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Day 9 – Cliffs of Moher, Bunratty Castle, and Shannon

“That it seems that it may turn out to be It feels that it will undoubtedly It looks like a rather blustery day, today It sounds that it may turn out to be Feels that it will undoubtedly Looks like a rather blustery day” – A Rather Blustery Day, Winnie the Pooh

Today truly was a rather blustery day.  The Cliffs of Moher are positioned on the west coast of Ireland on the North Atlantic Ocean.  The Cliffs are a classic shot in photos and videos of Ireland.  Mom and I were excited to get to enjoy the views.  On the way to the Cliffs, it was raining and cold still so we were all hoping that it would clear up so we could enjoy the view.  We rode a ferry across the River Shannon, in which dolphins were sighted during the crossing, and then continued on to the Cliffs of Moher.  The rain stopped, but the wind made up for it. It was cold and windy as we walked up the stairs to the top of the cliffs where an old castle ruin stood.  We got about half way up and Mom was miserable.  I suggested we go back down to the visitor center because the wind was blowing her all over the place.  She defiantly said, “I want to go to the castle!”  So, we did.  It was just a tower at the top of the cliff with a small archway on the side.  When attempting to walk through the archway, it focused all of the wind and even made me feel like I was going to fall over.  I got Mom around to the back side of the tower so she could rest out of the wind for a few minutes before we made the trek back down. I had an empty cup from hot chocolate that I had put in the pocket of the book bag since there were no trash cans on the cliffs.  It blew out and swirled all over the place.  I gave up trying to catch it until the wind caught it and right inside the cup and show it like a rocket toward the wall where a pregnant lady on our trip was posing for a picture.  BAM!  It popped into the wall just a few feet from her.  I chased the cup for the next couple of minutes while Mom laughed at me in her little wind shelter.  I took several pictures of Mom laughing so hard she was crying.  On the trip up the cliffs, the wind was to our backs.  On the walk down it was blowing straight into our faces.  It made for some unsteady walking so I had Mom hold onto me while we walked down so she wouldn’t lose her balance and fall.  We finally made it down to the visitor center out of the wind to rest.

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:

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