Calton, Stirling, Lomond and Kelpies

For our last full day in Edinburgh we left Edinburgh. We had pre-booked an all day coach tour to see Stirling Castle, Loch Lomond and the Kelpies. This involved being about three blocks up the Royal Mile to Highland Explorer Tours at 8:15 am, boarding a 32 passenger Mercedes bus with 14 other travelers and spending the day on the road. A quick mention that I was kind of dreading the bus ride as I was sure I would get crammed into a tight seat and with my knee it was going to be a painful day, brace or no brace. But lo and behold, the bus was half empty and Kathleen and I had the entire back row to ourselves. And since there was an emergency exit there, I could completely stretch out my legs, YEAH!

Before we did that I went out again at dawn (or just before) to take a Photowalk and shoot some more sunrise pics, this time on Calton Hill, the third highest point in Edinburgh. It was worth it as it wasn’t near as difficult as Arthur’s Seat but it gave me a chance to shoot some more great sunrise stuff.

After breakfast we were off on our tour. The first stop was to see the Kelpies. If you haven’t seen the Kelpies, check out my pics. It is a GIANT equine sculpture (the largest in the world we were told) that honors Clydesdale horses that used to pull the barges on the Scottish Canal which runs right next to the Kelpies. They are incredibly impressive and a photographer’s dream. We spent about 30 minutes there before we were off to Loch Lomond, Scotland’s biggest lake. We saw a part of it but not all (that would have taken too long), had a nice cup of coffee and then it was off to Stirling Castle.

On the way I have to say that the is country is SOOOOOOOO green. Green and lush. Check out my countryside pics and know that I did nothing to enhance them. They are amazing.

Stirling Castle (according to our superb and hilarious driver/guide James) is even better than Edinburgh Castle and I think he is right. Part of why we liked it better was Frank a Stirling Castle tour guide, who took us on an amazing tour that was one of the best tours I have ever done. Just outstanding. Pictures say it better than I can describe. I think you may recognize Frank as I am pretty sure when he was a lot younger, he played Dobby the house elf in the Harry Potter films 😀. He was stupendous as was his castle. Topped the tour off with lunch and a bus ride back and then packing. We have a 8:00 am train to York tomorrow morning where we will be picked up by the amazing Paul and Gail, our Martini Mates. We are staying with them at Castle Howard and touring what Paul calls, God’s Country—Yorkshire. Can’t wait.

One last thing before I throw in the photos. We are finishing up this trip a week from today in Dublin where we will meet up with my brother Steve, his wife Jamie, our niece Cassie, her cousin Analee and Jamie’s sister and her husband Pam and Dave. And two more special people, our buddies Bob and Holly who are enroute to Dublin as I write this. I mention this as Bob does a blog as well and he blogs as he travels. I want to recommend it as he always takes great pics and sometimes movies. You can find it by clicking here. It’s always a fun read so try it out.

Don’t forget you can always see the pics as a slide show and as soon as Flickr gets their act together and fixes their uploader, I will have more pics in my Flickr feed (see the column at right.)

I have rarely if ever found anyone out of whom I could not extract amusement or edification. —Sir Walter Scott (seen in the Waverly Rail station while walking today)

Arthur’s Seat & more

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My inspiration, Tony Broonford

About three months ago we discovered The Broonfords. Really just a great Edinburgh YouTube vlogger named Tony Broonford. Since then he has become a huge part of our Edinburgh planning. If you ever come to Edinburgh, watch his videos. We have followed his directions for places to go all around the city. For instance, he has a series of videos following every Close that branches off from the Royal Mile. We keep going down all the ones he suggested and have found some pretty neat stuff (like a proper British garden).

About two months ago he did a video about climbing Arthur’s Seat. I will pause while you click the Wikipedia link and see what that is. As you may know, I love to walk and at home I try and walk at least 15 miles a week. But most of my walking is flat. I don’t do many hills. At least I didn’t until I saw that video and decided I had to climb Arthur’s Seat myself and I had to do it at dawn to get some great photos. To do that I have been training on our Power Line Trail which is a lot of ups and downs. Arthur’s Seat is all up and then all down.

Then this morning, with the weather cooperating, I set out to do it. And I did! What a great experience. One I won’t soon forget. The photos say it all (There will be more on Flickr as soon as they are back online). Just know that it wasn’t as tough a climb as I had thought it would be, that it was freezing cold and that the wind howls up there. I mean really blows. As the sun came up, my guess is that it hit about 30 mph and the temp was in the lower 40s. And I was in shorts with a knee brace. And I loved it. The kind of thing that really makes you feel alive.

After I climbed up, I climbed down (which was tougher than going up), came back and after a shower and some breakfast we did the lower Canonsgate section of the Royal Mile. As I mentioned yesterday, Holyrood Palace was closed due the the Lord High Commissioner of Whatever being “in-residence.” But the attached Queen’s Gallery was open so we toured an exhibit about Charles II which was moderately interesting, followed by a visit to the Scottish Parliament which is a beautiful piece of architecture and then a visit to the free Edinburgh Museum which chronicles the history of the city. Also moderately interesting. Then lunch at another great pub.

After a short nap (still somewhat jet-lagged) we headed up the Royal Mile again to check out the St. Giles Cathedral and a few other great places. Then back to home (we love this AirBnB) so I could process photos and another short nap (still jet-lagged), then dinner at a great little Italian place and back here and I am writing this.

Tomorrow we do a tour outside the city to visit Stirling Castle, Loch Lomond and the Kelpies so stay tuned. Might not get that done until we are taking the train on Saturday to meet up with our Martini Mates, Paul and Gail in York.

There’s no glory in climbing a mountain if all you want to do is to get to the top. It’s experiencing the climb itself – in all its moments of revelation, heartbreak, and fatigue – that has to be the goal. —Karyn Kusama


We walked and walked and ate and ate

My walking day
Kathleen’s walking day

Don’t you love trying to get back on schedule after you change a bunch of time zones. I do…NOT! Awake this morning at 1:00 am, laid in bed until 2:00 and then gave up and came in the living room (I love AirBnBs for this very reason…we have a living room) and posted and did some other stuff before noticing the sun was going to come up at 4:44. So I was dressed and out walking at 4:30. I love taking early morning golden light photos and I was thrilled to get some great ones. Walked a little over five miles all over Edinburgh’s new and old towns. And as you can see, by the end of the day, I had walked even further.

I want to take a moment here to brag about Kathleen and her walking yesterday. She did more than 7.3 miles and more than 16,688 steps. WOW! I walk miles and miles each week but this is really something for her. Those are our respective walking tallies for yesterday above. Hopefully we wore off some of the food we ate.

I have to admit to you faithful readers that I started this post last night at 9:00 pm or so when we came back from our food tour. Between the long day and the great food and drink, I fell asleep right at the end of the first paragraph. It’s now almost 7:00 am on Thursday and I have already climbed Arthur’s Seat (more about that tomorrow) and I am working on this before I go get breakfast.

After my early morning walk, we had planned to go down and tour Holyrood Palace. On both our previous trips we had skipped the Palace for some reason. But when I had walked there on my pre-dawn photowalk, I discovered the the Lord High Commissioner of some such was in residence until Sunday and that the Palace was closed to tours. Damn! Guess we will just have to come back to Edinburgh again.

So after a quick breakfast, we walked up the Royal Mile and grabbed our Saturday rail tickets at Waverly Station and did a quick “Rick Steve’s Wee Tour of New Town.” It’s a tour from his Edinburgh Highlights book. We could have skipped where we ended up going on the “Wee Tour” as we wound up walking much of the same route on the food tour later but we had a nice morning. Made it back to the Canonsgate area in time to grab lunch at the Tollbooth Tavern where we had eaten three years ago. Still great food and great beers. It ought to be for a place founded in 1820. You would think they would have their act together by now. 😜

Then it was back to home for a short nap before our 5:00 pm food tour. We had booked this through a company called Eat Walk Tours and we met our guide Anastaziya (Scottish of Russian heritage) at our first restaurant at the base of the castle in the Grassmarket area. Anastaziya was AWESOME! It was her first tour (she had been on a bunch but this was her first one as a guide) and aside from having to check her notes from time to time, she was wonderful. Our tour was called the Old/New Town Tour and it did just that. Took us through the Old Town, around the Royal Mile and then over to Princes Street and the New Town. Along the way we stopped for five bites and three drinks and had a lot of splendid conversation. We were amazed that we were the only people on the tour, which I guess is a big benefit of booking on a weekday, so we got very special treatment.

The food and drink started with smoked salmon (farm-raised Atlantic, no further comment needed) and our next tastes included mash potatoes with some braised beef and blood sausage (good) that was accompanied by some outstanding raspberry gin and Prosecco (great). Then on to the Scotch Malt Whisky Society where we sampled a private label Scotch along with the haggis we had been expecting all day long, served with neeps and tatties. It was surprisingly good. Then on to what looked like from the outside to be a faux-Tudor cheesy, bar. Once inside it became a gorgeous and classy wine bar and quickly became my favorite stop of the day. The food included a plate of cheese, cured meats, carmelized onions accompanied by oatcakes and some wonderful bread. All that washed down with a super good Scottish lager. We finished at a very stylish place for dessert where we enjoyed an upscale version of a traditional Scottish desert—Cranachan. It’s raspberries, whipped cream and chocolate. Wonderful.

That’s our first full day and it was full. Weather was outstanding as it looks to be today. More tomorrow. Here’s some pics but there will be a lot more on my Flickr account linked at right. And just in case you didn’t realize it, you can click any individual picture in the collage and it becomes a slide show.

Eating good food is my favourite thing in the whole world. Nothing is more blissful. —Justine Larbalestier

Greeting from Edinburgh

Well, we made it. I am writing this from the living room of our Edinburgh AirBnB. That’s Kathleen standing in front of it tonight and right now we are sitting in the living room, trying desperately to stay awake for one more hour.

We headed to the airport via Seattle Towncar who arrived at our place right on time. The traffic on 405 was horrible. Glad we left early. After an easy check in and a very long security experience (I made the mistake of wearing my knee brace under my jeans so I had to go into a tiny little room with two TSA guys, drop my pants and take off the brace. Fun!) we wound up in the British Airways Club World (business class) where we started the vacation the right way, with complimentary gin and tonics. We boarded the plane and had upper deck seats (kind of scary going up with a two carry-ons, my computer/camera bag and my a bad knee) and settled in. Nice food, nice drinks, a great scotch (a Glenlivet) and decent seats. We got about 6 hours of sleep between the two of us before we were awakened for breakfast an hour before landing at Heathrow.

Heathrow was a zoo as it always is. We forgot that even though we were going on to Edinburgh, we still had to show our passports and pass through security all over again. At least this time I had taken off my knee brace and didn’t have to drop my pants in front of two British airport people.

When we finally got on our flight to Edinburgh (had to move from C gates to A gates besides going through security) we were really upset because even though we still had Business class seats, we found that on short haul flights (Edinburgh was just a little over an hour) they just use a plane full of coach seats and block out the middle seat. So yes, you get a slightly nicer experience but NO EXTRA LEGROOM! All of a sudden my knee was facing a turn for the worst having to shove it into too small a space. Luckily for us, the flight was only about half full so the wonderful flight attendant said we could move up to the empty front row which let me stretch out my bad leg and it worked!

Made to Edinburgh about 20 minutes late due to having to “go around” on landing. I hate that. You never know what caused the “go around.” And getting that take off feeling when you are expecting that landing feeling is very disconcerting. Turned out it was just a tail wind that hit the plane just as they were to touch down and rather than take a shot at having a problem, we jetted out of there and came around again. Only a little scary.

Our driver showed up right on time, got us to our AirBnB right on time as well. Met the owners who were a very sweet couple. The AirBnB is cute, cozy and pretty much just perfect. You can see it on the AirBnB website by clicking here. The best part is the location. As we sit here trying to stay away, we are watching people walk by on the Royal Mile. Grabbed a quick dinner literally across the street—great local beer, steak and ale pie, homemade soup and Mac & Cheese…with pulled pork.

And that does it for today. Stay tuned for tomorrow. I captioned the pics and don’t forget to comment. TIME FOR BED!

Tired minds don’t plan well. Sleep first, plan later. —Walter Reisch