Posts Tagged With: Scotland

Farewell Scotland, Buenos Dias Argentina!

Before the clouds, anywayOur time in Europe is coming to a quick close. Brooke and I spent one last quiet day in Edinburgh today before we shut the door on Scotland and set our sights on our next and (can it be?) final leg of our Round The World Trip: Argentina and possibly Chile. I’ve enjoyed being in the same country for more than just a handful of days. It’s allowed us to see more, do more and offers a nice change of pace. There is less debating nightly lodging choices, zero sweating inter-country transportation details and no need to work our key phrases in new languages. One big lesson learned on this trip: longer stays over fewer stops has its benefits! Of course, the other side of the coin is that you see a smaller number of places in the end. At this point, I wouldn’t trade any city visit for more time in any other city. Okay, maybe less or zero time in Guangzhou. Sorry, Guangzhou.

Last night, for our last evening in Edinburgh, we enjoyed a quiet dinner at a cozy pub called the Green Mantle. If there is one thing that Scotland isn’t hurting for, it’s cozy pubs. We were first lured in by the rare promise of dinner being served after 7:00 PM and it turned out to be the perfect place for a meal and drinks. Intended or otherwise, our meals keep coming with potatoes served in one form or another. Chips, jacketed, crisps, boiled and more. Looking back, I’m pretty sure I’ve consumed at least one potato every day since I landed in Scotland. Each one was exceedingly delicious so I’m not complaining, just pointing out that this might be a terrible place to visit if you have some strange, unique potato allergy. To our dismay, the bartender at the Green Mantle told us that we missed the ubiquitous Pub Quiz evening be one day.  Probably for the best since our skills at American Bar Trivia probably don’t quite translate directly into British Pub Quizzes. Questions like “Which footy forward kicked the equalizing point for France in the 2006 World Cup” would sabotage me.

Over buffalo burgers and tasty Tennet’s lager, Brooke and I mulled over some final reflections on our time in this part of the world. I know we’ve said it before, but it bares repeating: The Rabbie’s three day tour was outstanding and we can’t recommend it enough. Some of our most exceptional experiences abroad have been with knowledgable, passionate locals who have led walking, biking and bus tours. That includes our time with a lively guide at the Edinbugh Castle Tour and the extraordinaire Edinburgh Literary Pub Tour. A plan to do more of these tours moving forward is now part of our agenda. We were introduced to a great website named Viator.com that aggregates tours. Kind of like a Kayak.com for sight seeing. The tours left me with more stories, facts and impressions on Scotland and The Highlands than my wee brain can possibly remember. Local Scots are such a proud people who wear their Scottish Pride and passion for history right on the hem of their kilt. It tends to rub off; we feel like we’re leaving Scotland beaming with pride even though we’re just visitors. In the end, we’re both so glad that we included Scotland on our itinerary. Aye, a great visit.

This morning, we decided to take the day to regroup and relax. There was sleeping in. There was a postcard writing blitz. There was window shopping. There was time in a coffee shop. When you travel for four months, we’ve found that you need these kind of days to keep you sane. We did stumble across a unique store called “Americandy” that left us rolling our eyes. The theme of the store is that they stock all of the incredibly bad-for-you, over-the-top candy that’s popular in the states, but harder to find in Europe. We’re talking NERDS, GummyWorms, and Twinkies. So, to be clear, the one store we saw that boasts selling American goods is peddling the worst junk you can imagine. The kicker? They also sell boxes of cereals such as Fruit Loops and Lucky Charms but no other breakfast foods. A bit eye opening that a stores that sells novelty candy has kid’s breakfast cereal bunched in.

And, yeah, they even have the Blues Brothers out front.

Soon the time came to leave Edinburgh. The bus ride out made me a bit sad, but the unrelenting fog that blocked the usually stunning view of the Edinbugh castle made leaving a little bit more palatable. Actually, we split town just in time as the forecast calls for snow on Thursday. (Go ahead. Ask me about the Buenos Aires forecast. That’s right. 75 degrees and sunny!) Brooke and I were kind enough to leave Edinburgh just the way found it – in the rain! Our bus ride out of town gave us one last lovely view- rows and rows of captivating, old, giant homes made from stone that have been turned into B&Bs and small hotels.

Stop! Time is getting away!Right now, we find ourselves back in Glasgow while we wait for the overnight Megabus to speed us down to London. We’re downing just a touch of whisky (the true Scottish way is to spell it without the “e”!) and killing some time at a bar. Now that I’m back in Glasgow, I can say that Edinburgh feeels much bigger and more cosmopolitan even though it is the smaller town of the two. I’m also clearly hearing now how the accents vary so dramatically in this country. Man, I can’t believe I missed it before. Speech patterns change even over just a few miles. Most of the time I have no trouble understanding the locals, but other times I struggle to pick up every third word. Hell, it might very well be like this in every country we’ve visited, but since we actually speak the English language, here it is much more noticeable. We’re told that every little region of Scotland has its own accent. But the important thing is that apparently absolutely no one speaks with the strange brogue that Sean Connery invokes.

What's a sheep's favorite song? Ba-ba-ba-Babara Ann.So, we find ourselves changing gears again. Time to break out the Lonely Planet book on Argentina and brush up on the little Spanish we know. (“Donde esta la biblioteca?”) We’re not just leaving the United Kingdom, we’re leaving Europe where we’ve been hanging out since early August. It always takes a little adjusting mentally to go from one region of the world to another. But, as always, we’re ready to discover and absorb a new place. It’s another chapter closed on our RTW trip as we say goodbye to lovely Scotland (and Europe for that matter!) and head west.

-Phil

A much quieter High Street in Edinbugh at night!

Just your average pub lined street in Edinburgh!

Advertisements
Categories: Beer, Exploring, Scotland, Self Guided Tours, Tours, Transportation, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 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 Highland’s Tour- Day 2

Living it up on the Isle of SkyeI would be lying if I told you that all days on this trip were created equal. Some days are just simply better -more enjoyable, more interesting – than others. Today was one of those fantastic gems of a day. Brooke and I are on our second day of a three day tour of the Scottish Highlands through the impeccable Rabbie’s tour company. It was an extensive, full day of tramping around the Isle of Skye in our comfortable tour van. Traveling among the company of a small, but enthusiastic group of fellow explorers, we managed to hit all of the highlights of Skye by crisscrossing the island over the course of the day. We accomplished it all while enjoying a soundtrack provided by an animated guide (and top notch storyteller) who delivered memorable, captivating stories on topics ranging from Scottish folklore, sports, history, clan chieftains and more. The accompaniment for the ride was a solid playlist of tunes by Scottish artists and beyond which played between the commentary. And that’s all of the good stuff before we get into the amazing landscapes and dazzling vistas. Not too mention dinner, drinks and live music at the pub. And then evening pub hopping in the sleepy town of Portree. It was the perfect way to spend any Sunday. The sights here are largely made up of the natural beauty of glens, lochs, hills and rolling valleys. All combined, they make up some of the most beautiful views we’ve seen on the trip. And we don’t toss out such accolades lightly; beneath clouds or under bright sunshine, it is friggin’ gorgeous here. The Isle of Skye is remote and sparsely populated but has a more diverse topography than you might find over three states back home. Thankfully, our venerable guide Doug made plenty of stops so we could enjoy every photo opportunity that ranged from an old brock to a waterfall stepped in superstition.

Glen of the Faeries!

Our first stop today was at a 2,000 year old brock (an old stone tower) just off the side of the road. I’m sure everyone has their own benchmark, but I know I’m in middle of a good day when I’m conquering ancient castle remains all before 10:00 AM. After dodging both loose rocks and sheep droppings, we climbed our way to the top to soak in the first of several stunning views of the day. A short drive down the road took us to the seaside cliffs of the Neist Point Lighthouse on the Western Coast of the island. We all shrugged off the winds and clouds to meander down the walkway and up a steep hill. Again, amazing view. Woooo.... After another quick stop, we enjoyed a quick rest and tasty lunch in Uig. Before long, the sun was out and we were off to my favorite stop of the day: The Faeries Glen. Doug gave us three strict rules when visiting the fabled land of the mythical Scottish faeries: We were warned not to whistle, not to leave any gifts made of iron and not to remove anything from the glen or else we might risk a curse. I was just afraid that Brooke might fall somewhere through time after entering a stone circle. Legends and fairies aside, the place was relatively magical in its setting alone. Green as far as they eye can see and steep, sloping grassy hills punctuated with a towering stone formation. Amazing landscapes are tricky because short of an IMAX camera, words and a few photos really fall short. Serene, beautiful and solitary (aside from the loud group of student tourists), I could have spent another hour there. By the by, this is like the third bridal veil falls we've seen in this tripThe day only got better from there. Our van made it’s next stop at an overlook with an astounding view of the east coast of Skye. Looking down into the valley and beyond, we where able to catch a glimpse of the mainland. The steep cliffs als would have doubled for a terrific golf driving range or hang gliding starting point. From there, it was on to see Kilt Rock, The Old Man Of Storr (complete with its own amazing story) and then Bride’s Veil Falls. It was there that Doug convinced a handful of us that an old legend states that dipping your head into the falls is certain to gaurantee…hmm…satisfying romantic encounters for seven years for every second you can stand the cold water. Not wanting to take any changes, Brooke and I both drenched our heads in the water. We ended our tour day with live music and drinks in a neighboring pub.A great day from start to finish. We really can’t say enough great stuff about Doug and Rabbies. It’s safe to say that I’ve absorbed more quality, wonderful information about Scotland in the last few days than I learned in some college courses. Next time we meet up, ask me to tell you the tale of the shirtless clan battle or the Archie Gemmel’s legendary 3rd goal against Holland during the 1978 World Cup. I can know speak in depth to the Scottish origin of the phrases “To tie the knot” and “armed to the teeth.” Under pressure, I could even draw a realistic looking dirk and tell you why it’s best not to hit on the girl at the bar whom your Scottish friend are calling a Minger. I’m loving this exposure to every single ounce of trivia and new vocabulary. Odds are strong that I’m going to bursting with Scotitsh pride by the time we blow town on Tuesday evening. Just like New Zealand, we’re back to seeing sheep every time we turn our head. We’ve been told that the sheep outnumber the human residents eight to in Skye. Contented, slow moving sheep certainly have the run of the place and, thanks to Scottish law, the right of way in the roads. There is no shortage of gentle honking to prod them to move on but since all of the other wildlife (bears, wolfs and more) are long gone from this area, the sheep don’t have a lot to sweat. Thier only threat is blank stares from the occasional neighboring cow. To top it off, this visit has had a bit of special significance because I’ve wanted to visit the Scottish Highlands for as long as I can remember. After all of the photos I’ve seen and all the stories I’ve heard from those who had visited, it’s been a wish of min to see this part of the world in person. Today, I’m able to write about it from a table in a hostel in the middle of Portree. Pretty dang cool. It doesn’t hurt that we’ve met some awesome people during our trip to the Highlands. I look forward to tomorrow: another day in the tour van and a chance to see Loch Ness up close and personal. As we wind down our time in Sottland, I think it’s time to start downing some prime Scotch Whisky and sample the Hagis, but we’ll cross that particular bridge tomorrow. -Phil

Categories: Exploring, Hiking, Music, Reflections, Scotland, Self Guided Tours, Uncategorized, Unusual Experiences | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

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

Discovering Family History in Scotland

Hello once again from Scotland! Today we enjoyed one final day in Glamorous Glasgow before forging onward to Edinburgh, the highlands and other points north. Our ten day visit to Scotland is going to end up being the longest we’ve spent in one country since our time in Japan way back in August. It’s shaping up to be an awesome country visit…provided that it doesn’t continue to rain every single day that we’re here. I’m starting to think Scotland might be a lousy country if you’re an avid biker or dedicated long distance runner. On the plus side, we’ve already accomplished the impossible and found a pub that serves food past 7:30 PM. The highlight of the day, however, was digging into a bit of genealogy in the nearby town of Blantyre.

With the maternal family name Donaldson, I’ve always known of family roots in Scotland. I have a hunch that I’m a natural prodigy at both the caber toss and hammer throw. However, it wasn’t until my mom recently pointed out that distant family was from the Glasgow area that I ever really give it much thought. But since the small, former mill-town of Blantyre is only about a twenty-five minute train ride from Glasgow (and I do love a good train ride), Brooke and I decided it was worth the visit. Here is where it gets interesting: my great-great grandfather was born in the same tenement block as legendary Scottish missionary/explorer David Livingstone. All of the other housing and remains of the mill are long gone, but in 1929, “Shuttle Row” was saved and turned into a museum. Er, a museum honoring Livingstone, not my family. What are the odds?

A ten minute walk from the train station brought us to the David Livingstone Center – a small complex of green spaces, visitor centers, gardens and the museum itself. The white, simple, 225-year building is incredibly well preserved. And, for a building that served as living space for twenty-four families, incredibly small! Before long, we were touring and exploring Shuttle Row. If we’re in the right place, my great-great grandfather was born right here in 1810 with Livingstone born in a neighboring room three years later in 1813. Both spent their childhood working hard hours at the mill for 12+ hours a day and attended school at night. Not surprisingly, both were long gone by the time they were in their 20’s. Livingstone ended up navigating and surveying Africa for the next 30 years only to return to England twice and my great-great-grandfather ended up in the considerably less exciting Patterson, NJ. One of the rooms of the museum had a room set up exactly like Livingstone (and presumably my distant family) lived. It was really hard to wrap my head around how small these quarters were! One medium sized room housed a family of nine!

Overall, it was a very cool moment. It’s not every day that you get to to visit the very building where your great-great grandfather was born. Especially as an American where most family roots beyond a few generations are overseas. And it’s an amazing set of circumstances that I was able to do it! Mark it down as another first for this sensational trip.

The David Livingstone center itself is a comprehensive, impressive museum about a rather impressive, dedicated and intense man. Given Livingstone’s rough beginnings, it makes his story even more impressive. The building has been turned into a series of exhibits detailing his beginnings, education, journey to Africa, famous meeting with Stanley and more. It was complete with sizeable collections of his own belongings and correspondence. He had an intensity that led him to explore the unknown continent of Africa until he died, but it also came with some pitfalls such as exposing half of his party and wife to a deadly malaria outbreak. Fun Fact #1: Livingstone was the first European to come across the waterfalls that he named Victoria Falls, but that was one of only two discoveries that he rechristened with an English name. Need more? Fun Fact #2: Within his first three years in Africa, Livingstone was mauled by a Lion in an attack that almost killed him and cost him full use of his arm. There is an intense, giant statue out front documenting this particular crazy event.

After our trip to Blantyre, we grabbed a seat on the inexpensive MegaBus and took the 90 minute ride from Glasgow to Edinburgh. Brooke and I have become champs when it comes to navigating transportation. At this point, we really feel that there is no hurdle we can’t tackle and no riddle we can’t crack. It helps when everything is English, but it can still get tricky when you show up at the ticket window and they say all tickets need to be bought online. Hey, team work makes the dream work! After snagging some WiFi in a nearby cafe, we bought tickets and were on our way to Edinburgh. Even though it was raining, we could instantly see that Edinburgh is going to be a very different town from Glasglow. Gargantuan Edinburgh Castle on the hill is quite the welcoming beacon and only one of several sights that make your jaw drop slightly and get the pulse racing for a chance to explore it all!

Today was a great day. After all, what’s the point of an amazing Round The World trip if you can’t take the time to take a small side trip to explore some family history. That and sleeping in. We might sleep in a bit tomorrow because we’re on a big trip and we can. Ahhhhh….

-Phil

Categories: Exploring, Family, Museums, Rail, Reflections, Scotland, Trains | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Let Glasgow Flourish!

Today marks our 101st post since we began the Luggage Tags blog back in June. We thought that was a nice little achievement worth noting. We’re proud that we’ve managed to blog almost every single day. Huzzah us!

Great buildings. Look up for stone cutting that's top notch!Hello again from Scotland! The weather outside is cold, wet and windy but that’s pretty much par for the course for Glasgow in October. It’s not hard to see why all the Scots we’ve met make so many jokes about their crappy weather. We’re currently hold up in a tremendous cafe called Artisan Roast near the university. A place like this can keep us cozy and warm while we plan our next steps over hot cups of long black and Ethiopian Chemex drip. Yeah, somewhere between Singapore and Copenhagen we became coffee aficionados. The coffee bean has become our unofficial sponsor and mandatory fuel for this trip. So far, we’re both really relishing our time in Scotland. I particularly dig the city’s motto: Let Glasgow Flourish. We packed it in yesterday with a stop to a famed city museum, grabbing tickets to a lunch time one-act play, and soaking up a football match over some traditional Scottish pub grub. A nice, full, if not tiring day in Scotland.

After knocking out some well-past-due laundry, our first stop of the day was a short trek down Argyle Street to visit the Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum. Much to our delight, Glasgow boasts a substantial number of historical buildings and museums that offer free admission, including the much cherished Kelvingrove. Given our budget, Brooke and I are definitely making good use of that. The Kelvingrove, opened as a city museum way back in 1901, is a beautiful, big, old structure that is fantastic just as a building in and of itself. You get the impression that some of the same money that built the City Chambers we visited yesterday was used to construct this place as well. We’ve seen our fair share of museums on this trip so far, but we’re going to go ahead and put the Kelvingrove in the top tier.

Part of the Expressions Exhibit at KelingroveThe museum quickly impressed us with a diverse balance of fine art galleries, historical exhibits, zoological displays and more. Themed galleries spread over the different wings made the expansive museum accessible and easy to digest. We learned all about the local artists known as “The Glasgow Boys”, soaked up displays on the biggest and smallest features of animals around the world, and I got a particular kick out of the pristine collection of fierce looking 14th through 17th century armor. There were some notable oddities like the legendary, albeit somewhat disturbing, locally beloved 100 year-old stuffed Elephant named “Sir Roger” and the striking collection of floating fiberglass heads in the “Expressions” exhibit. The crown jewel of the museum is probably the moving, 1951 Dali crucifixion painting “Christ of St. John of the Cross”. Very cool, very different. We wish we had another hour or two to explore (and maybe enjoy an organ recital), but we had to hustle off to A Play, A Pie and A Pint!

After another short walk in the rain, we took in a show at an old converted church turned bar/club/theater/event space aptly named “A Play, A Pie and A Pint.” This is such a fantastic concept that it is begging to be introduced in the United States: A ticket costing ten pounds get you a traditional meat or cheese pie, a pint of your favorite drink (beer, wine, juice, etc) and a performance of a one-act play that changes every week. Genius! With daily shows, this is a fantastic way to spend any lunchtime. We managed to catch “Faith Fall” which showcases three actors in front of microphones performing a play about love, cancer and the devil on an empty set. The show itself was unique, thought provoking and quite good. It’s been a long time since I’ve seen a stripped down, dialogue intense one-act play. There was a nice big crowd on hand nibbling away at pies and quiet sips of beer. As Brooke mentioned yesterday, Glasgow clearly has a remarkably strong dedication to the arts and culture. I have a feeling that when Glasgow was struggling with a seriously down economy a few years back, the town poured energy and money into establishing a strong arts scene. And it shows.

Bartender at Work!As with just about every city, we managed to take a ride on the city Subway (they are back to being called Subways instead of Metros). While each city has a slightly different set up, Glasgow’s limited system has surprisingly tiny trains that look like squished sausages. I felt like I was crammed into a torpedo and the bumpy ride almost gave us a case of whiplash! Definitely unique! Later that evening, we visited a pub to watch the National Scottish team take on Belgium in a World Cup qualifier. I’m a bit slow on the doings of international sports, but I’m still amazed that there are qualifying games for a World Cup tournament that’s almost two years away. Apparently this one was a “win or it’s over” scenario for the Scots even though qualifying games continue into 2013. Given the weak performance of the team thus far, the crowd at the pub already seemed partly resigned to a loss before the game even started. The 2-0 win by Belgium was less of a surprise than seeing “Haggis, Neeps and Tatties” as a meal option on the menu. By the way, among the endless taps of beer found at every bar here, Guinness has started offering handles with “Extra Cold Guinness” in which the beer comes out two degrees colder. Is it any better? Who knows, but chalk one up for beer marketing teams. We’ve had a busy, full day in Glasgow, but there is still more to see and do! Tomorrow, we’re going to take a short train ride to Blantyre to explore some of my family history.

-Phil

Brooke with pies, plays and pints

Part of the Excellent Armor Collection at Kelivngrove

It’s just a wee subway for the lads and lassies of Scotland!

Brooke Enjoying the Scottish Weather this morning

Categories: Bars, Beer, City Visits, Museums, Reflections, Scotland, Self Guided Tours, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

Blog at WordPress.com.