Monthly Archives: April 2014

Day 4 – Edinburgh in the Rain

This morning started off with another fine Scottish breakfast.  We got to sleep in an extra 30 minutes and didn’t have to be to breakfast until 7:30 am.  After breakfast, we headed to the bus and we were off to Edinburgh for a city tour on the bus.  Our Edinburgh guide, Jenny, directed our driver around the city as she gave us the history of the various sites.  Key sites included Edinburgh Castle, the Palace of Holyroodhouse (Pronounced holly-rude-house, meaning Holy Cross) Palace, and the Royal Mile, which is the stretch of street between the two.

Edinburgh Castle is the site of the famous Scottish Military Tattoo, although it only happens in the summer and fall.  It’s quite an amazing fortress, built on the top of volcanic rock.  We were able to go all through it and see the Scottish Crown Jewels, old prisons, a 15th century chapel, and what should have been an amazing view of the city.  The weather decided not to cooperate today.  There was dense fog that limited our visibility to about a hundred yards.  There was a slight mist coming down as we walked toured the inner areas of the castle.  About the time we wrapped up there, the fog began to lift…and the rain began to fall.

As the rain fell, we walked down the Royal Mile from Edinburgh Castle toward the Palace of Holyroodhouse, which serves as the official residence of the of the King or Queen in Scotland.  Currently, that is Queen Elizabeth but there are discussions about Scotland trying to become its own nation.  Historically, when Scotland had a King, they would crown the King at Edinburgh Castle and then celebrate in a procession to the Palace of Holyroodhouse.  Trust me, the confusion of how Scotland falls into the United Kingdom is quite confusing.

Along the Royal Mile are all kinds of historic buildings.  Most of them have been converted into apartments, pubs, and shops.  We used this opportunity to shop for souvenirs.  It was kind of strange because a lot of the shops are owned and run by Indian and Asian people.  I guess in my mind I always pictured that EVERYONE in Scotland would be the stereotypical Scottish person.  A lot of the stores carried the same stuff so it was all about trying to find the best deal.  It was also difficult getting used to the exchange rate.  Scotland uses pounds for their money and one pound was roughly the equivalent of $1.75.  That meant that when you saw something for $15 and though it sounded reasonable, it was actually more like $27.  Lots of things were put back on the shelf after doing the math.

We stopped and ate lunch at a pub along the Royal Mile.  Mom had Fish and Chips and I had Bangers and Mash (Sausage and mashed potatoes).  The food was good and the atmosphere was nice but the service was pretty slow.  There was also some obnoxious beeping that happened randomly that was driving me crazy.  It sounded like buttons on a watch but I couldn’t see anyone messing with their watch and it went on for like 10 minutes.  It reminded me of when you hear a smoke detector chirp and you’re trying to figure out which one it is.  For those who watch Modern Family, you’ll probably laugh at the mental image of Phil trying to track down the smoke detector that comes to mind anytime I’m reminded of that.  Once we paid our bill, we went back to shopping.

Dad had given Mom money as a gift to buy herself a nice ladies kilt because the one she bought at the Renaissance Fair didn’t fit right and she had returned it and she has wanted one really bad.  We spent a while going into and out of the off-the-rack shops trying to find the purple tartan she wanted in the size and length she wanted.  None of them had it so we ended up in a few shops of kiltmakers comparing quality and cost.  Mom finally decided which one she wanted and went through the process of being measured for her custom kilt!  It’ll take about a month to make and then they’ll ship it to her house.  She’s very excited to get her kilt and I’m sure she’ll be wearing it everywhere she goes!

We had to meet our tour bus at 5:30 pm for the last ride back to the hotel.  We walked in the pouring rain down toward where we were to meet the bus.  We were about 2/3 of the way down the Royal Mile at 4:20 so we decided we’d wrap up shopping and head there so we’d get there in plenty of time.  After walking all the way down to the Palace at Holyroodhouse, we realized that the meeting place was actually about 1/3 of the way back up the Royal Mile on a street that runs parallel.  We didn’t think to check that detail on a map until we got all the way down.  We still had over 30 minutes to walk up there so we did.  There was road construction and we took a wrong turn since half their streets don’t have signs.  We started running out of time.  Since Mom needs to walk at a pace she’s comfortable with, she told me to run ahead to the bus and have them wait so we wouldn’t miss it.  I turned the corner toward the bus about 2 minutes after the scheduled departure time.  The bus was still there…but it was pulling out! I got in front of it and when the driver saw me, he pulled over.   I told him I had to run back to walk with Mom and we’d be right back.  She wasn’t very far behind, so we got on the bus about 4 minutes late and we were off to the hotel.  Pheww!

We got back and we were cold and wet.  Mom took a shower while I went to the indoor heated pool.  When I first got there, I saw they had a sauna and steam room so I went straight there to warm up.  After I came out, I relaxed on the deck chair to type this post.  Mom is probably in the room muttering about not having Fox News on the TV!  I’m going to take a swim, grab some dinner, and head back for bed.  More to come tomorrow when we travel to Belfast, Ireland by way of a 2 1/2 hour ferry ride.

Photos from today are at:
http://www.flickr.com/photos/94310362@N03/sets/72157644439671621/

Day 3 – Pitlochry, St. Andrews, and Edinburgh – April 29

This morning began with breakfast at the Newton Hotel.  The traditional scottish breakfast is about the same everywhere.  They had a continental breakfast including cereal, porridge, fruit, breads, and juices.  They took orders for the hot foods to include bacon, sausage, haggis, grilled tomatoes, fried or scrambled eggs, potato scones, and, of course, baked beans.  After breakfast, we set out on the road for a distillery tour.

Pitlochry was a beautiful little Victorian town with the Blair Athol Distillery where they make scotch whiskey.  It was neat to learn the process by which they make the whiskey.  The machinery is quite impressive.  No pictures were allowed inside the distillery but they had massive copper enclosures that held thousands of gallons of water for the various parts of the process.  At the end they provided samples of the whiskey and told you all the dos and don’ts for drinking a fine whiskey (no ice cubes!).  I didn’t try the whiskey but Mom threw hers back and asked for more.  As if she wasn’t tipsy enough!  If you believe that, then something’s wrong with you!

Next, we continued on to St. Andrews, the birthplace of golf!  This was what I was looking forward to most on the trip.  The weather was beautiful and the sun was shining bright most of the time we were there.  First, we went to the Dunvegan hotel and restaurant for lunch.  It’s an awesome little pub that is owned by a man and lady who had graduated from Texas A&M.  The decor is LOTS of pictures of various golfers and famous people who have visited there.  Pictures are everywhere, including the ceiling.  While sitting there eating, I noticed a photo of the 1888 Open Champion named Jack Burns.  I snapped a picture of it for Dad and it’s in today’s gallery.

Lunch was very good and then we headed to the St. Andrew’s clubhouse for some souvenir shopping.  The prices were ridiculous!  I was looking at a normal short sleeved golf polo shirt with the St. Andrew’s logo on it….90 pounds!  That’s like $160.  I found a sweater that I really liked that was 140 pounds….$200+!  I don’t care what’s on that shirt, I’m not paying THAT much!  We walked around and took some pictures and saw the Royal and Ancient as well as some of the course.  I definitely want to go back and play one day!  The views were spectacular.  St. Andrews is on the shore of the North Sea and that beach right next to the course is where they filmed the iconic Chariots of Fire scene with the slow motion running on the beach.  There was also a cool little mini golf putting area at St. Andrews for those who don’t want to play one of the large courses.  I’m sure I’ll get to try that next time as well.

We traveled from St. Andrews to Edinburgh.  It was an interesting drive that took us through some beautiful countryside.  The tour company had given the driver some bad directions and we had to backtrack a little to get to our hotel.  This hotel was a Marriott but it was still not a high rise hotel.  Parts of it looked like a castle.  Inside was the most confusing hotel yet.  In the elevator, there are buttons for floors 0, -1, 1, -2, 2, -3, and 3.  It’s like they have half floors or something.  It’s funny to hear the elevator say “minus 2” when it gets to the floor.

We went into Edinburgh city for dinner at the Apex restaurant.  It’s directly across the street from Edinburgh Castle.  Dinner was ok but it was similar to what we had the two nights before.  The views of Edinburgh Castle were amazing though.  Following dinner we went walking through the city on a ghost tour with our Edinburg guide named Jenny.  She told some interesting historical stories and how there are stories of ghosts in different parts of the town based on famous deaths.  It’s a beautiful city with some cool architecture and made a great opportunity for photos.  We headed back to the hotel for the evening after the ghost tour to get some rest before we head back to Edinburgh tomorrow for a city tour and some free time for shopping.  Mom and I are planning to spend some time in the shops.  The weather looks like it’s going to be cooler and rainy tomorrow so I guess we’ve run out of luck on our sunshine.

Photos from today are at
http://www.flickr.com/photos/94310362@N03/sets/72157644368253486/

Day 2 – Dinner and Highland Entertainment

At the end of the day on Monday we arrived at the Newton Hotel in Nairn, Scotland.  The current structure was built in 1650 and looked very castle-like.  The architecture was very neat.  We took our stuff to our room and changed for our dinner.  We met down in the bar and were escorted to the dining room.  There we had a scotch broth soup with vegetables which was very good.  Our second part to the meal was a patty of haggis, with a sort of mashed potato on top, and a turnip patty on top of that.  It was served with a sauce drizzled on top.  The parts of the dish all blended well and it was very good.  We both cleaned our plates and there’s a picture of Mom with her empty plate in the photos.  For our main course we had a moist chicken breast with vegetables.  Mom started to run out of steam about halfway through her dinner so I made sure it didn’t go to waste.  Dessert included a shortbread cookie and a mouse with raspberries.

Following dinner, we were led to a room with a dance floor for our evening of Highland entertainment.  There we were introduced of an entertainment group that included a man playing an accordion, a bagpiper, and two 12 year old girls who danced traditional Scottish dances.  The accordion player would give the history of the song or dance and they all did a great job performing.  Toward the end, he asked for volunteers to get up and do the dance the girls were doing.  As one of the youngsters on the trip, I was nominated to dance.  Another lady from the tour named Karen volunteered to try the dance as well.  We tried our best but I fear we butchered the dance.  We also were worn out trying for 2 minutes what those girls had been doing all night.  Sorry, no pictorial or video evidence of that adventure.  Mom and I enjoyed the entertainment and took some pictures with the entertainers at the end.  We headed back to the room and got to sleep around 11:30 pm.  We had to be up and out to breakfast by 7:00 am for another fun-filled day.

Photos from dinner and Highland entertainment are at
http://www.flickr.com/photos/94310362@N03/sets/72157644459951643/

Day 2 – The Highlands and Loch Ness

We drove into the Highlands today.  It was a beautiful countryside that our guide said gets even better in the summer when all the grasses turn green and the flowers bloom.  We had an unusually sunny morning in Scotland (even though it was still a little hazy) which meant we got to stop for several photo opportunities along our journey.  We traveled north from Glasgow along the various Lochs (Lakes) including the famous Loch Ness.  We learned that it’s 25+ miles long, 860 feet deep in it’s deepest point, and ranges between 30 and 60 degree fahrenheit!  The water is black from all of the minerals that run off the peat moss when it rains.  It went from warm and sunny in the morning to cloudy, windy and cold when we went on our Loch Ness cruise.  Look through the pictures and you’ll even see a sighting of “Nessie”, the Loch Ness monster!

After the cruise we headed north through Inverness toward our hotel.  A little piece of trivia…”Inver” means “mouth of”, so Inverness is the “Mouth of Ness”.  There are various other “Inver” towns for the various rivers and lakes.  Our hotel is in Nairn, Scotland on the northern shores where Scotland meets the North Sea.  I’ll post more in the morning on our dinner and Highland entertainment in the morning along with pictures but for now I’ve got to get some sleep.  Here’s a hint of things to come…our evening included haggis and John dancing.  If that doesn’t make you come back tomorrow I don’t know what will!

The pre-dinner photos are available at
http://www.flickr.com/photos/94310362@N03/sets/72157644410115974/

Day 2 – Breakfast in Glasgow – April 28

The morning was harder on us this morning than yesterday.  I had a hard time getting to sleep last night – the room was hot, I wasn’t as tired as I thought I’d be, and I think I was dreading having to get up at 6 am.  The morning came too early but we got up and got to breakfast by 7:15 am.  We sat next to a retired couple from Austin, TX named Robert and Susan.  For breakfast they offered cereal, porridge, fruit, yogurt, meats, haggis, potato scones, hash browns, and, of course, BAKED BEANS!  Grandma Burns knows how much I love those and of course I had some for breakfast.  I also had porridge with brown sugar and honey, hash browns, bacon, and other yummy stuff.  I tried haggis yesterday and it wasn’t awful but really didn’t have much of a taste so I think I’ll check that off my list and be done with that experience.

Mom is having fun and, of course, she’s driving me crazy!  She feels the need to turn off all the lights and return her room key like she thinks that the hotel is going to go under if she doesn’t do those things!  She gets a bit dippy when she’s tired, too.  I’ve been sure to make her feel at home by giving her a hard time when she says goofy things at night so we’ve been having lots of good laughs.  She’s very angry that we’ve yet to stay in a hotel that offers Fox News.

Today we’re off to Loch Lomond and Loch Ness.  The chef at the restaurant this morning said that Nessie won’t be there this time of year because she’s on holiday.  He said his mother-in-law fills in for Nessie though so we may see her there.  We’re driving along the M8 (main highway) and there are pretty hills in the distance.  I believe we’re going to spend some time in the highlands today as well.  When we reach the hotel in Nairn, we’re supposed to have highland entertainment (bagpipes, etc.) during dinner.

Today we’re hoping to do lots of skiving (Scottish slang for goofing off) 🙂  More updates later today.

Day 1 – Glasgow, Scotland – April 27

Day 1 of our official tour meant we had to move from the Hilton Glasgow to the Thistle Glasgow Hotel to meet up with our group.  We packed our bags and caught a cab over to the new hotel.  We got checked in and went up to our room to find they didn’t give us separate beds.  Not a big deal but with Mom using a breathing machine and doesn’t always sleep soundly so we requested they move us to another room with separate beds.  I quickly moved our stuff and we met our tour group in the lobby for a quick bus tour of Glasgow.

The bus departed and drove us around to explain different parts of the city and the architecture.  There are a lot of neat old buildings and statues and stuff.  She pointed out a unicorn statue and said that there are a lot of unicorn statues around the city because “in Scotland the unicorn represents purity and strength.”  Both Mom and I thought of Jocelyn and Jillian when we heard that because they both love unicorns.  I didn’t get to take a lot of pictures because we were zooming by while the Scottish tour guide Liz shared lots of information.  We stopped at a cathedral and got to get out and walk around.  From there we were able to see a cemetery, some statutes, and a 14th century cathedral.  Inside the cathedral, the choir was practicing and sounded beautiful.  During our walking trip we were given headphones and small boxes where we could listen to Liz’s dialog without having to stand right by her and without her having to yell.  We met back at the bus at 4 pm to head back to the hotel.

We met for dinner at 6:30 pm with the rest of our tour group.  Tim, our Tour Director, and Liz did a more formal introduction of what to expect and the day-to-day logistics of the tour prior to our meal.  We both had salads with bacon and blue cheese as our appetizer.  Mom had a pork chop for dinner and I have pasta.  Both were very good.  For dessert, Mom had rice pudding and I had creme puffs.  We sat with a couple from California named Bill and Gwendolyn.  Turns out they graduated from Cal Poly, the school where Dot Dot (Mom’s Mom) is a professor.  They were nice and we had some good conversation with our meal.  We have to have our bags outside our door and down at breakfast by 7:15 am tomorrow morning so now we’re off to bed.

Pictures from today are at:
http://www.flickr.com/photos/94310362@N03/sets/72157644373537965/

Transition Day in Glasgow, Scotland

After getting settled in our room, we went walking through Glasgow.  Even though we were tired, we planned to just push through so that we would be able to sleep at night and transition to this timezone (GMT, 5 hours ahead of the east coast.  We walked through Glasgow seeing some of the sights along the way.  It reminded us of Georgetown the way that it was a mix between really old buildings and some newer construction.  Some of the places were really pretty.  There were a lot of old cobblestone roads.  The cars around here surprised us because they’re all little hatchbacks.  It was an hour or so before we saw anything with a trunk.  There were a few small vans, no trucks, and their taxi cabs look cool.  Toward the end of the day, we did finally see a stretch limo that was made from a Ford Expedition.

As we wandered through the streets, we headed in the general direction of a food place called The Butchershop Bar and Grill that was recommended to us by the hotel staff.  The place the lady circled on the map ended up not being right and we wandered around for another hour before we finally found it.  We were tired and ready to eat.  We walked in around 6 pm on Saturday and the place was pretty empty.  I told the guy we’d like a table for 2 and he said they were all booked up.  We were shocked but I guess we needed a reservation.  I wish the hotel people had told us!  From there we figured we’d head back to the hotel and find a place to eat along the way.  The restaurants, pubs, and general shopping were all in the same buildings along the road.  The storefronts made it hard to tell what a lot of them were.  It made us realize how dependent we are day-to-day on our cell phones.  I couldn’t hop online and figure out what was nearby or call around to see if seating was available.

So…we wandered some more.  We were looking at our map when a nice local guy asked if we were lost.  We told him we weren’t lost but were looking for a place to eat.  He pointed us to Sauchiehall Street and left us with “Cheers”. We walked to Sauchiehall Street and found a restaurant/pub called O’Neill’s.  We went in and Mom ordered Fish and Chips while I got a HUGE double cheeseburger made from Irish beef that I had to cut in half in order to take bites.  After we finished our meal, we shared a Honeycomb Cheesecake.  It was a piece of cheesecake with small pieces of honeycomb dipped in chocolate sprinkled on top.  It also had a caramel sauce drizzled on top.  Needless to say, it was yummy!  After dinner, we headed back to the Hilton Glasgow exhausted and ready for rest.  We were able to call home using Google Voice for free from our computers and talked to everyone. Next…we crashed.

You can view photos from our day at http://www.flickr.com/photos/94310362@N03/sets/72157644344260232/

Travel to Scotland

Mom and I left Reagan National Airport around 3:30pm on Friday, April 25, 2014. Dad drove us to the airport and I truly believe that was the most dangerous part of the trip that we’ll face.  It was his first time driving Mom’s new Jeep and he was spending more time trying to talk to the voice activation system and playing with buttons that paying attention to the road!  We grabbed a quick bite to eat before take off and took this picture together.

John and Paige

John and Paige waiting for the airplane at DCA.

We flew to Newark, NJ on a small plane with 3 seats in a row and about 40 rows.  Because Mom has trouble walking distances with her cane, they picked us up on an electric car.  The crotchety old man driving kept yelling at people in his way and constantly said “beep, beep” so people would know he was coming.  We ate some lunch got ready for the long haul to Glasgow, Scotland.  The bigger plane was nice because we had in-seat entertainment systems.  However, both of our headphone jacks had a plug broken off in them.  The flight attendant was able to get the one out of mine and I had a splitter so we synchronized our screens to run Iron Man 3 at the same time and then just had the audio come through mine.  We dozed on and off throughout the flight and got to eat some surprisingly decent airline food.  Someone on the plane had some health issues and they got some doctors on the plane to lend a hand.  Everything ended up being ok but that added a little excitement to an otherwise boring flight.

Upon landing, we had to go through customs which took a while.  Our plane was the only one at the airport when we arrived at 7:30 am local time (2:30 am EDT).  After customs we got our luggage, exchanged some dollars to pounds and went to find a taxi to the hotel.  It cost 25 pounds to get there but it was a nice ride and our taxi driver was nice and told us some good information along the way.  Driving on the left side of the road caused us several startles when we saw cars coming at us on the right side of the road (especially down smaller streets without lines) and all of the signs are so different.

We got to the Hilton Glasgow around 9:30 am and checked in.  Check in is not officially until 3 pm so we left our bags with the concierge, sent some postcards home, and sat in the lobby to email our status back home.  Mom fell asleep on the couch in the lobby for a bit while I typed up this post.  Now we’re going to grab some food.  More updates (and pictures) to come…