Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Our Last Day

Our last day was a day spent exploring Edinburgh some more.  We were getting pretty tired so we tried to take it easy but we also wanted to pack in as much as possible so that our last day wasn't wasted.  We had breakfast at the hotel, packed up our bags and left them with the concierge.  We had decided to walk up Arthur's Seat which is is this huge craggy cliff on the east side of town with a spectacular view.  I wasn't too keen on it since it was supposed to take 2.5 hours and be very steep but Reuben was convinced that it was doable.  So we tried to catch the bus from the centre of town out to the bottom of the cliff but when we finally found the correct bus stop, we discovered that the bus only started running at 12:30 on Sundays.  It was 9:30am.  So, we decided to walk up to Edinburgh Castle first.  The sun was actually shining for once and we enjoyed our tour of Edinburgh Castle although there were a lot of other people there.  This was slightly frustrating when we ended up in a crush of people trying to race through the section on the Crown Jewels.  We found the military museums especially interesting and well done.

Just as we were about to leave Edinburgh Castle, there was a torrential downpour but we couldn't just stay there indefinitely so we covered up as much as possible and continued along out of Edinburgh Castle and down the Royal Mile.  As the shower ended, we passed a piper in a doorway playing.  How typical, hey?
After all this, we decided not to climb Arthur's Seat but went down to check out Holyrood Palace (we didn't go in because you had to pay admission) and then walked up Royal Mile from that end.  There are some cool nooks and crannies along the way.

After this, we grabbed some lunch at a pub.  I had deep fried haggis balls!!  They were delicious:)  And we shared a burger, which wasn't that great.  We each tried the guest ale on draft. Then we went over to Dean Garden and walked along a small river for awhile.  When the path petered out we ended up in a quiet suburb of Edinburgh and then on our way to a bus stop we happened upon a small, local farmer's market so we had some hot chocolate, a brownie and some Scottish shortbread.  Then we took the bus to Ocean Terminal to try and see the Royal Yacht Britannia, which the Queen uses but you can take tours of it.  We didn't take a tour since it cost money and we didn't get a really good view of it since it is surrounded by a huge mall.  But we did see a French naval ship and a Swedish submarine so that was cool.

It was such a cold and rainy afternoon that we got pretty tired of aimlessly wandering around the city.  We ended up back at our hotel around 5:30pm and grabbed our luggage and hopped on the bus going to Glasgow that conveniently stopped at a bus stop across the street from our hotel.  

The bus was packed but the trip was uneventful.  It took an hour to get there.  We were dropped off at the central bus station and then took a shuttle bus to Glasgow airport.  From there we walked to the Holiday Inn Express. It's a 5 minutes walk from the main terminal so very convenient.  We tried to go to sleep as soon as possible since we needed to be up at 4:30am the next morning. 

The next morning we quickly got our stuff together, grabbed a piece of toast and a coffee from the hotel and headed over to the airport to check in.  There was a bit of confusion because I thought we had to check in with Scandinavian Airlines but the flight was actually being operated by British Midlands.  Fortunately, there were no lineups at the check-in or at security.  So we had plenty of time to wait for our plane at the gate.  The flight over to Copenhagen lasted 2 hours.  We had a 2 hour wait at the Copenhagen airport so we wandered around a bit and when we spied some Danish's for sale we decided that having a Danish in Denmark was definitely called for.  They were scrumptious!!

And then we were on our way home.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Scottish Parliament and St. Andrews

This morning we let ourselves sleep in a bit.  Reuben had a shower and we finagled a way so that quite a bit less water got on the floor including jamming a hand towel into the crack between the glass and the top of the tub.  We had some leftovers from dinner as our breakfast and were on our way.

We had originally planned to spend the whole of Saturday on St. Andrews but since the Scottish Parliament building is not open on Sunday and we didn't want to go to St. Andrews on Sunday, we had to do both today.

We had a bit of trouble finding our connecting bus to get to the Parliament from downtown so we ended up walking the whole way there.  The confusion is caused by the major roadwork taking place in the centre of Edinburgh.  They are building a network for a tram system so they are digging up all the roads and the buses have to constantly change their route downtown to go around it.

When we arrived at the Parliament building a tour had just started and since it was free we decided to join the tour.  It was both informative and interesting.  This latest iteration of the Scottish Parliament only came into existence in 1998 and Scotland still has MPs in the British parliament in London.  The building was designed by a Spanish architect and built in 2004.  It's very modern and slick compared to Ottawa's neo-gothic parliament.

We had checked with the concierge and she had told us where to go to catch a bus to St Andrews.  When we bought our ticket they told us we had to catch the bus across the square because of the road work so we found the bus stop without too much trouble but we had forgotten to ask what time the bus departed.  We ended up waiting for 45 minutes so that was a bit of a waste of time.  We also were under the impression that the trip would only take an hour and it actually took 1 hr and 40 minutes.

The trip was uneventful and when we arrived in St. Andrews we calculated that we could only stay for 3.5 hours so that we could catch the last bus back to Edinburgh at 7:00pm.  When it was all said and done it was actually the perfect amount of time to explore St. Andrews.  First stop was a golf store so that we could buy my dad a ball marker from the Old Course.  Then we grabbed a free tourist map and went to explore.  We found the church where John Knox preached during the Reformation.  It was right in the centre of the town.  We didn't get to go inside. Then we happened upon a ruined cathedral that was pretty dramatic with the sea in the background.  We wandered along the shore and in and around the cathedral.  Somehow, we found an entrance into the cathedral and afterwards realized we were supposed to pay to get in.  Oh well, it was closing up anyway so we only spent about 10 minutes walking around.  

Next we walked to a ruined castle but it was closed already so we could just see it from the fence.  Then we wandered through the streets a bit and ended up having dinner at Pizza Express.  We saw Pizza Express franchises everywhere throughout England and Scotland so we thought we should try it out.  It is an upscale pizza place.  We shared a delicious mushroom bruschetta for starters and a prosciutto, tomato and arugula pizza.  It was very good and a nice atmosphere (except for the screaming kid at the next table) to wind down our busy day.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Tour of Stirling Castle, Loch Lomond and Glengoyne

After grabbing a quick continental breakfast at the hotel, we headed out into the pouring rain, again, to catch the bus into town.  The traffic was pretty bad so we ended up having to run to catch our tour bus.  But we made it on time and we were off.

The tour bus was quite small, only 12 other travellers.  The first place we stopped was Stirling Castle.  It is a fantastic mediaeval castle built by James IV, King of Scotland.  It sits on quite a high hill in the middle of Scotland, east/west.  Because of its position between two rivers, and invading armies would have had to take the castle to get to the rest of Scotland so it was quite strategically positioned.  There were lots of exhibits within the castle depicting life at the time.  We only had just over an hour there so we didn't get to explore it too extensively.  The weather continued to be quite cold and drizzly throughout the day but at least it wasn't pouring.

Next we drove along the base of the southern Highlands. We could see the highland mountains souring up beside us.  We drove by some great forests of softwood/pine trees which were imported from Scandinavia to create a huge softwood export industry.

Then we stopped at Loch Lomond where we took a nice hike through the woods beside the lake and got up to a viewing point of the lake and the highlands in the distance.  It was quite dramatic and beautiful!  After the hike we had a chance to eat lunch in Balmaha.  I had creamy skink soup(smoked haddock and potato) and Reuben had a mozzarella and haggis panini and salad.  Both were really good!

Our next stop was the Glengoyne distillery, known as the prettiest distillery in Scotland.  It's right on the edge of the highlands and because the spring where they get the water for their whisky originates in the highlands they can call their whisky 'highland whisky'.  It's also single (not a blend) and malt meaning it's only made with malted barley.  We went on a tour and had 2 tastings.  We, also, bought a bottle of 17 year old to bring back with us.

After that it was just the drive back to Edinburgh.  The guide taught us a lot about Scottish history along the way.  We'd recommend the Heart of Scotland tour company.

We got them to drop us at our hotel and we walked to a local grocery store to buy provisions for a light supper in our hotel room as we were quite exhausted from the day.  We found some hilarious comedy on the BBC to watch.
Its been quite a good stay but the 2 things we've found with the hotel room is that it's pretty cold in the room and when we take a shower the floor in the bathroom gets soaked because they just have this totally inadequate glass half wall as a shower curtain.  It's not connected to the tub but swings on an arm from the wall so water goes under the glass and over the edge of the tub on to the floor.  The poor design is driving Reuben nuts!

Friday, October 12, 2012

And it's out of England and into Scotland

Today was a travelling day.  We got on the train in Southampton just before 10am, made a quick change to another train in York and arrived in Edinburgh around 5:30pm.  Nothing too exciting happened on the way.  The great thing about train travel overseas is that it runs really smoothly and punctually.
When we arrived in Edinburgh, it was dumping down rain and the temperature was definitely cooler than in the south of England.  It took us a bit but we found the correct bus stop and even managed to meet a friendly American (who has lived in Edinburgh for 20 years) who helped us figure out where to get off the bus at our hotel.
This is definitely the nicest place we've stayed at, so far.  We paid about the same price as the other places so I guess things aren't quite so expensive here.  After checking in, we hopped back on the bus to go downtown for dinner.
We found a nice pub on the main strip and had a good dinner.  I had chicken breast stuffed with haggis! The haggis was very flavourful.  It was actually kind of peppery.  There wasn't anything else going on downtown so we just went back to the hotel and had a wee dram for a nightcap.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Mostly Devon and Dorset

This morning we woke up to another lovely grey, misty day...perfect English weather. We had a great breakfast that included a sunnyside up egg, sausage, bacon, tomato, mushrooms and toast. A perfect start to another day of exploring the nooks and crannies of Cornwall, Devon and Dorset. After breakfast we walked around the tiny fishing village mostly down by the harbour. It is a very quaint and picturesque town. But all too soon we were on our way. As we left town, we noticed a huge parking lot and we figured that they must have a lot of tourists come through. Thankfully, we had chosen to come at this time of year instead of the summer. On the way to Dartmouth, we stopped in Salcombe. We drove down some crazy roads. We thought the two way roads were skinny but when we went down this one lane road it was so skinny that when we met another car coming towards us we had to back up to the last turn, about 75 metres. We thought we could back off the road in a little patch of gravel in front of a small carport but the owner came thundering out of her house us telling us not to use it as she was worried we would hit her car. Anyway, we managed but it was hairy. We also had to make a hairpin turn on a steep, single lane road and we met someone at the turn, so we had to back up! It was crazy! I'm pretty sure that I closed my eyes. In Dartmouth, which is on the south coast but now in the county of Devon, we stopped and had a proper afternoon tea. They call it a cream tea and you get a pot of tea, 2 raisin scones, clotted cream and jam. It was very scrumptious! Then we took a ferry across an estuary instead driving up and around. It took about 5 mins to make the crossing but cost us almost £5. We continued our drove towards Southampton, where we are staying for the night not really knowing how long it would take to get there. In the morning, we had done a quick internet search to see what there was to see along the coast and one thing that popped up was these stunning cliffs near Sidmouth so we turned off the main road and went down to the coast again. We were rewarded for our efforts. Towering red cliffs stood stalwart against the sea. The waves were crashing in to shore and it was all very breathtaking! There was a lovely promenade at the shore and a cliff side walk, as well. It was hard to leave. After this we decided we better hightail it to Southampton as we had not gotten very far. It was a short distance to go but the roads could not always be relied upon to get us there fast. So we raced along through the beautiful countryside. Hedgerowed fields dotted with sheep and cattle undulated in the distance. We wanted to stop and take pictures at every turn. Eventually, we made it to Southampton. It took about an hour and a half longer than we had anticipated. Our hosts, Reuben's cousin and her husband, greeted us with dinner and some great conversation in their flat.

Tuesday, October 09, 2012

How to do Cornwall in a day

The morning started with a hearty breakfast and we were on the road by 9am.  We drove straight through for about 2 hours until we got to Jamaica Inn on Bodmin Moor.  Apparently, it's popular with Daphne DuMaurier fans as one of her novels is based there.  I guess I'll have to read it.  It was a cool building on a sweeping moor (except we couldn't see much of it due to fog).  Back on the road and another hour to St. Ives which is a quaint seaside town on Cornwall's west coast.  We stopped at an advertised car park and ended up having to walk down a steep path/steps to get to the center of town.  There was a very fine, misty rain.  We looked out at the harbour but couldn't see too far out to sea for the fog.  On our way back to the car, we grabbed a Cornish pasty,each, for the road.  They were fresh, hot and very yummy!  We then took a tiny, windy road along the west coast south towards Land's End.  When I say tiny, I don't mean North America tiny, I mean Europe tiny so hardly enough room for 2 tiny cars to pass and edged with high stonewalls covered in greenery
Next we stopped at Sennen Cove and dipped our toes in the frigid Atlantic.  The mist had stopped and the fog had lifted a bit so it was quite enjoyable!  It's too bad we couldn't have spent more than 20 min there.
Well, it was on to Land's End and the very farthest west of Britain.  It was an amazing view!!  The low clouds actually added to the ambience in a great way.  But after 10 min we had to move on.  That's what we get for trying to squeeze in too much. Next on the agenda was St. Michael's Mount,  a small island just out from the south coast of Cornwall which has a church on it.  When the tide is low you can walk along a causeway out to the island from shore.  It's only about half a km.  When we got there only about half the causeway was clear of water so we got an ice cream cone(had to try the famous Cornish ice cream) and went for a little walk.  By this time it was around 5:30pm and we decided that we could only stop for dinner and nothing else before getting to our hotel as we had quite a few more kms to cover.  We ended up at The Hewas Inn for a pub dinner.  I had steak and Stilton pie while Reuben had fish and chips which we washed down with 2 local beers.  Quite delish! And then on to our hotel in the tiny fishing village of Polperro.  More about that tomorrow.

Monday, October 08, 2012

A coach ride, a driving lesson and a visit to the bath.

This morning, after another night of tossing (ugh, jet lag), we got up bright and early to head for points south of London.  Unfortunately, we didn't get up quite as early as we should have as we ended up having to make a mad dash down the street from the Victoria underground station to the Victoria coach station (farther apart than we thought).  As a side note, they seem to call it a coach when the bus is going a long distance but still call it a bus when it's a local bus.  Anyway,  we made it in the nick of time for our 2 hour coach ride down to Southampton where we picked up our car.  Yes, that's right, we'd decided to drive in Britain.

By the time we were pulling away from the car hire it was just after noon.  So, it turns out that driving on the 'wrong' side of the road from the 'wrong' side of the car isn't too difficult, if you're just going straight.  The problems come when you're trying to take turns, go around roundabouts(which they have a lot of) and shift with your left hand.  We made quite a few wrong turns and almost got smoked entering a traffic circle (gotta remember to check if traffic's coming from the right not the left!) but our marriage is still intact and we made it to our destination in one piece and in good time.  Along the way, we stopped in Salisbury and made a mad dash for the famous cathedral before our parking time ran out and then stopped at Stonehenge and took a quick peek from the road.  Lastly, we arrived at our hosts for the  night in Bath.  They are the in-laws of one of the guys Reuben works with.  They were so hospitable and since it was getting on, they immediately offered to take us around to all the sights.  We went into Bath Abbey, the famous Roman Baths, drove by the Royal Crescent, around the Circus and through the little village of Newton Saint Loe (owned by Prince Charles, the whole village).   Our hostess sings in the choir at the parish church in this village.  It was really a quaint little place full of tiny stonewalled streets and even a legitimate thatch roofed home!

Then they took us home for a dinner of roast beef, roasted spuds, Yorkshire pudding, veggies and several amazing puddings(desserts).  All the while regaling us with tales of their travels and their life.  It was quite a nice evening!

Sunday, October 07, 2012

London - Day 3

Well, today is our last day in London.  We let ourselves have a little sleep in and then grabbed our breakfast at the hotel.  We headed for the Tower of London around 10:30am.  The Tower of London was super packed with tourists.

We couldn't imagine what it would be like in the dead of summer, never mind a partially sunny day in October!  Although, the entrance fee is quite high, we found it quite worthwhile.  We got to walk through many mediaeval buildings, along a defence wall, saw the Crown Jewels, saw the armoury and the Bloody Tower where 2 young princes were secretly done away with.

After a quick stroll across the Tower Bridge, we headed to St. Paul's Cathedral to 'feed the birds', I mean attend the Evensong service.  The men/boy's choir was quite spectacular!  We then walked across the millennium pedestrian bridge to Shakespeare's Globe Theatre where we had a bite to eat (gourmet Mac and Cheese for Reuben).

As our day drew to a close, we decided to check out Covent Garden, Trafalgar square, Leicester square and Piccadilly Circus.  We also wanted to see Harrods lit up in the night but our plan was thwarted when the subway line we were on was suspended due to a person having fallen under a train further up the line.  We're currently on a circuitous route back to our hotel.

I can't believe our time in London is already done but I shouldn't be surprised as I kept telling everyone before we left that we were only going to be gone for 10 days.  Well, 3 down and 7 to go.

London - Day 2

Saturday morning; slept well but at 9am it still felt like 4am to my body.  We had a great breakfast at the hotel and a nice chat with one of the owners.  He is from South Africa and has never been to Canada.  Interestingly, he has family in Calgary but didn't show any eagerness to go and visit.

Then we were off for another day of exploring.  We decided to start with a stroll through Hyde Park.  We walked along The Serpentine, man-made lake, past the Italian Garden, created by Prince Albert for Victoria, and out past the Royal Albert monument.

Next, Reuben used the loo at Royal Albert Hall, home of many a 'Last Night at the Proms'.  Then we walked through a hoity toity neighbourhood called Knightsbridge where every second vehicle was a Maserati or Porsche.

After this, we hit up a motorcycle dealership to pick up parts for Reuben and Bryan's Vespas.  Its waaaaay cheaper on this side of the pond.  For lunch, we stopped at Pico's which was next to the dealership.  It seemed like a good money saving strategy not to have a big meal at dinner time and not to eat near central London.  We had chicken croquettes, tropical pizza(maybe not called Hawaiian because it included corn as a topping) and a pint.  Quite delish!

Next we went to Big Ben and Westminster Abbey.  Since we are short on time and money, we didn't go in either since you have to pay and there are long queues.  Outside of Parliament there was a peaceful gathering of Muslims trying to reassure the world that they are peaceful(I think).

After this, we walked across one of the many bridges spanning the Thames and paid big bucks and stood in a half hour line to go on the London Eye.  I guess that kind of contradicts my reasoning in the last paragraph.  Oh well, I guess the point is, you have to pick your battles.  Needless to say the view was quite spectacular especially as it was sunset.

And then it was back to the Tube (our main mode of transportation besides our feet....our tired, sore feet!) and on to Covent Garden.  This is where opening scene of My Fair Lady takes place.  We thought we'd have a pint and a light snack at Punch and Judy's pub but the kitchen was closed so we just had a drink and were on our way.

To end the day, we went to the Tate Modern since it was open until 10pm.  It was a bit of a trial to get there because it was a long walk from the subway station and our feet were getting really sore and we were also pretty tired but we were determined to get the most out our day.  The art in the Tate Modern was pretty modern(Karyn, wish you were with us to help us appreciate it!).  Interestingly, we recognised one of the artists from our visit to the Guggenheim in Spain.

And that was it, the end of our 2nd day in London.

Friday, October 05, 2012

London - Day 1

Today was pretty much a continuation of yesterday since our attempts to sleep on the flight went unfulfilled except for a few minutes here or there.  Can you believe they serve a full dinner on a flight that leaves at midnight!?  The flight was uneventful in a good way.  Our landing and takeoff were some of the smoothest I'd ever felt.  After grabbing our bag we proceeded to the Tube and the short trip to our West end hotel.  Benny(owner of Benny's B&B) was there to greet us and bring us up to our top floor room.  The area where our hotel is is a nice, quiet suburb of London recommended to us by friends.  Its about a half hour Tube ride into central London.  Our room is small and sparse but clean and the bed is comfortable.  It was now 1200pm London time but only 7am Ottawa time so we decided to catch a few zzz's before heading out.  It was really hard to get up but we managed to be out the door again by 3pm.

First stop iconic Buckingham Palace!  We didn't see the Queen but there were a few guards standing out front.  We then walked down The Mall, a long tree lined boulevard where processions from Westminster Abbey to Buckingham Palace go.  As we walked it started to rain.  We had raincoats so we were still able to walk around for quite a bit without getting too soggy.  We walked through Leicester square, Trafalgar square, Piccadilly circus and even came across Saville Row.  Along the way we noticed how well dressed Londoners are and also how many people were out and about despite the rain.  We had dinner at a small cafe just off the main drag.  Reuben had a chicken and mushroom pie with chips(fries) and I had spaghetti and salad.  We both enjoyed our meals including the price tag:-)

To get out of the rain, we thought we would check out the British Museum which is free.  We hoped it would be open after 6pm and it was but only because it was a Friday night.  So we lucked out.  We saw many ancient artifacts, a cool clock/watch exhibit and a Japanese history exhibit.

After all this walking around on not very much sleep we thought we should end the day with a pint at the local pub so we hoped on the Tube back to our hotel, had our pint and are both ready to hit the hay, for real!

Thursday, October 04, 2012

Great Britain 2012

Our journey begins on a late night in early October.  We decided to pack really light this time and so with 1 checked bag and 2 backpacks we arrived at the Ottawa airport the prescribed 3 hours prior to departure.  We are now ensconced on(in?) a green leather loveseat/divan(as, perhaps, the British would say) facing the tarmac and the large piece of metal that's going to take us to Great Britain for our ten day adventure.
Our itinerary is as follows; London (2.5 days, 3 nights), bus to Southampton, rent car and drive to Bath via Stonehenge, overnight in Bath, drive to Cornwall, overnight in Polperro, drive to Southampton, overnight in Southampton with our cousins, train to Edinburgh, Edinburgh(3 days, 2 nights), final night at the Glasgow airport hotel to catch a 7am flight via Copenhagen and Toronto to home.
Sound exhausting?  Yes. But oh so worth it!