Edinburgh 2018

Zaterdag, 20 januari 2018
Op bezoek bij uncle Jim en aunt Laree
Emma wilde wel graag weer een tripje doen, Mariecke is altijd wat moeilijk, maar we hebben haar toch zo ver gekregen. Maar waarheen deze keer??
Het beste is het dan om even op de website van het vliegveld in Nantes te kijken naar wat de vluchtmogelijkheden zijn, en laat Edinburgh nou mooi een bestemming zijn. Maar twee keer per week rechtstreeks, maar da's prima. De volgende stap is kijken wat er allemaal te zien en doen is om te bepalen hoe lang ze het beste kunnen blijven. Er is dus behoorlijk veel te zien en doen, maar de stad is kleinschalig en dat betekent dat het ook allemaal makkelijk lopend is te doen.
Ook de transfer van en naar het vliegveld is prima. Tja en dan de accommodatie. In eerste instantie hadden we een Travelodge bij het station op het oog. Maar dan zit je toch maar op een simpele kamer, reviews waren wisselend (geluidsoverlast en dat is voor Emma een "no no") en toen ben ik eens gaan kijken naar ietsje verder weg van het centrum. Ik vond een mooie B&B precies tegenover de dierentuin, bushalte voor de deur en niet ver van zowel vliegveld als centrum. Samen met de meisjes gekeken en toen hebben Mariecke en ik de boel gereserveerd:

- ze vliegen met Ryanair, koffers én handbagage, een gereserveerde stoel en priority boarding, het hoeft niet op het goedkoopste om het ietsje prettiger te hebben vinden wij.

- een week in Dalmore Lodge, een mooie ruime kamer aan de rustige achterkant van het huis, incl. ontbijt.

Ik heb natuurlijk Jim geschreven en ze zullen elkaar vast eens gaan ontmoeten. Ik ken Jim langer dan dat ik mijn kinderen ken, maar zij hebben elkaar nog nooit ontmoet, grappig!
Ook zullen ze minstens een georganiseerde tour gaan doen naar de Highlands, en misschien nog wel een tweede tour. We hebben nog even tijd om dingen uit te zoeken, ze gaan 11 juni.
Door al het uitzoekwerk heb ik wel zin om er zelf ook eens heen te gaan!!


June 12, 2018
When we arrived last night, the weather was nice: blue skies and nice temperatures (for Mariecke). This morning, not so much. It was cloudy, which is always a pain in the ass for taking pictures, and we even had some raindrops, albeit small ones.

We started at Princess Street, where we weren’t too sure in what street we could get on a #6 bus. We did eventually find it, only to end up on a bus where stops aren’t announced and we had no real idea where to get off. We ended up a street and a half too far but whatever, we eventually found the Royal Mile.



Down the Royal Mile we went, in the general direction of Holyrood Palace but turning toward Dynamic Earth just before. The Dynamic Earth building looks nice but it is utterly dwarfed by the daunting “hills” behind it. One of which we were supposed to climb; the operative word being “supposed to”. Holyrood Palace was on the planning first, where everyone was so engrossed in their free audio-tour that they weren’t too spaced out to be annoyed at all the no-picture-signs. Well, I wasn’t listening to the free audio guide and I was annoyed. Also, there were too many people. Like, really crowded.

I have decided though that the ruins of an old abbey are going to be a feature in my future garden. They looked very nice, despite the obvious, you know, decaying state they were in.


From there, the idea was to head to the Regent Gardens, which we eventually skipped altogether, but on our way there, we detoured through a cemetery, the name of which Google refuses to tell me. But those people had a great view. We walked past the Burns Monument, which had a locked gate (so much for visiting monuments, eh), and found the entrance to Calton Hill.

It was quite a climb up Calton Hill, and once we got to the top, Mariecke had the smart idea to just walk around and eventually settle on a bench. I, on the other hand, thought it would be fun to climb the Nelson Monument and arrive, utterly breathless at the top. But it was worth it. I could see pretty much all of Edinburgh; Princess Street, the spire of St. Giles, the different “hills” of Holyrood Park, including Arthur’s Seat that we will not be climbing (let’s face it, it’s not a hill, it’s a mountain. I also suspect they turned it into a park because there wasn’t anything else they could do with it.), the sea on several sides. Too bad for the clouds. And when I joined Mariecke on her bench we (and everyone else there) watched as they shot Jurassic World 3 on a student budget. It was hilarious!




By the time we left there and started making our way to the Scottish National Portrait Gallery, the sky was slowly clearing. We got sidetracked into a tea and coffee shop where the first thing to catch my attention was a key lime hot chocolate canister. Wish we could have tasted that. The Gallery, compared to the one in London, was a bit of a letdown in regards to the paintings but we sat for a while as Mariecke drew.
By the time we left, the sky was practically blue and the sun was shining. Mariecke didn’t want to do our walk all over again just for my pictures. Though my feet were killing me too at that point.


Which doesn’t mean I didn’t spend the next hour walking around Waterstones. I picked up a stack of books and put some back and got some more. I ended up buying a stack of five, none of which were in the original stack. Not once, but twice did people approach me thinking I was a member of the staff, asking me about a book or something. That was weird! But fun. I’d work in a bookshop, especially if there are employee discounts. Then, finally ready to go, Mariecke announces she couldn’t find the sciences books. Those were in the basement she didn’t even know existed. It wasn't like they had a sign on the ground floor indicating which books are where. So we went there and got sidetracked for another fifteen minutes or so. But I did get Mariecke a Christmas present and Mariecke got me one.

We got a gift for Mom and Jacky earlier already, so we only need to find something for Dad and Grandpa. Maybe tomorrow. Maybe the weather will be better earlier then too.

By the way, Edinburgh is not flat. AT ALL! I totally thought it would be because on the map there are no hills. But like, I knew Edinburgh castle was on a hill, which it is, and Arthur’s Seat was a hill, though it turns out to be a very big hill. But the rest of the city consists of big hills too: like, what the hell? The map lied to us. I was seriously surprised!

June 13, 2018
The sun and the time difference still have me confused. The sun rises too early, and when you hear people moving about you obviously think it’s time for breakfast. Turns out, it wasn’t. I got Mariecke out of bed and ready to go to breakfast at just after seven before she pointed out what time it was. Oops.

When we were out the front door, we made a slight change to the planning, skipping the first part of our walk because we wanted to beat the lines at Edinburgh Castle and because we had seen the huge hill it was on. We still had to climb the hill but in a more direct route, and we didn’t beat the lines but we got there before opening so everyone was still waiting outside. All in all, we made good time, despite getting sidetracked for a few pictures.





You have an amazing view from the Castle over the city, which I think is sort of the main attraction. There were quite a few follow-the-flag groups of kids, Asian people, and Spanish people, but Mariecke and I moved around quickly enough that we always stayed one step ahead of them. Yay!



We got to see the crown jewels and the Stone of Destiny (no pictures allowed). We went into the Great Hall, where they had a really impressive weapons collection and a huge fireplace, because, back then, everyone had a big fireplace. We also took a brief look into the Scottish National War Memorial. Something like that I think can be very interesting if you had family members fighting during the war. Otherwise, it's still an impressive building with very, very pretty, stained glass windows.




We got Granddad a card, a magnet for on the fridge and I got a travel cup from Edinburgh before we dove into some big, multi-level big tourist shop where they had a lot of plaid scarves (or can you can them tartans, even if they are scarves?) The wool ones weren’t nearly as soft as the cashmere ones but those were way out of my budget. So, we left again empty-handed. The Harry Potter merch is also available in a lot of places. Wands and scarves and mugs and more. Too bad (or fortunately) I missed that Fandom train.

From the Castle, we went down Lawnmarket/Royal Mile a bit, which is a nice street. Old buildings, tourist shops, and no cars allowed. Eventually down South Bridge and North Bridge, which was a mess with work but where we did go into a few shops, just to have a look. Past the National Museum of Scotland, and to Mariecke’s art shop. It was a tiny place and, considering she only got one sketchbook, quite expensive too.




We had our Subway lunch with a Starbucks coffee and a view of the University of Edinburgh. More walking, more walking, entering a few shops and leaving again, we eventually ended up at Blackwells. That’s a bookstore for those who don’t know. As soon as we walked in, Mariecke went for the table of Buy One Get One Free. She ended up with Dante’s Inferno, Paradise Lost and Purgatory (weird choice, I know). Meanwhile, I had gone downstairs (Young Adult, cafe, and the toilets). I may or may not have gotten too many books but there was a 3 For 2 promotion and you can’t just get one book then. So yes, three books with a special promotion and three more just because. No more buying books from now on. Except for a Scottish-English dictionary, if I can find one. Mariecke will allow me (like I need her permission) to buy the Martian (that movie with Matt Damon as botanist stuck on Mars) if I find it in the edition I want.

Because the feet were tired and because there were two very comfy couches, we stayed there for another half hour or so to read. Unfortunately, that now means I want the Fantastic Beasts book. Oh well… Once the feet had recovered a bit, we went to the National Gallery of Scotland, which we had planned to do early but that would have involved going down the hill we had climbed to go to the Castle, and then climbing it again to go back to our walk. Once on our way there, we took a moment to admire the Scott Monument, which is completely blackened by the dirt of centuries.

(I've been here, Mother! ;D)                                                                                           


We have this thing where we walk around for a bit and then claim a bench while Mariecke draws and I go take pictures. So, Mariecke tried to draw The Honorable Mrs. Graham. From a distance. Without her glasses. I took a few pictures of her for detail but it is safe to say that the resemblance isn’t what it could have been. By the time we were done in the museum, it was late enough to go back to the B&B and not feel like we had wasted the afternoon away. We’re allowed to head back at five, shush.

June 14, 2018
Tour Day today. Getting up extra early. In fact, I was wide awake at 03: something because the sun rises at 4:25 and it’s light way before that. So, I lay awake cursing the useless curtains in the room until 05:00 and then managed to get another ten minutes here and ten minutes there. But yes, sleeping here is a complete failure so far.

When it was finally seven, I could get up and had to hurry Mariecke along. We made it to the meeting point so early that we nearly got on a Loch Ness Tour instead. Ha. So, we had a little extra time to stand in the wind. Apparently, hurricane Herbert (or something like that with an H) was passing over.

We didn’t get picked up by a Ness Bus like we thought, but instead by a Hairy Cou bus. The bus driver was nice and started us off with a few puns (Mountains are not only funny but also HILLarious) as he drove us out of Edinburgh and toward the Kelpies at Falkirk. In Scottish mythology, kelpies are water horses that, when you touch and ride them, you can’t let go and they will carry you into the sea. The Kelpies (the sculptures) are two giant horseheads, 30 meters tall and out of metal (not stone like Mariecke suspected). They were built to commemorate the effort of the horses during the construction of the canal.


As we were walking around, the wind was nearly blowing us away (even birds were going backward instead of the usual forward). At one point, I stumbled back and bumped into the fence behind me. Had the fence not been there, Emma, her bag, and her camera would have gone for a swim.

From the Kelpies onto to Stirling Castle, the gateway to the highlands. Lots of history about William Wallace and Robert the Bruce (different from the movie, which is relatively historically inaccurate), most of which I had already learned in my Scottish class at UVic and could not really be bothered to remember.

It was very windy, especially on top of a hill, with a view all around. From the river where Wallace defeated the English, to the Wallace Monument and the King’s Knot (supposedly where King Arthur had his Round Table). Very busy with groups of children and teenagers on school trips, which Mariecke and I cleverly avoided by going where they just came from. However, like Edinburgh Castle, Stirling Castle looked more like a fortified manor than your stereotypical castle.






After the castle, back on the bus, following the road that basically divides the Lowlands and Highlands. Then suddenly Marty, the bus driver, took a right and we were driving over a winding country road. He tried to drive on the left but we were still in the middle of the road. Obviously, it hadn’t been made with buses in mind. We stopped at Lake Menteith for a quite photo opp and history lesson.

Lake Menteith is one of the only two lakes in Scotland (everything else being a loch). William Wallace was betrayed and sold to the English by Lord Menteith. The Menteith family grew up in the area and, because they basically betrayed Scotland, the loch was renamed a lake to shame the family for all eternity. The Scots sure know how to hold a grudge.

From there we went to Aberfoyle for lunch. There was a delicacies-and-pie shop/butcher’s, where be got a homemade sausage roll and chicken and ham pie that tasted more Indian than like chicken and ham. We walked around for a bit, got to see some sheep and mailed Granddad’s postcard (let’s see if the Scottish mail is faster than the Spanish mail).


Once everyone was back on the bus, Marty took us to Go Ape (pretty sure it’s just the name of the park/forest) and personally guided us to a waterfall. Now, all waterfalls are spectacular if they have enough water in them, but this one, plus the forest setting, looked exactly like the one Kara and Norm took me to at Gold Stream on Vancouver Island. So, if Mariecke wants, she can cross British Columbia of her list and no one will ever know the difference.

(This looks just like Gold Stream)

After the waterfall, we went over Duke’s Pass, which looks very stereotypical highlander, with the hills/mountains and heather and general wild landscape on either side of the road. It was even a bit misty, which made it all look like in the movies. This part of the Tour came with a history lesson on Rob Roy MacGregor, which I had also already learned about when I was at UVic. The movie with Liam Neeson is pretty accurate so watch that if you need a history lesson.

At the other end of Duke’s Pass were Lake Achray and the best thing about the whole tour. The hairy coo (pronounced /quu/). There was already another tour bus there but Marty assured us he had a trick to get the cows to come to us. Now, let me back up a bit and mention that Mariecke and I had seen him in the supermarket at Aberfoyle with about two kilos of carrots, which we assumed were simply groceries for dinner. They weren’t for dinner but for lunch, just not his lunch. The coo’s lunch. Three ladies with long reddish brown hair and horns just slightly shorter than a Texas Longhorn. They also had kind of short legs but they were adorable. And loving the carrots.



We went to Loch Katrine for a bit, where we could go for part of a walk around the lake, which part of our group did. Mariecke and I didn’t go all that far, turning around to go and have some tea at the cafe. But it looked nice. If we’d had more time, I would have dragged Mariecke along for a boat trip on the lake.

Alas, as there was more to do, we were soon moving on. As we were driving through Callander, we got treated to another historical fact (they found the remains of a Roman camp there, from before they retreated back to Hadrian’s Wall) and another pun (If you are looking for love, Callander is a great place for a date [Marty was happy that his puns were at least met with groans rather than complete silence]). We only drove through there on our way to Doune Castle. Only five of us chose to visit Doune Castle rather than the Whiskey Distillery (even though I’m pretty sure most of the kids on the bus couldn’t legally drink). Doune Castle has featured in Game of Thrones as Winterfell in S01, even though I didn’t see that in there, and it has featured in Outlander as Castle Leoch, which I totally recognized. It was a shame the castle was shy and hiding behind the many scaffolds though.



On the way back to Edinburgh, we only had one more detour (completely unplanned and only because someone asked for it) to a viewpoint from where we could see Forth Bridge and the other two whose names were never mentioned, and if they were, I have already forgotten. Apparently, it’s the only place in Europe (or was it the world) where you have a 19th-century bridge, a 20th-century bridge, and a 21st-century bridge all next to each other.



Once we were back in Edinburgh, Mariecke and I went to Yo Sushi for a rather expensive dinner but we are allowed once in a while. Besides, Yo Sushi is the one with the sushi on the moving sushi bar throughout the restaurant, which in itself is fun to watch. And we had a view of Edinburgh Castle in the evening sun. At that point, all traces of any possible storm had vanished after having pestered us all day. But even the weather couldn’t mess it up for us. The tour was great, and I’m glad we didn’t do the Loch Ness tour because it would have been ridiculously busy.
On to tomorrow.

June 15, 2018
Not quite as early today and not nearly as much on the planning. We took our time getting from the B&B to Craigmillar Castle. It was quite an adventure by bus. Not all buses announce their stops and stops aren’t named the same on the Lothian website and the app. Not to mention some drivers don’t even know the names so you can’t even ask them. But we got there without too much trouble.

Craigmillar has apparently also featured in Outlander, like Doune Castle yesterday, and I did recognize the courtyard with its two trees inside. It's the prison courtyard in season 3. It was nice to walk through, up and up until you are at the top. Looking down, it suddenly seemed a lot higher. But from the top you also had a view of Edinburgh Castle and, of course, Arthur’s Seat. It is funny to see when you are walking around and ducking under arches that you end up in an open room without a roof but a perfectly intact fireplace. Goes to show where the priorities lay during construction.








But the best thing about that castle was the cat that showed up when Mariecke paused to grab something from her bag. It wanted cuddles and attention and followed us to the front gate of the castle, where it basically waited until we were done. The second best thing was the games room, where Mariecke and I tossed rings until one of us scored. Mariecke won.

After Craigmillar, there was another castle planned. Dirleton Castle all the way up in Dirleton, which is quite the bus ride away from Edinburgh. It was quite the adventure; the bus that takes you there isn’t part of the Lothian buses so you have to buy another ticket, which you need to have enough coins for. But we took the express line so it was only about half an hour drive (unlike the return, when we took the scenic route and it took over an hour to get back to Edinburgh).

Dirleton Castle was built on top of a rock (like all other castles in Scotland it would seem) and by three different families from the 11th century to the 16th century. Again great open spaces with fireplaces intact but nothing else. Also, the number of latrine closets was impressive. More than I have seen in any of the other castles together. Haha! We even got some sun while we were there.








Now that we have reached the end of our Scotland Explorer Pass, I think it was totally worth it. It cost about £30 to get a three-day pass, but we saved just as much if not more because we had it. Plus, we could always walk straight in without needing to join the ridiculous lines to buy tickets. So yes, my tip when visiting Edinburgh, see if the Pass might be worth getting. If/When I come back to Scotland and do more like a road trip (plans and dreams, I know), I’ll get it again and do even more! YAY!

And that’s all we did today. We wanted to do some shopping on Princess Street but it was very busy, so we decided that we’ll do that tomorrow morning because in the morning everyone is still in bed and the shops are open but empty. Just the way we like ‘em.

June 16, 2018
Talk about a slow day.
Yesterday afternoon, Princess Street had been too busy for our liking so that's where we started our day. While most people were still in bed, we started our shopping trip at Marks & Spencer, where we managed to spend just an hour (which I know because I happened to look at the time).

From there we went to Primark, stopping at Superdrug and the Body Shop along the way. After all that, a drink at Starbucks and on to Waterstones. Yes, I know, I wasn’t allowed to buy any more books. And I haven’t. We sat there for, at least, three hours but probably longer, with tea, a panini, and books. Mariecke bought some more books, I, on the other hand, grabbed Fantastic Beasts on a shelf in the Harry Potter department, and just read that until I completely finished it. By that point, Mariecke was getting a little bored and wanted to head back out to Princess Street.

Of course, the skies chose that exact moment to open up. It had been raining on and off the entire time, but when we walked out, it really came down. We went into an accessory store where we looked at the sales bins. They had some cute things but the prices weren’t prices I associate with items on sale; they were ridiculously high. However, I had seen a cute bag so back to Primark we went in the search for something similar. This time, Primark was basically bursting at the seams. But success! I found a bag, not similar to the one I had seen before but worth having.

We didn’t do much more after that because the rain kept up. We bought something for dinner and headed back to the B&B. So, we didn’t get to see Dean Village or the Botanical Gardens. If the weather is good tomorrow morning we might do either, if not, I just hope it won’t rain in the afternoon for our City of the Dead tour.

Of course, now that we are back at the B&B, without any plans of going out again, the clouds have left and the sky is blue. Un-freaking-believable.

June 17, 2018
Because of the bad weather yesterday, we didn’t do anything. However, as it wasn’t supposed to rain at all today, I wanted to do something so that we didn’t completely waste the morning away either.
So, I took one of the walks we still hadn’t done and decided we would do that. Mariecke wasn’t too thrilled at first, but I saw her take a few pictures, meaning she came around. The walk took us from Princess Street to Dean Village, which really is a cute part of Edinburgh. It’s obviously old like the rest, but cuter, less grand. Village-like, I suppose.



We walked through there and the walk took us under the Dean Bridge and next to the Water of Leith. From there, a short walk through the Dean Private Gardens and to St. Bernard’s Well where the Goddess Hygieia watches passer-byes like a cat (as a matter of fact, we came past a house that had a cat watching us through the window).




We walked through Stockbridge Market, which was both crowded and smelled delicious. But, lots of people in a tiny space is neither Mariecke nor my thing, so we walked through it rather fast. From there, to St. Stephen Street, where I saw a bookshop that I had found on a blog about interesting bookshops in Edinburgh. We went in but I was a bit disappointed so we left. Besides, my book budget was already spent.

We came to another cute little street with little houses that we walked down to take pictures before turning back. On the way back, there were two women talking/complaining about two Asian girls who were taking a lot of pictures, saying that often people forgot that people actually lived there. Which I can understand, I mean these girls always act like they are having a photo shoot and you don’t climb on benches that are effectively people’s front yards.



Anyway, after that, we had a bit of a climb to Queen Street, before going downhill again after that and back to Princess Street. Seriously, there are hills everywhere. How did we miss that beforehand?

Then we met up with Jim and Laree, the people behind the birthday and Christmas cards. They never miss a single one and always add the amount of X’s of our birthday. In my opinion, it was a little awkward at first but it didn’t last long. Mom was wondering whether we would understand Jim’s Scottish accent because she couldn’t when they met, but I personally didn’t have any trouble. Laree’s American accent was easier to understand though.


We sat at Marks & Spencer for an hour or so, before they walked with us up to the Royal Mile, where we all waited at Starbucks a little longer. We didn’t talk constantly like I can imagine would have been the case with Mom or Jacky but it was nice to meet them.

They left us at St. Giles Cathedral where Mariecke and I had booked an Underground City tour with the City of the Dead. At first when the guide started to talk I was like “this can’t possibly be good”; he was sort of joking, sort of serious kind of talking. But he had enough historical facts to be interesting and to forgive his ‘jokes’.

The tour took us down to the vaults under South Bridge, which had been built during the Scottish Enlightenment, to allow the rich to get from the Royal Mile to the University without having to pass through the biggest slum of the city. It went right over it. The bridge has nineteen arches, only one of which is visible, the others are all neatly tucked away between tenement buildings. In between arches are the vaults. In the beginning, they wanted to basically create the first underground mall there.

Now, because they built the bridge by recycling other buildings, the stones did not all fit together (like a puzzle piece that's in the wrong place). So the vaults weren’t actually waterproof, and it wasn’t just water getting through. Basically, it was terrible for all the merchandise and when caskets of gin (or some other alcoholic drink) burst, the merchants left. The poor and the unfortunate took up residence under the city and let’s just say it wasn’t great.

It was pitch black down there, even with the guide’s flashlight it was too dark to see much of anything. He was quite serious about everything, pointing out the fake skeleton, saying it was basically required to be qualified as a haunted tour. But he was also quite serious about the paranormal activity. The more he talked about the three most frequent paranormal occurrences, the freakier it got. Then, in the room where there was the most paranormal activity, the group sort of stopped at the front of the room, the guy told his history thing and asked us to take a few steps back. He talked some more, and again ask if we would take a few steps back (at that point, no one really moved). Once at the back of the vault, he told us he was going to snuff the candle and we would be in total darkness and we would just stand there. No one was supposed to move or talk.

At that point, in total darkness, I closed my eyes (because that’s safer than staring into the dark and waiting to see a ghost, especially after what he told us), and counted while listening to the traffic up above. After fifty-something seconds, the guide spoke up again, totally freaking out two of the girls. He had walked across the vault in total silence (because it had been completely silent), turned on his flashlight and just said “Well, that’s it then,” way too loud. That was practically the end of the tour, though he did manage to add he is hoping the Edinburgh University will let them expand their tour into the old morgues.

It didn’t feel like a long tour but it was easily an hour and fifteen minutes. After that, the feet really hurt and we just wanted to head back to the B&B. That concluded our trip to Edinburgh. We didn’t do the Botanical Gardens which I would have liked to do, we didn’t go to Grassmarket (I admit, I forgot to add that to the list of things to visit when Mariecke made the planning), and we didn’t climb Arthur’s Seat (which was never going to happen anyway). I really enjoyed the city and might come back, though I would combine it with the rest of Scotland, renting a car and following the brown tourist attraction signs.

Now there is nothing left to do but finish packing the bags.