Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Our Final day--

Our last day to tour Scotland... there was still so much country to see and so little time. There were places I would have liked to have gone back to... alittle more time in Saint Andrews... another day in Edinburgh... and then there were places we had yet to explore... the little town around the corner Elie or the Isles or what about the Border country? There just wasn't enough time, but with map in hand we headed out back toward the highlands to explore what there wasn't time for on the bus tour... We set the navigation up to take us to Pitlochory-- we had stopped for gas there and Alen had told us about Edradour Distillery-- It is the smallest legal distillery in Scotland. It came into being in 1825, and is run by 3 men on the production side-- it still uses many of the old techniques.... and smells wonderful as the casks once held sherry. We enjoyed the tour and the tasting.. and the town was delightful. Pitlochory is also home to Heather Gems-- This little companys jewelry was in all the little shops we went to whereever we were in scotland. They make jewelry that looks like stone out of heather sticks and resin. Very pretty and unique-- we stumbled upon their studio by accident. And they had free tours to see how it made. After leaving Pitlochory we headed to Dunkeld -- just over the Tay river bridge-- to see a cathedral from the 14th century-- We parked near the bridge and walked the town... coming upon the church was a sight--- the grounds right on the Tay --it couldn't have been more beautiful. The church itself was amazing-- surrounded by headstones, the roof was gone on the nave but the interior walls still held shrines and more headstones. Connected to it was the Choir which is still being used as a church today-- amazing stained glass and a marble tomb of Alexander Stewart. They were locking up as we meandered through and we were quickly ushered out to wait by the 1730 iron gate so they could unlock the gate to let us out.... As we walked through I couldn't help but wonder how it stood the test of time..
Despite the lateness of the day with guidebook in hand I convinced Mike we were only a mile away from a "quick" stop... I had seen on the Map that Beatrix Potter had a little muesum/exhibit area one town over....apparently this was where she "holiday'd" as a child and created Peter Rabbit-- WHO KNEW??? I'm not sure what I was expecting but I can tell you I was alittle let down when we got there... it was in an art gallery-- tucked in a corner was a gift shop with Beatrix Potter stuff and behind alittle picket fence was an interactive story area for children..... for a pound they could go in and draw, see some exhibit pictures of hand drawings done by Ms. Potter etc... We looked in the gift shop and I told Mike we could go...but secretly I think I needed to go into the childrens area... and Mike knew it... so he gave me the pound and went to the coffee shop to wait.... sadly Peter Rabbit or Jerimima Puddle-duck were no where to be found. Again I am not sure what I was expecting-- but I can tell you it wasn't there... I read all the plaquards and touched the books... but somehow the magic of her tales just wasn't captured in that little building.. but I'm glad we stopped... I was there.

Driving back home we ran out of time-- once 5:00 hits they close up Scotland... so we made it home in time to pack-- eat as much food as we could from the refrigerator...(story of my life--Mike overshopping) and get a good nights sleep before our lonnnnng trip home.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Scotland-- The highlands

So lets go back to Scotland shall we? I think we left off somewhere around Wednesday-- This was our only Scheduled day. I signed up for a Van tour to take us up to Loch Ness-- which is way north from our place. WAYYYYYY north, and I figured we would never make it up and back and still be alive to tell the story-- We cover alot of ground in one day.
The van was nice and there was a couple from Australia and a family from South Carolina (husband wife sister and friend to be exact) and us and our driver Alen. Alen was a pleasant young guy-- 25 years old who put up with all our questions... and even repeated things so that I could laugh-- There are coo's off to the left.... (yes coo's) (translation cows) (how I love the accent!)

Anyway we were picked up at 8am-- and off we went! I don't actually remember where our first stop was but it was a potty break-- and a chance to get souveniers (haha) I chose to meander over to the Garden Center that shared the parking lot with our stop-- pretty much had the same stuff as ours does here at home... but I wondered if their grass seed would work better than ours.. needless to say my suitcase wouldn't hold grass seed so I left it on the shelf. Then I spyed some hairy coo's on the other side of the parking lot... they facinate me. How often do you see hairy cows??? hmmm? here we have the normal kind all over... but ones with hair and horns just not popular. Alen told us the Queen had actually decided that the black and white cows didn't look right on the hill side and had some farmers experiment with getting the lovely shade of brown that is so popular with the cows--- (just alittle factoid)What was also amazing about these little buggers is how fast they run... I saw it first hand --Yes I called them and they actually came--
After that little stop we were off to the highlands... the scenery changed immensly-- very rugged and rocky-- but beautiful just the same. We made a stop in Glencoe to admire the view and get some great pictures. ( I think Alen knew we were all antsy in the van too)

And then it was off to Ben Nevis and Fort William. Where we stopped again for lunch, Mike and I had packed a picnic lunch so we took off into town-- there was a monument and a cemetary that looked interesting so we headed that way. After reading a few headstones we sat for lunch on a bench with a lovely view of a garden.

Next stop Loch Ness-- this is where disappointment comes in... I can say I was there but due to time constraints it was alittle like the Chevy Chase National Lampoon Vacation movies where he is standing looking over a landmark for two seconds before jumping back in the car..... We got out of the van... made a few Loch Ness Monster jokes and then wandered down the canal where we Alen picked us back up to head back south.... No we didn't see the Monster-- but we did see a lighthouse!

Our Group!Lighthouse

Our way home included a few scenic stops-- a great waterfall where we got a chance to do alittle hiking. Great photos and lots of fun to climb around the rocks. And then Alen put on a tape of old scottish tales and tunes... I think we were suppose to quiet down for the long ride home.. but we were full of questions and kept him on his toes for the remainder of the trip. Glad we did it... but sure would like to go back and do it on our own......

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Shes married

Yesterday we had the pleasure of going to Julianne's Wedding. It was a wonderful wedding, so hard to believe she is old enough to be married. She was married at the Maryland House in Williamsburg Virginia. It was great to see her and her brothers. Danny is back from his second tour in Iraq and willing shipped off again next month. Seems the propaganda we hear of bringing the troops home hasn't reached him yet. Ricky hasn't changed much and for that matter neither had Cindy. David and Ann couldn't have been prouder of Juli, we teased them about having to go all the way to Williamsburg to see our neighbors... perhaps its time we changed that.

Seeing the girls together brought back alot of memories. They grew up together and despite the last few years apart when I looked at them I still see the little girls holding baby dolls.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Back to Edinburgh

I think we are now into Tuesday of ye old Scotland Vacation. Today we ventured back into Edinburgh-- Since we had already seen the Castle it was now time to walk the Royal Mile and see Holyrod Palace. We decided since the city was such a tough driving experience we would give public transportation a whirl. We drove the hour to the Forth Bridge and parked at the park and ride lot. The bus in was another hour but gave us both time to take in the views going into the city.

We got off the bus with the expectation that we might need a taxi or another"city" bus, but once in town decided to walk. We made our way to the Royal Mile zig-zaging through side streets. And made the decision to go uphill toward the castle first. The Royal Mile mainly consists of shopping, with a sprinkling of tourist attractions and Churches. We probably could have skipped it if we knew that in advance. But it was entertaining to window shop and duck into a few places. I had read about a whiskey tour and we decided to take the tour. It was very educational, we were intrigued by the old methods still used and the new technology that has been incorporated. Lesson of the day for me: If you buy a 15 year old bottle of Scotch and hold onto it for another 20 years.... its still just a 15 yr old bottle of Scotch... so drink up.
Mike was interested in buying a good, hard to find bottle of Scotch to share with Tim and Robin when he got home and had the good folks at the distillery pick him out something special. I personally didn't like the taste of any of it and was happy to pass up on anymore taste testing.

Coming back down the Royal Mile I could hear bagpipes... and was drawn to the front of St. Giles Church (Which I learned was part of "the church of Scotland" and not a Catholic Church even though it certainly looked like one). The old church was as beautiful on the inside as it was on the outside but sadly I refused to pay the $2.00 fee for picture taking and only have the memories in my head. It was huge, stone and ornate inside with many little alcoves each having some sort of remembrance to someone who forged their way through scottish history. Lots of carvings in Marble and stone and of course alot of stained glass. This site has some very lovely photos of the inside if you are interested Click here We continued on our way checking out the sites and found a great little cafe to grab a bite to eat. We totally loved the hard crusty bread they use in Europe to make sandwiches with and got one every chance we had.

Our time flew by in Edinburgh and before we knew it we had to find our way back to the bus. We had big dinner plans for the evening at our castle . A Scottish Night. It was billed as a authentic scottish meal (with haggis) and music, poems and dancing.

We got home with just enough time to eat and walk to the great hall for dinner at 8pm. The evening started abit slow. There were only 2 servers for about 15 tables. And in between each of the five courses our host would tell alittle scottish joke or play alittle music. When the haggis was brought out a big production was made of it. Seems you either like haggis or you don't.

For an explaination of haggis:

For those of a stronger disposition, the haggis is very probably a dish that goes back for as long as there have been sheep in Scotland. This has never been a wealthy country, and the rural areas in particular have always had to struggle hard to make the best use of the limited resources available. When you kill a sheep it is possible to preserve or store the meaty parts relatively easily. But parts like the lungs, heart and liver tend to go off pretty quickly.
At some point someone had the bright idea of mincing these elements of the sheep; mixing the mince with onion, oatmeal, suet, spices, and salt; stuffing the result into its stomach; and boiling it for a number of hours. This is the haggis: and you were warned! When ready it is traditionally served with "neeps and tatties": mashed turnips and potatoes.

I actually liked the haggis...but in the small dose that I had it in. When dinner was finally over the entertainment came on full force. We had a young lady who was a highland dancer show us a few steps. We heard a few traditional songs and then it was more dancing-- this time they asked us to all join in to learn. Mike and I resisted at first. But were coaxed out to the middle of the room. Instead of addressing us all by our names our host referred to each of us by our state/or country name: for us it was alot of heckling for VA to come dance. Because we took our time getting out there we were lucky that a nice scottish couple (who knew all the steps) split Mike and I up.. I went with the husband and he went with the wife-- and for the next hour we learned about 4 scottish dances.. laughing and out of breath we were happy to sit down when we thought it was over.... but as we tried to say our goodbyes our host said ONE MORE DANCE-- the Virginia Reel... how could we leave without taking part in our "state dance?" hahaha Mike and I realized we hadn't done the Va Reel since about 4th grade!! but we did our best to pretend we knew what we were doing-- The best part is we got to meet some people we would be taking a tour with the next day- gave us all something to talk about in the long van ride!

Tuesday, October 16, 2007


So we decide its time to go west! We got ready the night before with Maps spreadout, TOMTOM in hand to program our destinations, and made ourselves a picnic lunch for the trip. We decided on Sterling castle and the Wallace Monument (remember Braveheart the movie?) and then a different route home that would take us to through Culross.

We actually did very well driving-- no mishaps or missed turns! With guidebooks in hand as we went through Dollar we decided to make a quick stop at Campbell Castle. Well worth it! although the hill to get to the castle was a killer. It was down hill (kinda strange that the castle would be downhill) which wasn't bad until it was time to leave... I seriously thought we might not make it back up to the car. The view was extroidinary from the castle. And the small gardens beautiful. There was actually "indoor" plumbing at this castle as well. Something we had not seen nor thought about in Edinburgh.

On to Sterling! While we were looking for the castle we stumbled upon the Wallace Monument. So we changed gears and went there first. We were happy to see that they had a free shuttle service to the top of the knoll where the monument stood! And gladly waited the few minutes until they were ready to go.

Once to the top we were greeted with 226 circular steps up a tower! Again I was wondering how I became so unfit. Luckily every 80 steps or so there was a landing with a room with historical information or old artifacts. The prize of making it to the top once again was a remarkable view. From there we could see the Sterling Castle as well as a few other very stately homes and countryside that went on and on.

The trip down was much easier than going up-- unfortunatley the shuttle driver decided it was lunch and we had to do the trek down the hill. Not too bad.... but we did take our time.

We finally made our way to Sterling Castle--What a remarkable place and it was HUGE!! They are doing alot of archiological work there trying to put together the history like puzzle peices. And in every room there were plaques that showed what they were doing, what they had found and what questions their new finds had brought to light. In so many places the castle had been built and then remodeled over the years and as they slowly reconstructed the spaces they found painted walls, trusses that didn't match evidence of old stairways etc. It was all very interesting and added alot to the history we were learning.

We had decided to take a different way home. I had read about Culross-- supposed to be a lovely little painted town. So we meandered our way there. But it was getting close to 5:00 which in Scotland seems to be closing time. When we got to the town while it was pretty-- we weren't sure why we were there... we couldn't seem to find what the guide book described. So we parked and took a walk. We did stumble across a community garden which we took time to amble through-- being the end of the season most of the plants were on their last legs but we could imagine how lovely it must have been just weeks before. Finding nothing else in town we decided it was time to head home... and find another grocery store. It took us a few trys to find something that looked like a real store. The first two while marked SUPERMARKET didn't seem much more than a glorified 7-11-- we question where people buy food in Scotland more than once. With the aid of our TOMTOM we finally found a large TESCO-- seems they do not slice cheese in the deli??? and in the dairy section we had to look long and hard before we found cheese sliced (1 package)-- it was definately an experience seeing all the different items they offered that we had never heard of before.

I end with a roundabout--

Monday, October 15, 2007

Day 3-
It was a slow start—we had great plans of waking up early that just didn’t take place. Instead we took our time, made breakfast and muddled around in the morning. Watched alittle BBC on the tv—now that has got to be TV at its worst. The comedy is sad—you laugh not because its funny but because its stupid. But it was interesting to see the shows we watch here at home in their original fomat… Dancing with the Stars—they call it strickly dancing… and apparently take it seriously as it was also mentioned for about 10 minutes on the news the next day… and Deal or no deal… they have that too.. just different hosts.. again it was interesting.
When we did leave the house it was to take David and Ruth back to the airport… but not before we hit the rental place up for a new car and GPS.. GPS (TOMTOM) gave Mike and I a new freedom to drive without getting lost. One less thing to worry about while driving on the wrong side of the rode sitting on the wrong side of the car. Even as a passenger I found it hard to sit there… I am used to holding on for dear life with my right hand… but not in Scotland.. I had to use the left hand… or as I ended up doing holding on to the back of Mikes seat with my right hand and clutching the door with my left.
After dropping everyone off at the airport, we ventured into Edinburgh. Found ourselves at Pay and Park (parking garage) and walked up the hill to the castle. We learned during our week in Scotland that to get to a castle always meant there would be walking and hills involved. Lets just say I can still feel the back of my legs today…But the view from the top was spectacular. The castle was wonderful lots of old architecture amazing carvings and a lot of history that we knew nothing about. I was impressed that anyone could live there the cold stone even on a nice day kept the castle cool— The Scottish love their dogs—and even within the castle walls there was a cemetery for dogs. Impressive that way back then they were held in such high regard.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

We're Back! And a recap of Day 1& 2

For anyone who says
vacationing is nice but its good to be home hasn't vacationed like we have this year... I am still very excited by our trip to Alaska and now coming home from Scotland I have another spot to add to my favorite places list. To say that Scotland is a beautiful place is an understatement. The scenery everyday was amazing to say the least. So glad we decided to go!

Our trip started out as most do...Heading to the airport-- Corey and Amanda dropped us off at Dulles Airport-- with a few hours to kill before our 11:10pm flight we ate dinner and met another couple who would be on our plane going both to and from London. They were as excited as we were and on the way home last night it was fun to compare notes.

Seven hours to Heathrow-- no problems navigating the London Airport and then another hour and half flight to Edinburgh-- which turned out to be a very small airport. We arrived tired-- the plan of sleeping on the plane didn't work so well-- we picked up our rental car-- a VW Jetta-- Mike made a last minute decision to go for an automatic-- turned out this was a good choice. We never thought driving would be so hard. Sitting on the right side of the car and driving on the left side of road was TOUGH--
and navigating around "the roundabouts" was like being in a maze. To make matters worse our directions to the Kilconquhar (pronounced Kilcar) seemed great in the US but once on the road we didn't understand the signs, the route markings or even the road signage (hello what does a zig zag mean painted on the road????) We found the (yes the one and only) main highway (motorway for those of you who speak scottish!)Which would take us over the Fourth Bridge (a very LARGE bridge)to the Kingdom of Fife. We sat in lots of traffic... excuse me... we were queing... (thats what they call sitting in traffic waiting your turn) which I can tell you I actually liked. Never thought I would say that but hey it meant we weren't moving which meant I wasn't holding on for dear life! Once over the bridge we followed our directions which we learned later were the longest way possible-- and promptly went through two roundabouts and then blew 2 tires!!! YES TWO!! on the left side of the car... which initially we thought could have been the result of the few curbs we hit on the way... but upon further inspection the damage was from the inside of the tire... now we are sitting precariously on a two lane road (right after a bend in the road) with no where to pull off... and did I mention we had no idea where we were???? Mike pulled the car up alittle bit and got as close to the curb as he could so people could go past... Luckily we had a cell phone-- and learned through trial and error how to dial the emergency number they provided. This was where it got funny. They asked us where we were.... hello we just got off the plane an hour ago we don't know... somewhere on the A921 right after the bridge... after alot of questions registration number please (which turns out is actually your licence plate) and postal code????? how would we know??? they said someone would be there in 90 minutes! we decided for safety that we would get out of the car and stand on the small grass strip and wait... and wait... no one stopped... and no one hit us... finally after 2 hours a man in a van marked RAC (think AAA) drove the opposite direction and turned around to ask if we needed help. He wasn't from the car rental place but he was nice enough to talk to them on the phone, arrange for a tow truck and sit with us for about 30 minutes. (him talking on the phone was a good thing because if you think they speak english like we do you are mistaken... the accent and choice of words makes communicating alittle tough!) when he left it was now dark and we were still waiting... finally a flatbed truck arrived with a nice fellow who loaded up our car and took us to the castle. The plan was to deposit us there and they would send someone out in the morning with two new tires-- and amazingly that is what happened.
Now during this ordeal David and Ruth had made their way to Kilconquhar Castle and were waiting for us. At 9pm we arrived and met them in the pub (which stopped serving dinner at 9PM)David ordered us food at the last minute so when we arrived it was actually being brought to the table! talk about good timing! It was great to see familiar faces-- David promised us that driving would get easier... and in the end he was right... we just had a slow learning curve.
After dinner we went on to our cottage.. seemed we wouldn't be actually staying in the castle. The cottage was like a little house. They had them spread out throughout the grounds of the castle. It was a 3 bedroom, 3 bath with a kitchen, living and dining room... WOW very big space for just us.

Day 2- We didn't wake up very early which would be a pattern we repeated all week. But once up we hit the road to go to St. Andrews (Home of golf)--Mike drove with David navigating. Ruth and I in the back seat... it was a wonderful drive along the Firth of Forth (which is like a bay going out to the North Sea) Lots of small little towns dotted the countryside which we would later figure out is the way the whole country is. Once we arrived we parked the car and walked the town. Tiny cobblestone streets with the most amazing architecture. This was what we came to see. The weather was wonderful bright and sunny. We made our way down to the ocean-- there sat St Andrews Castle (or what was left of it)

Walking further down the street was (along the coast) was the cathedral (again what was left of it) we went inside the metal gate and strolled through the cemetery. We all took off in different directions looking for the oldest headstones. It was beautiful. The carvings that remained were unbelievable.

We wandered the streets, found a cafe for lunch and wandered our way over to the golf course... St. Andrews the home of golf.. a mecca for anyone who has an interest in the game. (unfortunately none of us actually plays) And once there we found out that the Dunhill Tournament was taking place. It was Saturday so there was no admission to go stand and watch... we took advantage and found ourselves at the 18th hole. Cue polite golf applause! I was fascinated to see the people sitting in the stands and lining the golf course. I had seen these tournaments on TV--but never actually had been to one.
Now I can say I was there! We took time for a few photo op's-- Mike was alittle disappointed he could not stand on the bridge.. but at least there was good reason... they were playing!!

What you see in the distance is the ocean.. yes right there... it was a wonderfully large sandy beach--We made our way across the golf course and went over to see the beach-- I had to stick my toe in the north sea!

Just to say I had.

We climbed around on the rocks at the point, saw swans swimming in the ocean! and finally made our way back to the car. Next stop-- Dundee and then on to Perth. We couldn't figure out Dundee... ended up crossing the River twice ( a toll bridge no less) and decided not to get out of the car. But with David navigating we found ourselves in Perth. Another City--small by our standards but large for Scotland. We parked the car and did some more walking. Just looking at the shops, the government building and the bridges. We eventually found a grocery store. Tessco-- a place that has food, and Alcohol. We purchased dinner and Rum from Cuba.. seems they don't partake in the embargo like we do here. Shopping in the grocery store was great fun... nothing looks the same. But as we found out it was tasty!! Cheese, butter, pasta, premade chicken Kiev all good stuff!! I saw a man in Kilt walking the grocery store which start out with my need to let everyone know the moment I saw one... yes I stalked the kilt wearing souls of Scotland. Of course this can be contagious and everyone got into the act... that and Bagpipes....
The ride home was long... and yes we got lost... many times-- but our spirits were high as we navigated the small little roads barely wide enough for one car nevertheless two-- as tired as we were we had no trouble staying up talking until 2am... we would pay for that in the morning.

To see all of Day 1-2 photos: click here