Landmarks

¡Buenos Días, Buenos Aires!

After 10 cold, cloudy and often rainy days in Scotland, we were delighted to wake up to the sun beaming brightly through the window in warm Buenos Aires, Argentina.  Still adjusting to the 5 hour time difference, we were up bright and early, ready to see a new city!

One of the reasons we were excited about Argentina is because Phil and I both know a very small amount of Spanish.  Normally, one of the first things we do upon arrival in a new country is ask how to say basic phrases, like “hello”, “please”, and “thank-you”.  However, thanks to a few classes at good ‘ole Miami University (and of course having lived in New York City for six years) we are both able to crudely communicate basic ideas and we can even understand quite a few phases in Español.  I was so proud when I was able to buy subway tickets and not use any English at all.  The ticket agent even asked me a question and I was able to respond.  Wow! What a change from struggling through Eastern Europe.  However, one of the things I find interesting is that there is far less English spoken or on signage here than we have seen in almost every other country.  Luckily, we are able to manage our way through Spanish well-enough to figure out where we are going, but if we didn’t have any knowledge of the language, Buenos Aires would be quite a struggle.

We originally intended to start our day with a hop-on/hop-off bus tour in order to get an overview of the city.  After searching for the bus for a bit, we finally found a line 25 people deep waiting to board.  When the woman who worked for the bus company, clad in bright yellow, informed us the next one would be in about 40 minutes and we’d just have to wait in line until then, we decided this wasn’t going to be the best option.  We didn’t want to waste so much time just waiting around and clearly with lines like this, they don’t have enough buses in operation.  We decided instead to explore some tours suggested by our hotel.  We found the Tangol office at the end of Florida Street and chatted with Enrique.  We lamely tried our Spanish, but we all found English was much easier to communicate with.  Tangol offers all kinds of tours and excursions, from a 6-hour walking tour, to an all day Gaucho expedition.  We inquired about various city tours and their Argentinian Fútbol trip.  We had tons of information swimming in our heads, so for starters we decided to go with a 3-hour city tour on a small bus.  We figured this would be just as good, if not better than the hop-on/hop-off tour because this time we would have a live guide who could answer all of our questions.

After killing some time walking up and down Florida Street, the pedestrian only shopping street, we boarded the bus.  We discovered that we were the only 2 of 16 passengers who spoke English; the rest spoke Spanish and Portuguese.  Once again reminding us how inferior we feel in the language department, our guide Fakundo, gave the tour in all 3 languages.  However, we often felt his translations into English were a bit of an after thought.  We could pick up a few words in Spanish here and there–enough to know that he wasn’t giving us all of the information in the English translation.  Still, we managed to glean some new information and see some new neighborhoods.  We drove down the avenue Nuevo de Julio, the widest avenue in the world at 140 meters across. (Correction: we’ve since found out that Argentians just like to SAY it is the widest avenue in the world. Turns out that there is a much larger one in Brazil. Don’t tell the Argentians.)  In the center of this avenue we saw the Public Works building with an iron likeness of Eva Peron on either side.  One side looks in anger and seems to be speaking with vehemence toward the wealthy area of Buenos Aires.  The other side is a friendly iron portrait, smiling down on the lower class sections of the city.  Images of Eva Peron can be seen everywhere, and the people still speak of her as a true Argentinian hero.

As we continued our drive, we saw the elegant and sophisticated neighborhoods of Palermo and Recoleta. We then drove toward an older futbol stadium which is home to the Boca Juniors.  Driving through this area immediately reminded us of Wrigleyville in Chicago. Every shop and storefront had jerseys, team colors, flags and mascots hanging from the windows.  This area is clearly centered on their love of this team.  It is situated right alongside the colorful neighborhood, La Boca.  This used to be one of the poorest neighborhood in Buenos Aires.  The materials for the tenements were leftovers from other buildings and the paint used was whatever leftovers would be handed over to the people.  Because of this, the whole neighborhood is a mish-mash of colors and textures.  It has become a center for bohemian and art culture; streets are lined with paintings, cafes and tango dancers.  Although perfectly safe, our guide warned us that you wouldn’t want to stray too far from this neighborhood at night.  There is still quite a bit of poverty in Buenos Aires and in fact they have 3 shanty towns inside the city.  Apparently outside the city there are many more.  The largest one in Buenos Aires lies very close to the wealthy area and holds 60,000

One set of protesters wanting acknowledgement and benefits for their part in the Falklands War.

squatters.  Our guide explained that they have been there for decades and it is almost more like a neighborhood than a shanty-town.

This overview of Buenos Aires was certainly interesting.  Phil thinks this city has one of the biggest dichotomies between rich and poor that we’ve seen.  To be honest, I’m not really seeing the wealth.  I see poverty everywhere, buildings covered in spray paint and protesters in at least 2 spots in the city.  There seems to be struggle and unhappiness.  At the same time, there is also great pride in their heritage–signs for tango shows, classes and clubs are everywhere.  We have only just arrived, but I am interested to dive a little deeper and see how my impressions of Buenos Aires evolve throughout our visit here.

–Brooke

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Categories: Argentina, City Visits, Differences, Landmarks, Reflections, Surprises, Tours, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Interesting Signs photographed along the way

As we travel between Scotland and Argentina, we thought we’d take a break from chronicling our travels and do something a little different with the blog today. As you might expect, we’ve taken thousands of photos on our trip so far. Along the way, we’ve seen some hilarious, curious and confusing signs. We wanted to share ten amusing photos that we’ve seen from New Zealand to London.

Really, really a place that serves food

We saw this marquee in Kyoto, Japan and it has since become one of my favorite photos from the trip. Hey, if you don’t know what beef is, I’m probably not going to eat at your restaurant. Every time we look at this photo, we come up with more questions than answers.

THAT's a Camera?

This unmarked sign could be found everywhere on highways and major roads throughout Asia and in parts of Europe. It wasn’t until we arrived in Scotland did another adjoining sign give us a clue on its meaning “Cameras being used to check speed.” In what century is THAT the image you use to indicate camera? Should we be on the look out for a photographer on the side of the road with his head behind a hood and holding up an old-timey flash? If you’re speeding, will he chase you down in a horseless carriage? Good Goulash, that sign is outdated.

Don't go chasing after your hat!

This one can be found at Tokyo regional rail stations. I love it because it’s such a remarkably specific sign. Although I can’t read any of the Japanese, I’m going to go ahead and translate this as “If you’re a young girl who has dropped her cute hat on the subway track, please wait for the transit worker with the long stick clamp thing to retrieve it.”

This one is just so simple its genius. Several locations in Eastern Europe have a very simple designation to let you know when you’re entering or leaving a city, area or region. It’s actually one of those things that is so basic, it took us a while to figure it out. The first sign means that you’re entering this area and the second sign means you’re leaving this area. No knowledge of the local language needed!

Aye! Breakfast!

This package in a Highlands grocery store had me in stitches because I don’t think you could put a larger, more outlandish Scottish Stereotype on a box of Oatmeal. Its like having Uncle Same bursting out a box of Rice Krispies. The only thing that’s missing is the tagline: “Before you go shot putting in the Highlands with your kilt and chiseled, model good looks, make sure you down some Oats!”

Brooke has never been so confused

Every now and then, Brooke and I revisit this photo taken at Tokyo’s SkyTree Tower. We’re like scientists reworking an experimental theorem hoping to find something we missed the first time. To this day, we still don’t know what in Godzilla’s name is happening on the front of this package. Or even what is inside the package. Odder still? We found this in a toy store.

Old City, Bucharest

Clever bar owners know how to attract attention. And in Bucharest’s Old City you have tough competition with bars that have clever names like Beer O’Clock. But this entrance to a themed bar wins the award for best bar entrance we’ve seen. No, we didn’t go in. Yes, I went ahead and looked up here skirt. No, I’m not telling you what I saw.

Well, THAT'S not the tower

Fair enough: The Military Museum in Belgrade only has a bit English on the displays, but they really got this one wrong! Not many people mistake the Arc De Triumph for the Eifel Tower! You have to look closely at this one or click to blow it up, but the caption says “Victory Parade of the German Army at the Eifel Tower.” Man, The Eifel Tower sure looked different in 1939. You can see some visitor was kind enough to pencil in the correct building name.

I roared with laughter when I read the name of this Edinburgh furniture store aloud. Who doesn’t love a good pun? But judging by the “To Let” sign, I don’t think things were “so good” for very long.

Want to end this post by showing that the amazing stuff we’ve seen outweighs our snarky nitpicky take on signs. Here is a great image I just rediscovered from the early days of our trip on a New Zealand beach outside of Raglan. This trip has been made of amazing moments from the hilariously surreal to the sublimely beautiful. I can’t wait to see what’s waiting for us in Argentina!

-Phil

Categories: City Visits, Europe, Exploring, Landmarks, New Zealand, Uncategorized, Unusual Experiences | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Goodbye Highlands

Sadly, today was our third and final day in the Highlands of Scotland with Rabbie’s Tour.  It seems like twice an hour we turn to each other and say, “I’m so glad we decided to do this tour!”  We have learned so much and had an overall more rich experience because we did this with an expert.  Rabbie’s (or another tour of its kind) is definitely the way to go for anyone out there thinking of taking trip to the Highlands.

Our guide, Doug, telling us the legend of how the Cuillin Hills were formed.

The day greeted us with clear blue skies and loads of sunshine, something we aren’t terribly used to here in Scotland.  We began with a drive down from Portree into the heart of the Cuillin Hills.  There are two major parts of these, one is called the Red Cuillins and the other is the Black Cuillins.  Like everything in Scotland, there is a legend about why these hills look the way they do presently.  It is a bit too long and involved to share here, and I really couldn’t do it justice by trying to write it out anyway.  Suffice it to say, it had everything to do with a battle between an arrogant giant and an Amazonian woman, both too prideful to admit defeat to one another.  Of course they ultimately fell in love, but that is neither here nor there.  The rigidity of the top of the hills is said to be made from their hacking away at one another in battle.

The history of Scotland is steeped in legends of this kind, but occasionally there are true stories to go along with them.  In this case, Doug told us of a young gurkha from Nepal who visited the Highlands.  When he stopped in for an orange juice at a local pub he was ridiculed for not drinking whiskey.  He explained to the man that he was not in Scotland to drink, he was there to visit their beautiful hills.  The man replied with disbelief, “Hills?  Those are no hills, those are mountains.  It would take me all day to climb to the top and back down again.”  The man from India was amused and replied, “That is no mountain.  I could make it to the top and back in less than an hour.”  The Highlander believed this man to be a liar, trying to make a fool out of him, so the gurkha decided to show him.  He took off his shoes and socks and began running up the hill.  He made it up and back in 59 minutes.  Amazed the Highlander insisted they share a whiskey together.  As they sipped, a man from another clan walked in and when he was told about this amazing feat, he didn’t believe it for a minute.  The two Scots began to argue and it looked as though a fight was going to break out.  The gurkha, wanting to avoid a fight, jumped between them and said he would prove it.  Again, he took off his socks and shoes and ran up the hill and back down.  This time, it only took him 58 minutes!  This all took place in 1902, but years later the story inspired the locals to begin a race up this same hill.  The Glamaig Hill Race draws hundreds of runners each summer.  Of course, they run with shoes and socks, but the record time for this 4.5 mile, 2500 foot run is 44 minutes and 27 seconds.  We failed to get a picture of the hill.  To see what it looks like, click here. Pretty impressive!

There are tons of stories centered upon the Highlands, both truth and legend.  We were also told the story of the Sisters of Kintail.  To make a very long story short, these 5 sisters were waiting for 5 brothers who were supposed to come for them from Ireland.  They waited so long, their father was worried they would lose their beauty.  He enlisted the help of a seer, who turned them into mountains so they would be beautiful for all eternity.  And they really are spectacular.  In fact, this may be the most beautiful part we saw in the Highlands.  It certainly doesn’t hurt that the fall colors are in full effect, the sun was shining bright and the weather was wonderfully mild.  We have taken some amazing photos here in Scotland, but the ones looking out on the 5 Sisters of Kintail are my favorite.

The 5 Sisters of Kintail showing their eternal beauty.

We continued to wind our way down toward Edinburgh.  We made a quick stop to see some “Hairy Coos”.  These long-haired cows are everywhere, and they look so much different from the ones most of us are used to seeing at home that we decided it was worth a short photo stop.  We then made the obligatory stop in Loch Ness, where we were told of some strange and unusual happenings, but none of us was inspired enough to swim in the loch or even go on a boat ride trying to find Nessie.  Instead, we had a leisurely lunch with some new friends.  As I have already said, one of the best parts of Rabbie’s tours is the small group size.  We only had 14 people in our group, plus our guide, Doug.  This allowed for some great time with everyone and we met some really great people.  We found ourselves spending much of our time with Melissa and Crystal, two women from Minneapolis (though Crystal now lives in London).  We had tons in common and are all excited to have made new friends.  We are already toying with the idea of another trip together, or at least a meet-up in our respective home cities.

Melissa, Crystal, Phil and Brooke after dipping our heads under Bride’s Veil falls.

Alas, we had to say goodbye to the Highlands, goodbye to Crystal and Melissa, and goodbye to Doug and his myriad stories which lasted to the moment we arrived in Edinburgh.  We absolutely loved this tour and we are now considering finding something similar on our next stop in Argentina.  We have one more day in Scotland and we will be sad to leave it.  This 10 day country stop has certainly met and even exceeded our expectations.   We can certainly see ourselves coming back here someday.  Until then, slàinte mhath!

–Brooke

The “hairy coos” of the Highlands.

New friends enjoying drinks together in Portree.

These gorgeous views are everywhere across the Highlands.

Brooke tries Irn Bru, Scotland’s most popular soft drink. Tastes like cream soda with a splash of bubble gum. Very sugary!

Categories: City Visits, Destinations, Diversions, Exploring, Friends, Landmarks, Reflections, Scotland, Tours, Uncategorized, Unusual Experiences | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Rabbie’s Tour of the Highlands–Day 1

Today began our adventure to the Highlands and the Isle of Skye with Rabbie’s Trail Burners. After loading up the van, 14 excited passengers led by our driver/guide Doug, left Edinburgh to explore the vast Highlands. Much of our day was dedicated to actually getting to the Isle of Skye, though we did stop several times along the way to appreciate the scenery and take in some local sights.

When we arrived in Scotland, we knew that we wanted to see the Highlands. After all, we wouldn’t really be seeing the country without making this part of the journey. We briefly considered renting a car and driving ourselves. We did this in New Zealand, and while that was fun, it was also tiring and involved some harrowing driving in the rain (on the wrong side of the road). Worried we might be in for something similar here in Scotland, we decided to go with a guided tour instead, accepting that it would be a bit pricier. Within 30 minutes of beginning the tour, I knew we had made the right decision. Our guide, Doug, immediately started telling us stories about the history of Edinburgh as we pulled out of the city. One story I loved takes place at the Edinburgh Zoo. They have had a penguin colony since the early days of the zoo and once, over 50 years ago, the penguins accidentally got out of their enclosure. However, they didn’t run wild or get out of the park. Instead, they walked in a single file line around the park and then right back into their pen. The interesting part? They’ve been doing it every day since then. That’s right. Each day at 2:15 pm the zoo keepers open the door and the penguins commence their parade. Apparently it is quite the spectacle and an attraction for many tourists. It is these kinds of stories which Doug has been sharing with us all day. We are so filled with information and our tour has only just begun!

Aside from the fact that they are said to have awesome guides, one of the reasons we chose Rabbie’s tours is because it caps the number of participants at sixteen. This allows for more interaction among the people and also more flexibility. This flexibility proved useful when we drove past our first loch. The water looked like glass with the trees and mountains reflecting off it. Doug thought it was too beautiful to pass up, so we pulled over for a few minutes to take in the scenery and snap a few pictures. If we had been on a bus with 45 tourists, we probably wouldn’t have stopped and it certainly would have taken more than 5 minutes. We appreciate that Doug takes advantage of the small size of the group to take engage in these kinds of experiences.

As we made our way into the Highlands, Doug regaled us with stories of clans and chieftains, marriages and murders. One of the most gruesome occurred in Glen Coe when the Campbells took advantage of the kindness of the MacDonalds and killed them in cold blood while they were sleeping. Thirty-seven MacDonalds died including their chief. There are still pubs in Glen Coe today who will deny service to those with the name Campbell. Historical tales like these captivated us throughout the long drive. Doug has amassed an amazing wealth of knowledge and he is such a wonderful story teller, as so many Scots are. Not only did he entertaining us as we drove, he also played DJ by sharing music from Scottish artists both old and new. I think the more scenic the landscape, the more traditional the music became. This was fine by me. What could be more perfect than driving through the Highlands, gazing at the mountains, glens and lochs, and hearing the Scottish pipes playing on the radio? Absolutely wonderful.

We made several stops for photos, but the main attraction we visited before arriving in Portree, on the Isle of Skye, was Eilean Donan Castle. This much loved, photographed and filmed castle is set on the side of a Loch Duich at the base of a mountain. It couldn’t be more picturesque and it could have been really awesome. If it was the original castle. Which it isn’t. The original one was destroyed during the Jacobite uprising in 1745. The one which stands in its place is a recreation from the 1920’s. Still very cool. All based on the original plans. But honestly, seeing modern wedding photos and decorations was a bit of a letdown. In fact, part of the castle is still kept by the McRae family for private apartments where they take vacations. It’s no wonder this picturesque castle has been used in films such as Highlander, James Bond and Brave (in animated form). It is in such great shape because it isn’t actually very old!

After the castle, we drove toward Portree. With a population of 5,000, it is the largest town on the Isle of Skye whose total population is approximately 10,000. Still, this is by no means a large town. We managed to walk around and check it out in about 10 minutes. Of course our walk was made quicker because it was after 6pm therefore everything was closed. After all, it is Saturday night. God forbid something should be open until 8pm. We managed to scrounge up some fish and chips for dinner before heading back to our hostel for the night. We are exhausted. Even though we weren’t traipsing around all day, like we will be tomorrow, the drive was a bit mentally exhausting. Doug has shared so much history and many great stories. I’m grateful Phil and I have each other to help us remember it all…well, at least most of it!

–Brooke

In front of Eilean Donan Castle. See, we bought jackets!

The views are just stunning! We won’t be hurting for beautiful pictures over the next couple of days.

In front of the foothills near Glen Coe.

Our transportation for the next few days. Pretty stylish, right?

Categories: Driving Abroad, Europe, Exploring, Landmarks, Scotland, Tours, Uncategorized, Unusual Experiences | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

The Sun Shines on Edinburgh

After a rainy arrival in Edinburgh yesterday, we were happy to see the sun shining bright this morning.  Sure, there were clouds looming in the distance–this is Scotland in October, after all.  Now that we are seeing it by the light of day, it is clear how different Edinburgh is from Glasgow.  It immediately feels older, more preserved and more traditional.  It also has beautiful views at every turn.  One minute we find ourselves peering over a bridge down to a beautiful park, the next we are staring up to hills lined with Gothic style buildings.  Wanting to take full advantage of this sunny-ish day, we made a list full of possible things to do and decided to start where any visit to this city should:  Edinburgh Castle.

Edinburgh Castle is impossible to miss.  It sits upon the highest point in the city, rising high for all to see.  Although we were told this is a “can’t miss” attraction, we were a bit turned off by the steep admission price of £14.50 per person.  That price makes it one of the most expensive attraction in town, and we questioned if this was the best use of our time and money.  After a little more research, we decided it was worth it and climbed the steep hill toward the entrance gate.  Visually striking, this castle is a labyrinth of twisting, turning cobblestone streets.  Upon entrance, we learned a short guided tour is included in the price of admission.  Already feeling the ticket was paying for itself, we stuck around to meet Gavin, an awesome and charismatic tour guide who gave us the basics of the castle grounds.  First covering the age of the castle, and the many different iterations it has gone through over the years, Gavin regaled us with stories of Scottish history as though he were performing a well-rehearsed play.  He took jabs at the British in all the appropriate places and spent a good five minutes railing Mel Gibson for his portrayal of William Wallace in Braveheart.  Actually, he landbasted almost every fact about this film including the title character.  Braveheart is actually the name given to Robert the Bruce, not William Wallace.  His passionate stance against the film is more a symptom of his love for Scottish history than his hatred of Mel Gibson (thought it’s a close call).  As we toured the castle grounds with Gavin, he explained that the castle is still used as a military base today.  Besides the few buildings still in use by the military, most of the remainder of the grounds have been turned into museum exhibits.  We visited the National War Museum, the Prisons of War exhibit, and the Honours of Scotland.  In this last exhibit, we viewed the history of the Scottish crown jewels–the sword, the scepter and the crown.  These are the oldest crown jewels in Europe and they sit beside the Stone of Destiny.  This stone has been used for centuries as the seat of the incoming king or queen at the moment of coronation.  It was stolen from Scotland over 700 years ago by the British and not returned until 1996.  Gavin is still a wee bit upset about this!

One of the highlights of the Edinburgh Castle was watching the One O’Clock Gun.  A tradition reaching back hundreds of years, the one o’clock time signal used to be done with a flag being hoisted in the air and then dropping exactly at one in the afternoon.  This helped railroad workers and ship’s captains to keep their times accurate before clocks were what they are today.  However, the weather in Edinburgh is not known for always being crystal clear and it wasn’t always possible for people to see the flag.  They incorporated the firing of a gun so the signal would be clear, even when the weather was bad.  Though no longer needed, the tradition continues every day at 1pm. Perched at the castle wall, a soldier comes out, loads the gun and fires off into the distance.  Surprisingly, there are a number of places around the world who still continue this tradition, including Ft. Henry in the United States.  One of the best parts of watching the gun fire is the gorgeous view from the spot where the gun sits.  We could see across the entire city, to the Firth of Forth and over to the island of Fife.  We were grateful it was a clear day.  Before we left the castle grounds, we made sure to head to St. Margaret’s Chapel, not only the oldest building on the grounds, but also the oldest in Edinburgh.  It was probably built around 1130 and it takes approximately 30 seconds to soak in the entire space.  Still, it was worth stopping in.  All in all, Edinburgh Castle was expensive, but worth the price of admission.  The guided tour was really wonderful, and we both feel like we have learned so much more about Scottish National History in this one visit than we did during our entire time in Glasgow.

It was a lot of this. Highland soldiers and royalty. Over and over again.

Continuing our bit of Scottish History, we visited the National Portrait Gallery.  This free museum is filled with portraits and sculptures of all the famous folks of Scotland, from Bonnie Prince Charlie to Sean Connery.  Unfortunately, the galleries holding portraits of modern members of Scottish culture were closed to prepare for an upcoming exhibit.  So, we walked around viewing portrait after portrait of James the VI, James the VII, James Edward Stuart–there were lots of James’.  We both enjoy portraits, but after a while they all started running together and we were just about done with visiting museums.

With a sprinkle beginning to fall, we decided it was time to head to the grocery store.  It was finally time to take advantage of our wonderful Air BnB home and cook dinner for ourselves.  I can’t express the comfort we both felt in cruising the aisles of the grocery store for ingredients.  Our hostess is away for the duration of our stay, so we have her apartment to ourselves.  I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that it almost felt like being at home tonight.  A fire burning in the fireplace and rain falling outside, we warmed up by cooking a familiar dish, drinking a bottle of wine and watching my favorite Masterpiece Mystery series, Inspector Lewis. Neither of us has been homesick much on our trip, but this evening made us both long for the comforts of home.  We’ve already decided to cook tomorrow night, too, before heading out on a Literary Pub Tour.  We are really looking forward to it.  Cross your fingers that the rain stays at bay again tomorrow!

–Brooke

Yep, we’re in Scotland!

A view of Edinburgh and out to the Firth of Forth.

Phil meets a bagpiper.

Gorgeous views from the castle walls.

Categories: Budget, castles, City Visits, Destinations, Europe, Homesick, Landmarks, Museums, Relaxing, Scotland, Tours, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Glasgow, Scotland

GlasgowWhen we told people we would be heading to Glasgow, almost all of them asked, “Will you got to Edinburgh?”  Time after time people told us there isn’t much to do in Glasgow and we shouldn’t spend too much time here.  After spending the day exploring this city, we are so chock-full of things we want to do that we are considering extending our stay one more day.  Filled with great food and culture, Glasgow appears to be a wonderful city with tons for us to see and do.

We began our day the way anyone should while in Scotland–with a traditional breakfast. Pulled in by the sign that said “Scottish Breakfast £2.99”, we sat down in Wetherspoons.  I went for the breakfast wrap, but Phil is in full Scottish mode and ordered the Traditional Breakfast.  When his plate came, it was a feast of all things protein:  fried egg, fried sausage, bacon, and beans on toast.  Figuring this to be the perfect way to start our day in Scotland, we cleared our plates and then headed into the city.

As you have seen if you’ve read other blog posts, we really enjoy the Hop-on/Hop-off City Sightseeing bus tours.  Doing this upon arrival to a new city really helps to understand the layout and what it has to offer.  In the past, we have always had the pre-recorded tours.  This allows for greater flexibility as the tours can be given in several different languages.  This company also has that option, but the bus we got on had a live tour guide.  It didn’t take us long to realize how much better a live tour is than a pre-recorded one.  Having grown up in Glasgow, this gentleman could speak to the way things were when he was a boy compared to today.  He kept us updated on current events regarding construction projects and city news.  Most importantly, he was much more entertaining than a recording.  His dry sense of humor had us questioning a few times whether he was joking or not.  On the tour, we explored the city’s centre, west end and river front.  We were unaware of Glasgow’s rich ship building history and learned that the town still engages in this trade today.

After the tour, we stopped for a warm bowl of soup to warm us up because let me tell you–it is cold here.  Maybe 45 degrees today, everyone seemed cheered that at least the sun was shining.  Our tour guide joked that we were all baking in the hot sun at the top of the bus and added that maybe the sun would come out again in another 3 years.  In fact, all day we heard joke after joke about the gray, rainy, cold weather which is commonplace here.  We realize we might be very lucky to be graced by sunshine today and we should enjoy it while we can. (The weather for the rest of the week looks like a lot of rain.)  Once sufficiently warmed by some sweet corn chowder, we ventured back into the cold only briefly to head to the City Chambers, the headquarters of Glasgow’s City Council.  This beautiful old building is situated in the center of the city, just off George Square.  When we heard they offered free tours of the interior, we figured it would be a great way to learn a little bit more about the city’s history.  The building was completed in 1888 and is a display of decadence and wealth.  It has two staircases, the white and the black, so named for the material which was used in building them.  In days of old, only the wealthy nobility and royals were allowed to use the white marble staircase.  The other was reserved for servants and working class visitors. On our tour we visited the banquet hall, the council chamber and the art gallery, where each Lord Provost throughout history has a portrait hanging.  All in all, our tour was really interesting and a good start in helping us to understand the Scottish brogue (I swear, sometimes it sounds like a totally foreign language).

After switching our luggage from our previous night’s hotel to our new Air BnB stay, we went looking for our first pint of the day.  We discovered The Grove, an old man bar if ever there was one.  With horse racing on the TV screen and talk of the Scotland v. Belgium football game tomorrow, it was a great place for a drink.  Phil opted for a Guinness while I tried a Belhaven, all for a mere £5.  At this price, I imagine we’ll be back here again tomorrow! From here, we went to a place called Neighborhood Bar to take advantage of their 2-for-1 deal on dinner.  Then, we headed to the famed King Tut’s Wah Wah Hut for some live music.  We haven’t really caught too many live shows on the trip yet, and King Tut’s is known for having all kinds of different bands each night of the week. (Their claim to fame is being the bar where Oasis was discovered.)  The lineup tonight consisted of bands we have never heard of, but that is half the fun of going to a show like this anyway.  The first act, Jonny Jack, was a young rock band.  Well rehearsed, they played together tightly, but their music wasn’t terribly original.  The lead singer’s voice reminded us of Rob Thomas from his Matchbox 20 days.  Next was a solo artist named Luke Sital-Singh, who played slow, sad songs on his guitar that would have been perfect if we were terribly depressed.  His voice was great, but the songs started to all sound the same after a while.  The headlining act, Fossil Collective, seems to have been around a while since they definitely had some regular fans there to catch the show.  Following the footsteps of many other modern bands, they have a multi-vocal, full harmonic sound along with their many guitars.  They sound a bit similar to Grizzly Bear with a voice like My Morning Jacket.

But the gem of the night was Cherry Grove.  We knew we were in for a treat when they began setting up their stage.  Instruments include your basic keyboard and guitar, but then they also had a violin, harp and accordion.  These incredibly talented musicians played a great set.  Sometimes with vocals, sometimes only instruments, they modernized traditional music and instruments in a creative and innovative way.  They seemed to genuinely have fun on stage, and you got the sense that they probably all met at a music conservatory because they have mastered their instruments.  They were releasing their first EP tonight, and it was clear to see that much of the audience came to see them.  The show would have been worth it even if Cherry Grove was the only band we saw.

King Tut’s Wah Wah Hut has a midnight curfew to respect their neighbors, so once the bands were done we walked home, huddled together to keep warm.  We are so pleased with our first day in Glasgow and we can’t wait for all that we have in store for tomorrow.  We will do a nice variety of museums, exploration, and sport.  As long as we don’t freeze first!

–Brooke

Beautiful view of the Clyde River.

Phil in the City Chambers.

Brooke always wants to be in charge.

One Lord Provost chose to have his portrait done by an artist with a very unique style. It is very intriguing.

Categories: Bars, Beer, City Visits, Destinations, Diversions, Eating, Europe, Exploring, Landmarks, Music, Scotland, Tours | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Sour Goodbyes and Gorgeous Hellos

St. Stehpen's at nightAt the crack of 4:30am, we woke up to get ready for our 6am train from Budapest to Zagreb, Croatia.  From there, we took a very short flight on Croatian Airlines to the coastal town, Dubrovnik.  Because today was primarily a travel day, we don’t have a lot to tell you.  However, I would like to share one good story and one lovely moment.

Whenever we leave a city, we try to have as little leftover cash as possible.  We have found it sometimes difficult to exchange certain currencies and so much is lost in the exchange that we’d rather spend it.  We’ve had mixed success in this endeavor, but in Budapest we did quite well–only 500 Hungarian forint in coins left.  That’s only about $2.25 so we felt it was a success.  However, we realized that is about 140 forint shy of the amount required for the metro ride we would be taking from the Hotel to the train station.  Phil was willing to risk it and go without a ticket, and even though I felt a little uneasy, I agreed.  (I should tell you that earlier in the week, Gina and Phil made fun of me relentlessly for being a “rule follower” and buying a metro ticket when they didn’t.  Phil said he was willing to risk it because he thought it was only about an $8.00 fine if we got caught.)  In this case, Phil figured since it was 5:30am on a Saturday and we were only going three stops we would be fine.  Although I didn’t love the idea of cheating the system, I agreed Phil was probably right and we boarded the arriving train sans ticket.

Stunning hilltop in budapestWe arrived at our stop without incident and thought we were in the clear.  Not so fast!  As we joined the line to board the ascending escalator, we noticed a large group of people checking tickets.  I blame the early hour and our surprise for our inability to think quickly and jump back on the train or avoid the inspectors in some other way.  So, when they asked for our ticket, I showed them a 24 hour pass we purchased 2 days before.  Knowing it wouldn’t work, I tried to blame it on a language misunderstanding between me and the original woman who sold us the ticket.  She wasn’t buying it.  She vehemently pointed to the 24-hour description of the ticket and the date so clearly written on top.  Knowing it was hopeless, I relented and asked how much we owed for the fine. She immediately responded, “8000 forint, per person.”  Sixteen-thousand forint total!  That was almost 80 bucks! What happened to the $8.00 ticket Phil expected?  Irritated and immediately regretting my decision to join with my rule-breaking husband, I asked if they would accept a credit card.  Of course, they did not.  She would have accepted euros, but we didn’t have that either.  So while Phil stayed trying to beg and fruitlessly plead with the ticket control agent, I sped up the two escalators and several steps to find the nearest ATM.  We paid, got a receipt and apologized (all the while Phil was still trying to convince her not to give us the ticket).  Walking away defeated, Phil felt terrible and completely responsible.  I’d like to blame him completely, but I’m a grown-up and I could have bought my own ticket if I really wanted to.  I just chose to go along with him this time. Next time I’ll think twice.  (On a side note, the only other people who did not have tickets were other tourists heading to the train.  Coincidence?  I think not!)

Dubrovnik by airAfter loving Budapest so much, the ticket incident left us with a sour departure, but it was our own fault and a hard lesson learned.  Luckily, we were able to shake it off and enjoy a lovely moment later in the day which I’d also like to share.  The Croatia Airlines plane ride from Zagreb to Dubrovnik is a short 40 minutes from take-off to touchdown.  All in all, it is less than an hour on the airplane.  Exhausted, we both fell asleep almost immediately.  Phil sleeps like a baby on planes, but it is more difficult for me and I wake up much more often.  As we were nearing Dubrovnik, I awoke to see beautiful mountains outside our window.  Feeling that we were descending, I woke Phil so he could enjoy the view before we landed.  It was spectacular.  All around we saw huge mountains and rolling hills.  The plane tipped its wings to make a turn and we saw the coast of the Adriatic Sea.  At seeing this beautiful sight, there was an audible gasp from the passengers on the plane.  The mountains and ocean seemed to extend all around us.  It was amazing, but we started to question where we would land.  Except for the water, there was no extended flat space in sight.  Luckily our pilot skillfully found the runway and landed us safely among the mountains.  Since Dubrovnik’s airport is quite small, we were not surprised when we exited the plane down the steps and onto the tarmac.  Once there, we were thrilled to be hit with the most gorgeous view from any airport we’ve been to.  Passengers immediately started snapping photos, trying to capture this picturesque landscape.  This lovely welcome ensured us that our time here would be wonderful.

Croatian Tarmac

Part of the awesome view from our terrace in Dubrovnik!

Now we enjoy discovering this beautiful seaside town and await the arrival of our friend, Jack.  We aren’t sure what we’ll do tomorrow because we don’t want to discover too much before Jack gets here.  I’m sure we’ll find something awesome to occupy our time.  Actually, I’d be perfectly  happy sitting on our terrace and staring out at the Adriatic Sea with a glass of wine all day long!

–Brooke

Categories: City Visits, Croatia, Customs, Destinations, Eastern Europe, Flights, Friends, Hungary, Landmarks, Rail, Surprises, Trains, Transportation, Uncategorized, Unusual Experiences | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 9 Comments

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