Sunday, 24 April 2011

Land of the bagpipes

Tuesday morning we were up early (pattern developing?) and on the train to Edinburgh.  The train ride is about five hours so we had time to eat some breaky, do some reading and even take a short (very uncomfortable) nap before arriving in Edinburgh around lunch time.  The countryside that we passed through was much of the same - farmland, baby sheep, baby cows, yellow fields of canola...
Once in Edinburgh we made out way to the hostel that I had found, which was conveniently across the street from the train station. Success! We shoved our bags into some lockers and set out.
We wandered over the North Bridge to grab a picnic lunch of sandwiches and cider from Sainsburys.  Then we were off to my one request of the trip - Arthur's seat.  This is a hiking trail that leads up a random "mountain" right beside the city and offers great views from the top.  
What a view!

It took us about 20 minutes to get to the other side of town where Arthur's Seat is situated.  Then about another 20 to climb.  Turned out we took the wrong path, so we weren't actually at the to of Arthur's Seat, but we were up high and had a good view which was good enough for us.  We enjoyed our lunch and spent some time doing our own photoshoot before trekking our way back down. 

We spent the rest of the afternoon walking around the city then grabbed some dinner at the Frankenstein Pub.  After dinner we took a short rest at the hostel before meeting up for a Ghost Tour.

Edinburgh is known as one of the most haunted cities, and as such offers many ghost tours.  Most are walking tours around the city that talk about its colorful past.  Ours was interesting (turned out we had the same guide that did my free walking tour in Dublin - small world??!!), but not quite as scary as we had expected.  Still some rather gruesome and interesting stories lurk in this city's history.

Keeping with the theme, we were up early the next morning to take our day trip into the Highlands.  We did this tour with Highland Explorer Tours and chose the Loch Ness Explorer. We travelled through the Highlands: Loch Luibnaig, Rob Roy Country, Rannoch Moor, Haunting Glencoe, Mighty Ben Nevis, The Great Glen, Fort Augustus, Loch Ness, The forests and rivers of Perthshire, The Forth Railway Bridge were all highlights of the trip.

Loch Linhe
Glen Coe
Another highlight of the tour was our tour guide Leo. He was hilarious! He classified himself as a "functioning geek" and this pretty much summed him up.  He knew all of the dates and battle stories of every place that we drove through, though he told them with his own sarcastic and witty flare.  These stories were only interrupted when he saw a nice car that struck his fancy and he would time-out to tell us some fact about that car, then pick up his story in the exact same breath where he had left it. Or if he had to call another driver a dick for some kind of driving error that he did not approve of.
booo hot bus :(
The non-highlight of the tour was being stuck on a bus that had a broken heater stuck in the ON position! Leo tried to remedy this by cranking the A/C which didn't work all that well and ended up dripping water on several passengers.  The only thing that made this worse was when we were told that the company knew that this bus had this problem but still put us all on it anyway.  Which meant that we spent about a total of 8 hours on a bus that was on average 26 degrees... not fun. And I am lucky to be someone not prone to motion sickness - since we were travelling at insane speeds down winding, narrow roads - but even I felt nauseous with the heat.

The mission of the tour was to see Loch Ness where we opted to take the boat cruise and try to find Nessie - to no avail.  But we did learn some interesting facts about the Loch itself.  It is over a mile deep in some places, the water is black because it is stained from the peat that surrounds it, and it holds more water than all of the lakes and rivers of England and Wales combined!

At Bank Hotel
After the tour we cleaned ourselves up and headed out for a few drinks at a nearby pub.  We met some interesting characters who decided to show us to a new bar.  This bar had no music and barely enough room to sit.  Once one of our new 'friends' had dropped and smashed his second drink within 15 minutes, we decided it was time to head for home. Andi and I led Josephine home, while Devon decided to stay with her new friends, though her booze covered legs and shoes reflected this choice when she made it back to the hostel later.

At the top of Scott Monument
Thursday morning Andi and I were feeling a little more chipper than the other two, so we got up, had some breaky and went out walking.  Devon and Josephine finally got their lives together and met us at the bottom of the Scott monument where Andi and I were scaling the 287 steps to get a real view of the city.

Scott monument

After we were done our stairmaster adventure, we wandered around some more getting our last minute souvenirs, enjoying some haggis, tatties and neeps, and getting our last glimpse of Edinburgh before heading back to London on the evening train. 

Mmmm haggis
Cupcakes in the park :)

We had a great girls getaway to Edinburgh and it was fun to travel as a group.  Though I do have to say that I preferred Glasgow to Edinburgh.  This city definitely seemed to have more history and had the important buildings (castle, Holyrood Palace, etc) but felt very tourist oriented to me - exemplified by the bagpipe players on the street corners.  Most of the people that we met were not from Edinburgh, many not even from Scotland.  Whereas Glasgow had a more small town feel.  It was not trying so hard to be 'Scottish' and you could not understand a lick of what anyone was saying because they were true-boned Scottish and no one understands them folk!

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