Friday, April 21, 2017

Farewell Edinburgh, Hello Highlands

Part 1 - http://anotherdayforgrace.blogspot.ca/2017/02/my-journey-to-scotlands-cities.html
Part 2 - http://anotherdayforgrace.blogspot.ca/2017/03/next-stop-edinburgh-scotland.html
Part 3 - http://anotherdayforgrace.blogspot.ca/2017/03/72-hours-in-city-of-edinburgh.html
Part 4 - http://anotherdayforgrace.blogspot.ca/2017/03/a-real-introduction-to-history-and.html
Part 5 - http://anotherdayforgrace.blogspot.ca/2017/03/the-haunted-graveyards-and-underground.html
Part 6 - http://anotherdayforgrace.blogspot.ca/2017/04/a-tour-of-edinburgh-castle-and-solo.html

Packing only took a few minutes that last morning in Edinburgh thanks to my budding talents as a light packer.  I checked out of the hotel, grabbed a light breakfast on my way out and walked along the Royal Mile for the last time.  I was thankful to have so very little luggage to carry all the way up to Cafe Nero to meet my tour bus for the next leg of my Scotland Adventure: a 5-day Best of Scotland Experience Tour through Highland Experience Tours.  The sun was just starting to rise as I made my way up the street and there was hardly anyone around compared to previous days.  Seeing the old buildings and narrow side streets without large crowds gave the scene before me a slightly eerie look and, in a way, made it easier for me to put myself back a couple of hundred years and imagine it 1716 instead of 2016.
Edinburgh at Dawn

I signed up for this tour online through Viator because I had used the company in the past and had a very good experience.  After much research, I decided that this tour would would be the best for me to see as much as possible in the short amount of time I had available.  I don't usually like guided group tours but with only nine days to explore Scotland, I needed a starting point and I don't think I would have been able to see much in such a short period of time on my own.

I reached Cafe Nero with some time to spare so I took a seat outside and waited for my bus to arrive.  Only a few people were there when I arrived but slowly but surely, more people started to trickle into the waiting area.  Dozens actually.  I hoped to myself that they were not all getting on the same bus as me or my chances of getting a window seat would be slim to none.  Fortunately, when my bus arrived, only a few people got on and I had a seat all to myself.

Andrew, our guide for the tour, briefly introduced himself and informed us that we would be stopping in Glasgow to pick up more passengers.  He remained fairly quiet for the next hour, pointing out a few landmarks along the way.  Even as a passenger on a bus, I was able to get a good idea of what driving is like in the UK; fast with lots of confusing roundabouts.  Watching the road from the comfort of the bus made me glad I didn't rent a car for my first time in Europe. 

After the stop in Glasgow and with all passengers onboard, the mood on the bus changed.  Andrew became more chatty which got everyone else talking.  I soon discovered that there were other Canadians on the tour and people from all over the world including Brazil, Italy, Belgium, Norway, The United States, Denmark and India.

As we drove toward our first stop, we got a crash course on Scotland, it's people and some of it's history.  We also learned about a game that is played in the Scottish Highlands called Shinty which Andrew described as a combination of Hockey and modern warfare.  

The bonnie banks of Loch Lomond was the first stop.  I first heard that ghostly beautiful song about this famous loch as a child and was always curious if Loch Lomond in Scotland looks similar to Loch Lomond in Cape Breton.  Many places in Nova Scotia and especially Cape Breton Island are named after places in Scotland and I always assumed that it was because homesick Scots named places in the New World after places that looked similar back home.  Turns out Loch Lomond in Scotland looks nothing like Loch Lomond in Cape Breton; my Loch Lomond is surrounded by flat countryside and thick forest whereas Scotland's Loch Lomond is much bigger and is surrounded by mountains.  I walked along the banks of the loch and onto a little trail that went through a little village.  On my way back, I spotted a family of Highland cattle (with very cute babies!) resting under some trees.
Loch Lomond
Young Highland Calf

In the town of Inveraray, we stopped to have lunch and explore the pretty little town.  I wasn't overly hungry so I walked up and down the narrow streets, looking in the shop windows.  I found a tiny take-out restaurant close to the waterfront and went in to see what they had for light meals. This was the moment I was introduced to the Toastie - a Scottish name for what I know as a toasted sandwich. The girl behind the counter looked at me like I had ten heads when I asked her "what exactly is a toastie".  I must say, although there wasn't much to it, that toastie was quite delicious and quite filling.  I ate it on a bench by the boardwalk by the water where a bunch of seagulls and pigeons who saw me coming with food harassed me non-stop.

Kilmartin Glen is the site of 350+ Neolithic and Bronze Age monuments including burial chambers and the Temple Wood Stone Circle.  I was able to get a birdseye view of the area from atop nearby Dunnad Hill Fort which we hiked before visiting the ruins.  Likened to Stonehenge by some (but on a much smaller scale) Kilmartin Glen was as fascinating as any ancient ruins.  After a coffee break and little stroll through the village of Kilmartin, we were off again.
Some ruins at Kilmartin Glen
The view from Dunnad Hill Fort

I've been to some interestingly-named look-offs in my travels but I have to say the Rest and be Thankful  look-off near Argyll and Bute in the Scottish Highlands is by far the most oddly-named, beautiful, historical look-off I've ever been to.  The name comes from a stone with 18th century carvings that was found nearby that had the words "rest and be thankful" carved into it.  The scenery was vast, untouched mountainous land that looked wild and unforgiving on that cool fall day.  I can't imagine what a place like that is like in the dead of winter. 


The Rest and be Thankful Look-off
This was my first time ever taking a multi-day guided tour and I must say I was quite pleased with the pace.  I saw so much that first day and learned so much about Scotland.  It was early evening when I was dropped off at my guest house in the beautiful seaside town of Oban.  Ulva Villa was right on the main street.  When I booked this tour, I had two options to choose from for accommodations: Guest house or hotel.  I ticked guest house because it was cheaper and I don't really expect anything fancy when it comes to a place to lay my head for the night.  I assumed that the guest houses would be more like hostels with bunk-beds, shared bathrooms and limited facilities. I'd love to see what the more expensive hotel options were like because my guest house was anything but a hostel; it was a lovely private room with all the amenities of a hotel and more, including my own bathroom.  I left my bags in the room and set out to explore Oban and find something to eat before it got too late.  I didn't find anything open except a grocery store where I bought some snacks and fresh fruit to take back to my cozy guest room and relaxed for the rest of the evening.   












Friday, April 7, 2017

A Tour of Edinburgh Castle and a Solo Visit to one of the World's Most Haunted Graveyards

Continued from...

Part 1 - http://anotherdayforgrace.blogspot.ca/2017/02/my-journey-to-scotlands-cities.html
Part 2 - http://anotherdayforgrace.blogspot.ca/2017/03/next-stop-edinburgh-scotland.html
Part 3 - http://anotherdayforgrace.blogspot.ca/2017/03/72-hours-in-city-of-edinburgh.html
Part 4 - http://anotherdayforgrace.blogspot.ca/2017/03/a-real-introduction-to-history-and.html
Part 5 - http://anotherdayforgrace.blogspot.ca/2017/03/the-haunted-graveyards-and-underground.html

All the walking and exploring must have done me in by my third morning in Edinburgh as I slept in a wee bit longer than I usually would (I also picked up on some local lingo...WEE - Adjective Scottish - meaning little). I didn't bother with breakfast at the hotel because I still had leftovers from my trip to a nearby grocery store the night before. On my way up the street, grabbed a cafe mocha (for some reason this became my drink of choice during my time in Scotland) at a place called Dino's Cafe on the Royal Mile and headed towards Edinburgh Castle.

I took my time walking along the Royal Mile in the late-morning sun. It was a surprisingly lovely, warm September day and I wanted to make the most of my last full day in Edinburgh. I noticed more shops and restaurants I hadn't noticed the previous days and the pipers and buskers were out in full force.


I arrived at the castle to the sounds of Scotland the Brave being performed by a lone piper outfitted in full traditional regalia. A large crowd had gathered around the entrance of the castle and the lineup to get through was quite long. Fortunately for me, I had already purchased my tickets online a couple of weeks earlier and one of the perks of buying in advance was it allowed visitors to skip the lineup and go right on into the castle grounds.

I knew from looking at pictures and from what I had heard that Edinburgh Castle is big but I wasn't expecting it to be quite as big as it actually is. I put an entire afternoon aside to visit thinking it would be enough time and it wasn't. I wandered around trying to see as much as possible and got lost a few times because the place is like a maze! I visited the National War Museum of Scotland and tried to find the exhibit that features something about the Cape Breton Highlanders but didn't find it. I watched a man in period costume do a pike demonstration (a pike is a type of weapon the Scots used in war, apparently with quite gruesome results). And I got to see the original Crown Jewels of Scotland which left me awestruck as I stood before the real crown jewels worn by Queen Mary of Scots during her coronation in 1543.


I walked around those grounds where battles were fought and royalty once walked and tried to visit every building and every exhibit but I just didn't have time to see it all before closing time. I was one of the last ones to leave in a large crowd of other visitors who were also trying to squeeze as much in as possible. I exited the main gate of the castle and made my way back onto the Royal Mile. It was a nice evening and I didn't want to go back to the hotel just yet. I walked down the street and noticed people were still going into St. Giles Cathedral. I wandered into the grand cathedral which I heard is home to a statue of an angel playing the bagpipes. I picked a good time wander in too; a little orchestra was practicing near the front of the alter and the music was hauntingly captivating.

The inside of the ancient cathedral is beautiful and I could have stayed in there for hours just looking at all the sculptures and artwork. I noticed some war memorial plaques on the wall and scrolled through the names to see if I could see my last name among them. I saw MacDonald and MacLellan and MacKenzie...but, alas, no MacEachern.

It was almost dark when I left St. Giles and my time in Edinburgh was running out.   I wanted to ensure my last night in the city would be memorable so I pondered my options while taking a break in Parliament Square. One thing I knew for sure was I wasn't ready to return to the hotel just yet. I remember thinking that the calm weather and impending darkness made for perfect conditions to take another stroll through Greyfriar's courtyard...alone and by the light of the moon and stars only.

It took a while for me to find the Greyfriar's Kirkyard although I had already been there twice. Once I found it, I entered and was pleased to see that I had it all to myself. I saw no shadows or figures of living beings lurking around but I was hoping for non-living ones.

I walked around until I found a comfortable place to sit. I listened carefully but all I heard was the sound of the wind rustling the leaves in the trees. When my eyes were sufficiently adjusted to the darkness, I peered into the night searching for any sign of shadowy figures or apparitions but all I saw were headstones.  I spotted the tomb of Sir George "Bluidy" MacKenzie. I stared at that creepily imposing building, waiting for some figure to come out of it or to hear a blood-curdling scream. Nothing.  So I walked right up to it, did a 360 degree turn to make sure no one was watching and checked the door. Locked. I'm certain I would have gone in had it been unlocked. I love everything paranormal but I remain a skeptic.  I always will be until I see or experience something undoubtedly paranormal. That night in Greyfriar's Kirkyard, said to the one of the most haunted locations in the world, I got nothing. No kicks, slaps, punches or pinches. No disembodied voices. No ghostly apparitions. Not even the heebie jeebies. Heck, the hair on the back of my neck didn't even stand up.
Sir George "Bluidy" MacKenzie's tomb

Upon leaving Greyfriar's, I got lost again. I love getting lost in new cities though so it wasn't a big deal. It's during those times that I find the places that are not in the guide books. I walked and walked, not really knowing where I was going, and just watched all the people out for a stroll in that beautiful city on a Saturday night. I went up streets I hadn't seen before, went through little alleyways that led to other unfamiliar streets and up some stairs that led to another street. Edinburgh is probably the only city I have traveled to so far where I felt 100% safe doing this at night by myself.

When I did finally find my hotel, I settled into the bar area and ordered myself a plate of Veggie Lasagna (which was delicious by the way!) and a beer.  The excitement of the city as I saw it through the restaurant window had me torn between going to bed after I ate so I could be well-rested for my early wake-up call the next morning...or taking another stroll, my last evening stroll, up The Royal Mile.  I finished my meal, grabbed a heavier sweater from my room and enjoyed a long stroll up that lively street on that last night in the City of Edinburgh.  You only live once right?



Sunday, March 26, 2017

The Haunted Graveyards and Underground Vaults of Edinburgh

Continued from:
Part 1 - http://anotherdayforgrace.blogspot.ca/2017/02/my-journey-to-scotlands-cities.html
Part 2 - http://anotherdayforgrace.blogspot.ca/2017/03/next-stop-edinburgh-scotland.html
Part 3 - http://anotherdayforgrace.blogspot.ca/2017/03/72-hours-in-city-of-edinburgh.html
Part 4 - http://anotherdayforgrace.blogspot.ca/2017/03/a-real-introduction-to-history-and.html

It was starting to get dark as I made my way back onto the Royal Mile and to the square near St. Giles Cathedral. The street was alive with tourists and locals alike gearing up for a Friday night in Edinburgh. The solemn sounds of distant bagpipes mixed with the laughter and chatter of half-cut revelers priming for a big night out on the town could be heard. A new bride exited St. Giles Cathedral with her new groom. Office-dwellers dressed in business suits walked hurriedly towards waiting cabs presumably as excited for it to be Friday night. With a few minutes to kill before meeting my guide from Auld Reekie Tours, I stopped in at Cafe Nero and ordered a Cafe Mocha to go. I arrived at the waiting spot and, for what seemed like a long time, I was the only person there. I was beginning to think I had the wrong directions when other people started to show up. Not long after, Ethel, who would take us on a nighttime tour of Greyfriar's Kirkyard and The Underground Vaults, arrived.

I was excited to visit Greyfriar's Kirkyard again but this time under the cover of darkness. As we walked toward the graveyard, Ethel explained that it's one of the most haunted locations in the world and past guests on the tour had been physically attacked by the angry spirit of Sir George Mackenzie, the man who imprisoned, maltreated and even murdered hundreds of Presbyterian Covenanters. As Ethel was explaining this, it became evident that some of the guests on the tour had already gotten a head start on the drinking. Their laughing, cussing and plain ol' disruptive behavior caused Ethel to show her more authoritative side. I personally thought she should have had them spend some alone time in Sir George MacKenzie's tomb to set them straight.

While I admit the graveyard was quite creepy in the dark, I didn't get any spine-tingling feelings or sense anything off about the place, although I was hoping I would. Sometimes I get these strange feelings when I visit a location and have no explanation for it. The feeling of the hair on the back of my neck standing up or that someone is watching me. I get these feelings every time I visit Warren Lake in the Cape Breton Highlands National Park. The place just creeps the heck out of me. That night at Greyfriar's Courtyard, one of the most haunted locations in the world, I didn't get punched, slapped or kicked like others have reported and it was quite disappointing. I wondered if it was due to me being with such a large group. I pondered the idea of returning to the graveyard alone the following night.

Our next stop was the underground vaults which are also a hotspot of paranormal activity. I was surprised to learn some of the history of these vaults and what they were used for over the years. I can't imagine up to thirty people living in one of those dark, damp, tiny spaces but, at one time, immigrants hoping to prosper in a new life in Edinburgh did just that and faced disappointment and even death. Disease was rampant and so was criminal activity. The plague was particularly unforgiving in those conditions and if it didn't kill you, it was likely you would fall victim to murder. If you weren't lucky enough to make a living above ground in Edinburgh, eventually you fell into a life of crime to survive. Illicit activities such as gambling, prostitution and robbery were just some of the professions many fell into while trying to survive in the underground vaults. The police only turned a blind eye to it all. As far as anyone above ground was concerned, the vaults were out-of-site and therefore out-of-mind as long as it stayed below ground. While I can admit that the vaults were also quite creepy, I can also say that I did not get any goosebumps or heebie jeebies.

The walk back to the hotel was interesting to say the least. It was still fairly early but it was starting to get a bit rowdy. I took the long way around and started at the top of the street and made my way down and around a couple of blocks. I wanted to get a feel of what Edinburgh is like on a Friday night. I passed lots of drunken stag and hen parties and rowdy students already three sheets to the wind, some ready to be carried home even at that early on an hour. I made my way through the crowd of staggering revelers like an old pro. I had been in the city not even two full days and I was already navigating the crowded streets like a local, weaving in and out of crowds. As I walked, I noticed some comical signs had been put out outside some of the pubs to lure in the weekend crowd. Lots of signs advertising Haggis and beer. I told myself before I left home I would force myself to try Haggis while in Scotland but once I arrived, I couldn't get myself to do it. Many people tried to convince me that I had to try it and the new, politically-correct vegetarian Haggis (yes that's a thing) was even pushed on me but I just couldn't do it.

I contemplated ducking into one of the little pubs along the Royal Mile to take in some live music and have a beer or two but decided that being alone in a place that was getting rowdier by the minute might not be the greatest idea. I opted instead to grab a beer at my hotel bar. I took my place in the restaurant near a window where I could watch the big party unfold on the street outside and asked the friendly bartender for a plate of Cheesie Fries and a bottle of the best local beer he had available.

Much later that night as I was sleeping, a loud commotion outside stirred me awake; a fight on the street between some drunken blokes....welcome to Friday night in Edinburgh!













Saturday, March 18, 2017

A Real Introduction to the History and Culture of Edinburgh

Continued from:
Part 1 - http://anotherdayforgrace.blogspot.ca/2017/02/my-journey-to-scotlands-cities.html
Part 2 - http://anotherdayforgrace.blogspot.ca/2017/03/next-stop-edinburgh-scotland.html
Part 3 - http://anotherdayforgrace.blogspot.ca/2017/03/72-hours-in-city-of-edinburgh.html

My second day in Edinburgh was off to a great start.  I awoke refreshed and rested and ready to take on another day of exploring.  Breakfast in the hotel dining area was a tad confusing and I don't think I quite grasped what it was I was supposed to do.  I walked in, I was stopped by a server who gave me instructions and I proceeded to follow those instructions.  There was no defined queue or waiting area and various items were scattered all over the place.  I found out later that the server who greeted me must have thought I had pre-ordered and pre-paid for breakfast.  I thought it was free and ate until I was stuffed.  I never was billed for it but discovered later that breakfast at the hotel was not free.

I had free time before making my way to Starbucks on the Royal Mile to join the free walking tour through Sandemans New Europe Tours so I grabbed a coffee and sat on a bench in Parliament Square and people-watched for a while.  This is one of the things I miss about living in a city; just sitting somewhere, like a fly on the wall, and watching everyone go on with their daily lives and taking in the excitement that buzzes in the air of the downtown area of any city.

The walking tour left not far from that area so I walked around the corner five minutes before the scheduled departure and met my guide, Fraser.  There were more people taking the tour that I thought there would be.  Fortunately, Fraser had a tall flag that he waved in the air as we walked along so we wouldn't lose site of him.

I admit, I wasn't expecting much from this walking tour.  I only signed up for it because it was free and I thought I might learn a few things or see things I would otherwise not see.  I assumed the only good thing about it would be that it's free.  How very wrong I was.

The tour lasted about two hours and delivered way more than I expected.  In fact, it was one of the best walking tours I've ever been on!  Not only did I see historical buildings and monuments, I learned the history of them the notable people who lived in Edinburgh throughout history.  I learned about the gruesome public hangings that the townspeople came out to watch.  I learned that the South Bridge is cursed because the first person to cross it after its construction crossed in a coffin. She was the eldest citizen of the city and it was decided that she would be the first to cross - dead or alive.  I learned that J. K. Rowling, the creator of Harry Potter, got inspiration from gravestones in Greyfriar's Kirkyard when choosing names for some of her characters.  I learned that some of the graves in this graveyard were looted by grave-robbers but they didn't steal jewels; they  stole the actual bodies for medical and science research.  I learned about Greyfriar's Bobby, the beloved dog whose grave at Greyfriar's Kirkyard has been turned into a shrine of flowers and gifts left by admirers. I learned that the fountain that stands in dedication of this beloved dog was once a two-tiered fountain with an upper level for humans to drink from and a lower level for dogs to drink from.  The statue's nose has been rubbed for good luck so much that Bobby now looks more like a pug than a Skye Terrier.  I learned that the term s**t-faced originated during a time in Europe when residents had no flush toilets and to dispose of waste, it was acceptable to simply toss it out of a window and into the gutters.  This was usually done late at night when, coincidentally, the drunken patrons of local pubs would be on their way home and I'm sure you can figure it out from there! I learned that one of the public square's off the Royal Mile was historically used and is still used to this day for gathering the city residents together to announce important announcements such as royal births and the results of Brexit.  I also learned that Scotland has a very bloody, brutal history...one where, I noticed throughout this tour, every story told ends with someone or many people being killed.
Greyfriar's Kirkyard
The gravesite of Greyfriar's Bobby
When the tour ended, we parted ways near the National Museum of Scotland.  Now, some people may say that the "free" tour ended in front of the museum so that everyone would naturally wander into the museum and pay the entry fee, therefore making the entire tour some sort of trick to get people to go to the museum.  Well, I personally doubt that.  I tipped my guide generously and was glad to pay the small entry fee to the museum as it was somewhere I planned to visit anyway.  This made it all that more convenient because I would have gotten hopelessly lost trying to find it.

I didn't want to spend too much time in the museum as my time in Edinburgh was short as it was and I had so many other things to see and do but I did walk through every room on every floor, stopping at the things that interested me the most; the exhibit about Alexander Graham Bell (because of his ties to Cape Breton Island where I live), Dolly the cloned sheep and the observation deck with the view of the city were among some of the most interesting exhibits for me.  Overall, the population of Scots around the world may be relatively small but they've certainly done their fair share of notable things as I learned at the museum.

Upon leaving the museum, I must have taken a wrong turn.  I thought I was going the right way but when things started to look unfamiliar, I realized I was quite lost.  I walked for well over an hour and ended up in a residential neighborhood that looked nothing like anywhere I had been in the city up to that moment.  I kept walking hoping to find someone to ask for directions but the neighborhood was like a ghost town.  Eventually, I ended up back on St. Mary's St. and at my hotel where I grabbed a bite to eat and got ready before heading back down the Royal Mile to meet another guide to take me on a Haunted Graveyard and Underground Vaults Tour.




Thursday, March 9, 2017

72 Hours in the City of Edinburgh, Scotland....Now Go!!

Continued from:
Part 1 - http://anotherdayforgrace.blogspot.ca/2017/02/my-journey-to-scotlands-cities.html
Part 2 - http://anotherdayforgrace.blogspot.ca/2017/03/next-stop-edinburgh-scotland.html

Although my hotel room was very clean and comfortable, I noticed  a major issue upon exiting the shower; the floor was full of water. I did everything I could to prevent it but when I informed staff about the issue, they reacted in a manner that made me think they had dealt with this many times before and that perhaps there was no way to prevent it. The lady at the front desk said she would send someone to clean it up ASAP but no one came by the time I left and no one had come by the time I came back later that evening. I ended up cleaning it myself.

That first day in Edinburgh was anything but relaxing...exactly how I like it. I love to be on the move and doing things. I'm not an idle person so the thought of relaxing in front of the TV in my hotel room didn't even cross my mind. It was still mid-afternoon by the time I hit the street and started to immerse myself into Edinburgh life. I only had to walk for about twenty seconds and I was on the Royal Mile. I walked up the street where crowds of tourists and commuters were gathered.

I didn't know where the Royal Mile would take me. I didn't bother to look at a map. I prefer the unknown. I kept walking past shops, restaurants and centuries-old buildings that would become familiar once I learned my way around. I eventually ended up at the entrance to Edinburgh Castle. I didn't go any further as I already had plans to visit the castle on my last day in the city but at least I found out how to get there!



I took my time going back down the Royal Mile. I stopped to watch some interesting (and downright bizarre and equally intriguing) buskers.  I walked into a few shops to get some ideas of what to buy as souvenirs for friends and family back home and I took note of restaurants and cafes that may be good options for a meal later on. I took note of a Starbucks right on the main street but vowed to only patronize it as a last resort. I can have Starbucks anytime I want at home. When I'm traveling I prefer to sample the unfamiliar and local.


As I walked along the Royal Mile, I noticed some peculiar things. I noticed that traffic lights go from green to yellow to red and back to yellow before turning green as opposed to just red to green to yellow back home. I also noticed that the crosswalks are set further back from the lights than I am used to and, after seeing someone get almost taken out by a car while trying to cross where the lights are, I realized why. I also learned that going to the bathroom can be a bit of a pain...especially if you don't have any coins on hand. Those stupid pay bathrooms around Scotland were the only annoyance I experienced during my travels around the country. I've never had to go through a toll booth to pee before.

Since I didn't have anything planned that afternoon, I decided to do a bit of shopping.  After exchanging some Canadian currency for local currency, I learned that Scotland has it's own money. It's equal to the British Pound but it looks different. I had no idea what to get for souvenirs but, judging by the stores on the Royal Mile, plaid, cashmere and tweed were in full supply.  I found some beautiful scarves for the women in my life (including myself) but the men were a little harder to shop for. Most of the ball caps and shirts were branded with golf and football slogans. I finally found some that simply said "Scotland" on them. Everything seemed very reasonably-priced despite what I had heard from other travelers to the UK about everything being super expensive. I also picked out some key-chains, fridge magnets and local snacks and my shopping was complete in under an hour. I hate shopping but I particularly hate shopping when I am traveling. I try to get it done right away so I don't have to worry about it anymore. With very little space to pack anything else in my carry-on luggage, I was unable to buy too much anyway.


One of the tours I had pre-booked before my departure was a hop-on, hop-off bus ticket for a city tour on a double decker bus through Edinburgh Bus Tours. I was still wide awake so I made my way to the bus stop and waited for the big red bus to come by.Although  I didn't take a jacket with me and I knew it would be cold on the top outside deck of the bus, I took a seat there anyway. How often do I get to tour a city on top of a double decker bus? Figured I might as well get the most of it. It was quite cold and although there were seats available on the bottom inside deck, I toughed it out and stayed up top. We passed through some areas of the city that I otherwise wouldn't have seen and stopped briefly at some attractions I wouldn't have seen like the Royal Yacht Britannia and the Royal Botanic Garden.


I almost learned a crucial lesson in exploring Edinburgh on foot the hard way when I was exiting the bus at the end of the tour; Be very careful when crossing the street. It's easy to forget that driving is done on the left side of the road in the United Kingdom and I forgot that very important fact when I looked to the right instead of the left and was almost taken out by a speeding car. Unfortunately, this was not the only time I made this mistake. I noticed since I arrived in the city that the sound of ambulance sirens were almost continuous and I wondered if perhaps it was Canadian and American tourists making the same mistake. In Edinburgh, there seems to be no speed limits and cars stop at nothing, not even crosswalks.

I usually don't walk down dark alleyways or venture on side streets or more remote areas of cities but I felt very safe everywhere I went in Edinburgh and although I had only been there a few hours, I felt at home. It didn't take long to realize that I really like the city. Many other people must like it too as there were tourists everywhere. It wasn't peak tourist season when I was there but the streets were packed with people from all over the world. I'd hate to see what's it like during peak tourist season or during major events like the Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo.


I walked around the city for a few hours taking pictures and admiring the stunning architecture. By the time I started finally feeling tired, I had clocked 16 miles of walking according to the step-counter app on my phone. Not bad for someone who arrived in the city jet-lagged and sleep-deprived only a few hours earlier. I stopped into a little cafe called Cafe Keno, which was just around the corner from my hotel, and grabbed a delicious vegetarian sandwich and some cookies.

Back in my room, I was so tired, I could barely get undressed. Sleep came easy and I didn't wake up again until twelve hours later when my alarm went off in the morning.












Friday, March 3, 2017

Next Stop: Edinburgh, Scotland

*Continued from My Journey to Scotland's Cities, Highlands and Islands http://bit.ly/2k61UAl 

After getting instructions from a lady at the help desk in the arrivals area of Glasgow International Airport (she suggested take a bus/train combination to Edinburgh), I made my way to the front entrance of the airport to find the #500 bus to Queen St. Station in downtown Glasgow. The moment I walked out the door, a blue bus with the #500 was just pulling up. I rushed over and bought a ticket and was on my way. Much easier than I thought it would be and I didn't get lost like I usually do. The trip downtown took about twenty-five minutes and allowed me to see some of the city. Upon arrival and in an equally-easy manner, I was able to find a ticket booth where I bought a train ticket to Edinburgh Waverley Station, find the right train and board.  

I was surprised by how easy this whole process was.  Actually, it scared me a little.  I was almost expecting something to go wrong.  It's rare that things go this smoothly for me when traveling. In less than an hour, I made it from plane to bus to train and was headed for Edinburgh. Although I was dead tired and the seats on-board the train were very comfortable, I was unable to sleep a wink. Instead I drank coffee all the way there which I'm sure didn't help with the jet lag and lack of sleep. There wasn't much to see along the way except homes, industrial parks and lots and lots of sheep.

The train ride only took about an hour and before I even had a chance to settle down and relax, it was time to disembark at Waverley Station in downtown Edinburgh. When I booked my trip, I didn't know if I would be taking the trail but I still sent directions from Waverley Station to the Travelodge on St. Mary's St. where I was staying. once I was off the train, it didn't take long to realize that I would need to access those directions. The station was much larger than I thought it would be and I, very quickly, became hopelessly lost. The directions were of no help.
Waverley Train Station

I wandered around that train station for just over an hour trying to find the right exit onto the right street. When I found it, it took another twenty minutes to find the right route to my hotel. It was during this time that I had my first experience with genuine Scottish hospitality.  Several people who noticed I was lost offered to help me and one person even offered to walk me straight to my hotel! Once I got on track and new what direction to go, I walked another ten minutes.  As I walked, I couldn't help but notice how warm and sunny it was. Everyone back home told me the weather in Scotland that time of year was much like home - cold, damp and horrible. I was wearing my cold weather clothes while walking with all my luggage so I was sweating bullets in no time. I arrived at my hotel room with plenty of time to explore the city on that first day. It wasn't until my arrival at the Travelodge that I realized how central it was - right around the corner from the Royal Mile, the main tourist street in Edinburgh.

Checking into the hotel was a breeze. The only peculiar thing about check-in was the fact that no one at the front desk knew how to say or spell my last name even though MacEachern, so I've always been told, is an obviously very Scottish surname. Oddly, this would not be the first time I'd experience this on my adventure around Scotland. It seems that it's not as common of a name as it is across the pond in New Scotland. Once in my room, I quickly unpacked, grabbed a shower and set out to explore the city. I probably should have caught up on sleep seeing as I was jetlagged and hadn't slept in almost two days but I felt wide awake. I'm not one to let a little jetlag and lack of sleep get in the way of my travels; plenty of time to sleep at home!
My hotel room at the Travelodge in Edinburgh - simple but clean and comfortable.






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