
Hamish the Hairy Coo. The Hairy Coos are cows that look unlike any cows you see here
in the states! Hamish was a sweetie though and would eat food from your hand…
you just had to watch out for the slobber! Eck!

We bid farewell to Hamish and drove the rest of the way to
Loch Lomand. Loch Lomand is a beautiful lake that inspired a song that I’m sure
99% of you have heard before.

O ye’ll tak’ the high road and I’ll tak’ the low road,
And I’ll be in Scotland afore ye.
But me and my true love will never meet again,
On the bonnie, bonnie banks o’ Loch Lomond.


After everyone finish snapping their pictures, the tour was finished and we
enjoyed the ride back to Edinburgh listening to Scottish music. What a great
day! We loved it so much that we decided that we would do another one.

Judie: This was Steve’s and my first day with just
the two of us in Scotland, so we decided not to waste a moment. As we walked
downtown, we created a massive plan of attack. First, we climbed the Scott’s monument –
which was an experience in and of itself. There were points in the tight spiral
staircase when I thought that I was going to have a claustrophobic fit – and I
am not claustrophobic! Reaching the top was
worth it – the views from up there were simply incredible.

Next, we explored the Princes Street Gardens, which
are basically in the area that was once the moat for the castle. According to
our tour guide, the gardens had once been full of water and dead bodies (!!!) to
keep enemies away from the castle. It was hard to imagine what it must have been
like at that time, because in the present day it is a beautiful, serene park.


No dead bodies here…that we could see!

We lined up with the locals and grabbed some
take-out from the Mark’s and Spencer department store deli, then we sat on a
bench in the park and ate a very tasty lunch. Afterwards, we caught a cab
and headed to the Nelson Monument on the top of Calton Hill.

     

We climbed to the top of the monument, and I was
happy to see that this spiral staircase was quite a bit wider and more
user-friendly than the one at the Scott’s Monument had been. Once to the top, the views were simply amazing!

   
   

After leaving Calton Hill, we ducked into an
ancient cemetery, where we were surprised to see a huge memorial to Abraham
Lincoln. It was dedicated to the Scots that had died during the Civil War and
in the fight for US slaves’ emancipation. This cemetery was one of the most
gorgeous I have ever seen – the tombstones were like something out of a gothic
novel.

  
   

Next, we toured the
John Knox
house, which is one of the few (maybe the last) homes left in it’s original
medieval state in Scotland. Now, just in case you
don’t remember your history – I will over-simplify and tell you that John Knox
was a protestant that did not approve of the Catholic Queen Mary in the least.
John Knox was a contemporary of John Calvin, and Knox was the founder of
Presbyterianism in Scotland.

   
   

After leaving the Knox house, we were famished and
so we ducked into DeliFrance, where we enjoyed awesome French goodies and
coffees.  After getting our second wind, we caught a cab home and met up
with everyone else.

Dinner was at the Wild Elephant, an excellent Thai
place.

Julie: Yes, yet again, another great meal! That reminds me another
interesting thing about Scottish culture that we should mention. If you’re the
type of person that likes to gulp down your food and then dart out of the restaurant,
you’re going to learn a lesson in patience if you visit Scotland. No one
gets into a hurry there. Meals are a relaxed affair… which is a nice thing as
far as I’m concerned. And another thing that really impressed me, when your
food is served, it is piping hot! Not like here in the states where luke warm is about the best it gets sometimes.

When we got back to the flat, I found out that my
Tungsten|T was deader than a door knob! I’m so glad that I have taken up better
habits and was able to restore everything using BackupMan from
Bits n Bolts. Thanks Mike!

Thursday
Julie:
The previous day was a relaxing day (mostly), so this day was to be another
beat-your-feet-on-the-pavement-day. We started out by having our taxi driver
take us up to Calton Hill where Judie and company had been the previous day.
Unfortunately, there were buses blocking the entrance, so we had to walk up the
to the hill on foot. It wasn’t really that bad, but it got your heart pumping.

Once at the top, there was a great view of the town below. We also climbed
the 187 steps to the top of
Nelson Monument. We
got some pretty good shots of the area. The building with the pillars pictured below is known as the Shame of Edinburgh. It was originally called the National Monument and was meant to be a replica of the Parthenon in Athens. Unfortunately, they ran out of money and never finished it.

Does the Nelson Monument remind you of
anything? It was decided to look like an upside down telescope.



Nelson Monument and view of the Athenian style acropolis from the top

We walked from Calton Hill to Holyrood Palace. Like Judie and Steve, we
found it to be really impressive. The royal family actually lives there 1 week
out of the year. We also got the story about the bloodstain on the floor boards
in the bedroom of Mary Queen of Scots. But, our guide also told us that the
floor had been replaced several times through the years and every time the
‘stain’ had crept back into the wood. Spoooooky!

The Holyrood Abbey ruins there are also very impressive. The history of this
building spans 800 years.




Abbey Ruins

After the tour, we made our way back up the Royal Mile and found a little pub
to have lunch. This was a real old time pub. The locals were eating there. You
think they could tell that we weren’t locals? ;o)

Judie: By this day, Steve and I were nearing our
limits on the amount of walking we could do anymore. Call us wusses, but oh
well. We thought we would take it easy and catch a cab back to the Ocean Mall,
see a movie and have lunch at the Ocean Kitchen again. Once we got to the mall,
we saw that the earliest movies weren’t starting until after 2pm! So instead, we enjoyed
an early lunch at the OK, which left us time to ogle the classic cars
on display in the mall. I could totally picture myself cruising in the vintage
Cobra or Jag we saw there . After a while, we caught a bus back into town, and once again decided to walk
around and explore some of the shops and sites. Amazingly enough, after a while
we found that we were in the vicinity of DeliFrance again – so we had to duck in
for some refreshments.

We were supposed to meet up with Julie and her
family at 3:30 for
the underground vault tour, so we started to head towards the Royal Mile. Since we had a
little bit of time left to kill, we checked out St Giles, a gorgeous
church on the Royal Mile.

   
   

We also stepped into the Police Station which had
several interesting items on display – including a card case made from the skin
of one of the first serial killers in Scotland…eeeeeeeeeeeeeew!

Julie: Burke and Hare were their names. They would dig up the graves of
freshly dead people and sell their bodies to the local medical school. Once they
got tired of digging up graves, they just started just killing people instead… less
work that way!

Judie: Shortly
afterwards, we met up with everybody and got ready for the tour. Just in case any of
you have forgotten – it was COLD outside and the wind was blasting and it was
drizzly! We sat on a
bench near the place where the tour was to start…and my teeth were just
chattering away!

Julie: I was actually freezing my buns off this time too! The wind there
really cuts through you!

Judie: About 20
minutes later, the tour group was assembled and we were on our way. It seemed
like it just got colder and colder – and the wind was stronger and
stronger
…and I was just about ready to quit the tour and go back
(seriously) when we finally entered an unmarked black door on the side of a
building that took us into the beginning of a section of underground vaults.
What a freaky underground world! If you can imagine a city under a city – rooms
where people lived, worked, and did their thing underground, then you will have
an inkling of what this place was like. In later years, the vaults were used as
storage for wine and beer – since the underground temperatures and conditions
were ideally suited to this purpose.

  
  

The vaults were actually the under-supports for the
tall buildings that make up the bridge that composes the Royal Mile. Of
course, when you are standing on the Royal Mile, you would never even realize
that you are actually on a bridge at all, what with the tall buildings on either
side of the road – but you are! It’s amazing!

Julie: It was very cool. It’s too bad that we were too tired and cold to take
one of the ghosts tours.

Judie: After the tour, Steve and I headed back to the flat.
We were cold and wanted to warm up a bit. After resting, Steve and I took a hike
up the block to Pataki, a fabulous Indian restaurant. Steve had never tried
Indian before, but he was game. Afterwards, he said it was one of the best meals
he had ever had in his life! If you knew my husband, then you would know that
that was saying a lot!

Julie: Ha! Every meal that he ate, he said that it was one of the best meals
he’d ever had. Just like you would say that every latte that you drank was the
best ever!

Judie: Now hold up – he would say that various meals
he would eat were the best he had had in Edinburgh – but if you ask him,
he will say that the Indian food at Pataki was one of the best meals of his
life
. Big difference. ;0)

Julie: We weren’t up for Indian, so we found a great little place that served a dish
called
Steak and Ale Pie. This was chunks of beef in a beer gravy with a flaky
biscuit-like top over it. Yum, yum, yum!

Friday
Judie: We had finally reached our point of exhaustion.
We decided that since it was our last day and we had seen just about everything
that we wanted to see, and had done everything that we wanted to do – and since
we had already decided that we would be returning one day – we would just take
it easy! We slept late, then walked to Pataki again for Indian food. Yes, we
were hooked! Afterwards, we strolled up and down the block looking at antique
stores.

After a while we went back to the flat and just
chilled. Julie and her family were on another tour, and we were wondering if the
week was starting to catch up with them yet, or if they were doing just fine…

Julie:
We were pretty tired too, but we couldn’t resist taking another tour into the
countryside. I could spend everyday doing things like that! This time, we took
the Highland Waterfalls, Gorges & Whisky tour. Our tour guide for this trip was
Alec. And as luck would have it, our tour guide from the first trip was riding
along.

This time, we were off for a tour of the Famous Grouse (formerly Glenturret
Distillery), the oldest (legal) distillery in Scotland, established in 1775.

On the way, we stopped to see the Forth road bridge and rail bridge. The
bridges which are over 1 mile in length, are parallel to each other. The rail
bridge which looks really modern (at least to me), was actually built in the
1880’s!

Soon we were back on the road and shortly arrived at the distillery. Now, I’m not
really a whiskey drinker, but the tour was informative and fun. I was snapping
pictures along the way and about halfway through, the guide told me that pics
weren’t allowed. Oops! At the end of the tour, we were given a little test to
see how well our sniffers (noses) were for picking out the different tastes that
go into a blended whiskey. Afterwards, we even got to drink a dram! Wow, no
wonder the Scots like this drink. It really warms you up! I think it even made
the side of my throat numb! Ha!

 

 

Secret pictures of the distillery…shhh…

We ate lunch there and couldn’t resist getting the
Haggis Neeps and Tatties. This time the haggis was a bit different. More
peppery… but good. Neeps translates to cooked turnips. I didn’t get overly
enthusiastic about eating them! Hehehe.

After lunch, we all piled back into the van and made our way to the ‘Birks of
Aberfeldy’. Here, Alec asked if we would all enjoy a wee walk to see the
waterfalls. Of course we said yes. We were wondering why Alec was only in short
sleeves though, and didn’t wear a jacket. It was pretty chilly out. We thought
we was just being macho. About 10 minutes into the walk, we found out why… Alec is
a power walker! Yikes! I think I needed an oxygen tank by the time that wee walk
was finished!


The views of the falls were worth it though! Everything (including the
trees), were moss covered.

Judie: Later in the day, when Julie’s
family got back, we
all went to enjoy one last Scottish meal at the New Bell Restaurant. Once again,
our meals were fabulous!

Saturday
Julie:
Oh boy, we were all up at 3am for the trip back home!

Judie: Our plane was set to leave at 6:30, so
thinking that as in America, we needed to be at the airport two hours in advance
– we got there at 4:30. Well, imagine our surprise when we found that we didn’t
need to be there ’til 45 minutes before the flight! At least we were first in
line, but I sure could have used that extra hour in bed.

The flights home – even though they were longer,
seemed shorter. I watched 8-mile, and fell asleep soon after Analyze That had
started. It
was on this flight that I also saw something that I have never seen before – and
maybe some of you can tell me if you have ever encountered it: the people and
their children that were sitting in front of us would actually clamber like
monkeys over each other to get out of and into their seats! Instead of one
getting out to let the others in and out, the person that wanted to leave or
come back in would just step over them onto the armrests of the seats. Is this
normal?

I was glad to get back to Dallas – even though we
still had a four hour car trip ahead of us – I was looking forward to the
comfortable chairs in our Ford Expedition!

Julie:
They had it a little luckier than we did. We had to take another flight from
Dallas to Indianapolis. Then an hour’s drive home. Needless to say, we were glad
to be back, but wow, what a great trip!

We only took the gadgets with us that we really needed. Living without a
laptop was hard (especially when I got home and had over 1100 emails to wade
through!), but at the same time, this was a real vacation… away from
technology… for the most part. Our main gadgets were our digital cameras. And
I have to say that the tiny Sony DSC U20 served me well!

Judie: Guess where we’re planning to go next year? Africa!

Things We Experienced That We Hadn’t Expected
We saw many people with jeans and white sneakers on – both locals and tourists.
You won’t stand out if you wear them.
The food was wonderful.
Take Away is the same as Take Out, and is about 15% cheaper than dining
in at the restaurant.
The sinks had separate spigots on either end of the bowl. One for hot and one
for cold… and we’re talking scalding hot or freezing cold. No in between.
Make Way signs that look like Yield signs are the same as Stop signs.
Coca Cola there doesn’t taste the same. The ingredients even mention ‘vegetable
extracts’.
The water quality is excellent for drinking right out of the tap – and just
about cold enough, too.
There is not a central water heater in each home – instead each shower had its
own heater that had to be turned on before you got in. You then had to adjust a
dial to pick your temperature – it took a little while before we were able to
keep it from being either scalding hot or freezing cold.
People – even the older ones – are generally very friendly.
Almost nobody in service industries expects a tip.
While it’s not cheap, it is no more expensive to do anything in Edinburgh than
it is in any major US City. That goes for tours, dining out, and grocery
shopping.

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