Glasgow – not so great – but I’m glad I visited

In thinking back on it – There was no way that Glasgow was going to compete with Edinburgh. Our new friends from last night had told us that we were going from ‘culture’ to ‘clutter’ – and they were of course correct.

Our Glasgow Air BnB is at best adaquate – and totally loses when compared to the palace that is Isaac’s and Derek’s pad in Edinburgh. It’s a tiny 2 bedroom, 2 bathroom flat in a forgetable building above a store that sells wall paper in an industrial part of Glasgow. The living/dining/kitchen space is tiny, and the only table is hogged by our host Neil’s computer. To add insult to injury, he’s ironing when we arrive – so there’s his laundry everywhere. I’ll give him credit for asking what food to buy for our breakfast, but he’s also clear that we are on our own. He works evenings into the night, and won’t be up in the morning. He also has no maps to give us, and can’t even make suggestions on places to visit. Still, he welcomes us warmly, and that’s a good start.

Our room is basic – a bed, a window, a tiny desk, and the best part – an en-suite bathroom. That and the location near the city center are the best parts of Neil’s place. Oh well – this is our 6th Air BnB in 30 days – I guess one had to be 4 star. And after Isaac and Derek’s place – I’m not sure what would be needed to be 5 star.

Surprisingly – Neil tells us that he’s fully booked – and the income from Air BnB pays his rent. Hmm.

Anyway – we make our selves comfy. After he leaves for work, we move the computer off the dining table, fold away the ironing board, and basically create a space we can at least enjoy dinner in! We walk up to a nearby grocery store, get the makings of a nice dinner – and decide to tour Glasgow in the morning. We’re done for today.

The next morning – our one and only day in Glasgow – we opt to start by finding me a place for coffee – and then decide to check out the Cathedral. After that – well – we’ll go from there.

Unlike all of our other locations, this one is mostly industrial and shopping – so no upscale coffee shop to be seen. We hike up hill towards the Cathedral, going thru the ‘university’ section – I’m thinking there is bound to be coffee for the students. And I’m right – there it is! A cute coffee shop, with take-away latte. Color me happy.

The tour of the Cathedral is wonderful. The guide (where do they find these people) is super knowledgable, and very easy to listen to, and the history is very neat. Our fellow tourists are a german choir – and at one point they ask to test the acoustics. Lovely – totally lovely.

We then walk across to the St. Mungo’s Museum of Religious Life and Art. Seriously – St. Mungo’s of Harry Potter Fame. St. Mungo was a real guy – and he’s the patron saint of Glasgow. The Museum is well worth a visit. There’s a fairly large section devoted to different religions, comparing how various religions treat the same ‘life’ events – birth, death, marriage, coming of age, etc. It’s fascinating. They do lump some religions into big groups – Jewish and Christian are just two groups, there’s no effort to distinquish between variances in these groups, and probably justifably. There is a lot more difference between Christian and Sikh say.

We then stroll thru the University Campus, and wend our way towards downtown Glasgow. We check out the bronze of the Young Queen Victoria in George’s Square, admire some of the truly incredible building designs – and we grind to a total stop to admire one building that features an absolutely huge abstract metal peacock running the entire city block. Naturally, we also visit the Lighthouse – Glasgow’s center for Architecture.

Soon enough, we’re back at our overly cozy pad for dinner, relaxing, and bed. Tomorrow we begin the long – and since I’m writing this after the fact – thankfully uneventful trip back home.

So ends our 31 days in the UK.

We visited at least 28 museums, stayed in 6 Air BnB’s, visited 7 cities (London, Oxford, Birmingham, Morecambe, York, Edinburgh, and Glasgow), met some amazingly interesting people, ate glorious meals, learned a lot of history, rode the tube, took the train, traveled on buses and even managed one uber taxi.

And we did it all UNDER our $3000 Canadian per person including all travel budget.

The Intrepid Traveler and the Soup Lady rock another trip!

Signing off until the next time there’s something to report – The Soup Lady and her sidekick – The Intrepid Traveler.

Edinburgh – A Perfect Day

Some days are simply the best – and when you say goodnight – you know that this will be a day you’ll be talking about forever. That totally describes our third day in Edinburgh. An absolutely perfect day.

It started off really the night before. We’d gone to Evening Services at the Roman Catholic Cathedral – a totally enjoyable meeting with a wonderful sermon all about how G-d is just waiting for you to do your part. It reminded me of the old joke – A man keeps praying – G-d, let me win the lottery, G-d, let me win the lottery. After years of this, he finally hears a voice – “Buy a ticket already!”

If you don’t participate – you will never know what you are (or are not in some cases) missing! Anyway – it was a lovely, clearly local event – full of reminders of things upcoming (they are having a cocktail/mocktail party to fund raise and ‘meet the neighbors’ for example). The Priest was clearly playing to a full house – and knew it.

Services over, we returned home and our hosts warned us before heading out for the evening – tomorrow we are having a ‘brunch’ party with some friends – but it should be over by 5:00.

So pre-warned, our plan is to stay gone all day. Shouldn’t be a problem – Edinburgh is such a cool city.

Our first stop is Gladstone Land, a National Trust House that dates back hundreds of years – and has guided tours. The bottom of the House is a retail shop full of interesting things (plaid and wool being very popular motifs), but it’s the upstairs that you can only see on the tour that is the real prize. Our guide is at least 90 – and he makes it clear that his knees aren’t up to going quickly up the narrow sprial staircase (not original, built by the NT). He’s probably our best guide ever. His knowledge is encyclopedic – not just about the history of the House (it’s amazing), but about what the NT does and doesn’t do right. We alternatively laughed and sighed with him. He’d walk into a room – and ask – “Any Questions”. We’d just have to pick out one item – and he’d have the bit in his teeth and be away! He talked about making Bannock – and showed us Bannock flippers. He described the real estate doings of Gladstone (he was a terrible business man – but amazing at real estate), and made the rooms and the furnishings burst into life.

Wow. The Intrepid Traveler and I agree, not for the first time, that the Canadian Museums have seriously got to up their game. The Brits and the Scots have totally got us beat.

We leave 2 hours later much impressed with the challenges of living in Edinburgh thru the ages, and completely amazed that any of these buildings survived at all – let alone is such good shape. They knew how to build in those days – seriously solidly! This particular building was at least 5 (walk-up) floors – and it’s not a unique example. Some buildings are known to have been 14 stories – this is pre-elevators of course. The top and bottom floors were for the ‘lower’ class – middle floors for the ‘upper’ class. You can guess why!

Next on our list is lunch at a pub (this and Fish and Chips were on the Intrepid Traveler’s must do list). We bypass Onik (with it’s roasted pig in the window), The Witchery, and The Boosy Cow to eat at Deacon Brodies Tavern. Delicious Fish and Chips to share works for us – and we chit chat with our fellow dinners before venturing out again.

Our next stop is The Real Mary King Close, but I keep seeing men in Top hats, morning suits (that’s tails and grey pants – just FYI) and carrying large wooden batons. We passed a group heading down hill on our way up to Gladstone’s Land earlier, and are spoting more groups heading back up hill now. Can’t be a wedding – they aren’t ‘groupy’ enough. So naturally – curiosity gets the best of us, and we stop a pair to ask – “who are you”. And are rewarded by meeting two members of the Society of High Constables of Edinburgh. Today they are mostly ceremonial, but once they were the police of the city. And they regal us with a bit of their history starting in 1611 by order of King James VI. The older man of the pair tells us that he’s the last veteran of WWII in Edinburgh. He fought in Germany for 6 months at the end of war, having just turned 18.

You never know if you never ask!

On to The Real Mary King Close. We know this is going to be touristy – it advertises heavily, and you can find it mentioned on every map and in every guidebook. But our hosts thought that it was worth doing, despite the rather ‘touristy’ feel – and I must agree with them. You are greeted by a young guide who plays (rather on and off) the part of one of the folks known to have lived in the Close. The Close itself survived in tact because in 1875 or so, the city condemmed it, and built the Council Chambers (where our friends the High Constables were meeting) on top of the close.

Eveyone living in the close had to move out, and the rooms were sealed. So while the Close is now underground, it wasn’t always like this. In the late 17th century – this area was a warren of living spaces – some upscale (on the higher floors – above the stench of Edinburgh), and some lower class. But all happy to have a place to call home.

The tour lasts an hour, includes some pretty neat talking pictures that give you a bit of a flavor of life in these spaces in those days – and a rather dingy and dark room intended to impart the flavor of life in these spaces during the plague.

It’s not at the incredible level of the Jorvik Viking Experience in York, and our young and very friendly guide did her best but didn’t have the wealth of knowledge, nor the freedom to deviate off the route that our other guides did – but I did find it an interesting experience. I’m glad we did it – but I’m also glad we did it last!

Tours done – we decide to walk down the Royal Mile – mainly because every guide book says to do it, but eventually run out of steam and knees. We hop a bus – planning to get off at the port and at least catch a peek of the Royal Yacht “Britannica”. But before we get all the way to the port – we spot a huge Tesco’s! Food – glorious food. So we jump bus and do a quick shop for dinner. We’ll need food for tonight (It’s just past 5:00 and surely the party is finished), and tomorrow because our journey is taking us to Glasgow and we don’t know the lay of the land there.

Shopping done (We have become incredibly fond of Tesco’s Roast Chicken – I admit it), we grab a bus back home. Walking up to our cozy home, we spot two young guys standing on our stair case. We take bets that they are from the dinner party – and are proven right when they greet us by saying “You must be Isaac and Derek’s guests!”

How did they figure that out so fast. Do you think Isaac and Derek were talking about us?

We walk up to the flat and are greeted by Derek who invites us to join the party. After saying no a few times, we finally admit to being totally keen to meet some locals – and join in.

One of their friends, a very good amateur chef, has made roast pork with apple sauce and potatoes – and two fabulous desserts. The Pavlova is a killer dish – she’s planning on submitting it to a cooking contest in the fall, and I’m sure she’ll do well. There’s wine (lots and lots), there’s chocolate, there’s cheese – and there’s delightful conversation.

We are easily as curious about their lives as they are about ours – and when one conversation lags, another one even more interesting begins. At around midnight – The Intepid Traveler and I admit that our stamina is not up to more of this – but our new friends delight in singing us ‘good-bye’.

Memorable day, memorable evening, memorable place, memorable people.

It’s been a perfect day.

But tomorrow we’re off again – it’s a bus to Glasgow this time – so we trade hugs and thanks – and say good night.

Signing off – The Intrepid Traveler and the Soup Lady.

Edinburgh Castle – another “Must Do” Tour!

Our list of “Must Do’s in the UK” is getting longer and longer. We’re going to run out of time before we run out of stuff to see, hear stories about, explore, and experience. But isn’t that the best kind of holiday? When you are sorry to leave – and have to promise yourself that some day you’ll be back.

But on to the Castle. Isaac and Derek warn us that pre-booking tickets is a seriously good idea, so we do so – and it’s a really good thing! We get to the esplanade where they do the Tattoo (sadly only starting next month) and there are two neat lines.

Did I mention that everyone here seems to love to line up? It’s quite the reverse from the Canadian and American tendancy to mush together if there’s no clear way to line up. Here they line up as a matter of course.

Anyway – two neat lines. Line 1 – less than 2 people long – is for those with pre-booked tickets. Line 2 – stretching from one end of the Esplande to the other – is for folks who didn’t pre-book. Lesson learned. Pre-book people! You get a 2 hour time slot, and surely you can estimate your time that closely, right?

Well – we manage to log in with 2 minutes to spare. Not sure what would have happened if we’d missed our slot, fortunately I don’t have to find out.

After the customary bag search, we enter the castle and line up (again) to pay for audio guides. That task done – we sit to listen to the history of the castle – and admire the view over the ‘New Town’. There has been something ‘royal’ perched high on this massive rock outcroping for at least 2000 years – but the current castle only dates back 1000 years or so in the very oldest sections.

Once again, the Intrepid Traveler and I marvel at history that goes back so very far. And trust me – a 500 year old slight is as good as yesterdays. The Scots refer to the times that Henry VIII attacked as if it was recent history. And the fact that Scotland and England were officially joined (by a perfectly un-war like treaty in 1703) just doesn’t appear as relevant as the ‘Rough Wooing’ of the 1500’s.

But Castle History aside – the Castle is a marvel of engineering, and there are 5 different museums within its walls to investigate. But we start with lunch – or at least a cup of hot tea to share. It’s cold up here – and the heat of the lower part of Edinburgh persuaded us to dress lightly. A mistake. It’s really cold up here.

After our warm-up, we check out the first of the museums – The National War Museum of Scotland. It’s a general overview – but very interesting. Unlike Canadians – the Scots seemed to have gleefully gotten involved in as many conflicts as they could. If they weren’t at war as a nation, they were fighting as mercenaries. And they were well respected and in fact feared. One guide reminds us that they were once refered to as those “Devils in Skirts” or the “Ladies from Hell” – a reference to both their fearsome fighting skills, and the Kilt.

After the over-view, we visit two smaller museums devoted to the history of specific regiments, for me the highlights of the entire tour. The Royal Scots Dragoon Guards (also known as the Scot’s Grey’s for their Grey Horses) figured promently in the battle of Waterloo (1815). They captured the Eagle, Flag and Banner of the 43rd Regiment of the Grand Armee. Which was quite a feat. The French held the Eagles with high regard, and didn’t give it up easily. Most importantly – because it was captured, it survived the general melt-down and distruction of these objects after Napoleon I’s defeat. A great deal of the museum is given over to a discussion of the events on that historic day – and the Banner, Eagle, and Flag are given pride of place. I take lots of pictures, buy a postcard copy of a painting of the event – and even get my husband (shhh – don’t tell him) – a pair of cufflinks with the eagle.

The other regimental museum is devoted to the Royal Scots – and provided an over view of their history – and listed their regimental honors from the 17th century when they helped Charles I against the Covenanters. The exhibit ends with some current personal historys of members of this famed fighting force.

Another highlight were the displays on the Prisons of War. There were three parts to this facinating display – a fairly current ‘prison’ dating back only 50 years, a demo prision from the time of Napoleon I, and an exhibit of information on Prisons of War in more general terms. Worth more a quick visit for sure.

There are several parts of the castle open to a quick look-see – they are ok, but nothing to write home about. I did like visiting the room where James IV of Scotland and James I of England was born. Here in Scotland they never refer to him as ‘only’ James I – he is always refered to with both titles. Told you – really long memories!

Anyway – his mother is the infamous Mary, Queen of Scots – and finally after over 50 years of not quite getting it – The Intrepid Traveler and I finally figure out how Mary, Queen of Scots is related to Elizabeth I. We’d always somehow (ok – all Brits reading this – blame it on our lousy history courses) thought that Mary was Elizabeth’s Sister. And all the references to ‘Cousin’ to us was just another way of avoiding the awkwardness of ‘half-sister’. Wrong – completely wrong. Mary, Queen of Scots is the dauther of the Sister of Henry VII – Ie: Elizabeth and Mary, Queen of Scots share grand-parents in Henry VII and his wife. When Mary, Queen of Scots (not Mary – daughter of Henry VIII) was 2 years old, Henry VIII wanted to bethroth her to his new born son, Edward. The Scots saw this as what it was – a grab for church property – and said – no. Hence the ‘rough wooing’ series of invasions.

Well – now that I understand this – I am a bit clearer on why Elizabeth I picked James IV of Scotland to inherit her throne. He is the great-grand-son of her Grand-father – Henry VII. And at that point – her closest living male relative in a direct line.

We finish our tour with a mandatory glimpse of Scotland’s Crown and Septure, and admire the Destiny Stone that has, after hundreds of years, been returned to Scotland. (Don’t ask).

We hike back out of the castle, pre-book tickets for 2 tours tomorrow – and ride home. Dinner, some wine, and bed – a perfect plan!

The Soup Lady and the Intrepid Traveler – signing off

On the road again – this time we’re bound for Scotland

We leave Liz’s place with much sadness – we had a wonderful time at her house – and we loved York. I’m not sure how Edinburgh and Glasgow can possibly compete – but I guess we shall find out.

We retrace our route to the train station, and as is traditional – arrive too early. Never mind – I shall have a latte while we wait.

We board the train – and again watch the scenery fly by as we head North. Wait a minute – we’re not heading North. My head is pretty sure of this – and when I check on the compass I have on my iphone – it agrees. We’re heading West. Why would anyone want to go West to end up North?

Looking hard at the maps – and thinking about the geography of the UK – I realize that the island of Great Britian doesn’t actually run North South – it’s slanted a bit towards the West. And York is not in the middle of the island – it’s actually quite close to the Eastern Beaches. So the train is heading away from the beaches before the track curves northward.

Whew. We really did want to get to Edinburgh tonight.

The scenery is pretty much the same as it was on our way from Manchester. No dry stone fences, lots of sheep and cow herds, and the occasional horse or three. After about 2 hours, we actually find ourselves running alongside the North Sea. Lighthouses, beaches – and the occasionally cement block house left from WWII – dot the sea side. Sometimes the cliffs plunge off directly into the sea, other times the land takes a gradual slope seaward – but this is an island – and finally – after 4 weeks of touring – we’re seeing the proof.

In Edinburgh, we are once again greeted by a monster of a train station – lofty glass roof and steel ribs clearly label it ‘Victorian’. They were really, really good builders for sure.

We get our luggage off the train (just a bit of help required this time), and find a lift, find an exit, and start walking towards our Air BnB lodging. Isaac and Derek have been emailing and messaging us non-stop – they want to be sure to be home when we arrive to make sure we have no issues with the keys. They also know that we are going to need help up the steps. Good thing they made sure to greet us – their over-the-top, most amazingly beautiful home is a giagantic flat in an A listed building dating over 230 years ago. And it’s up 3 very tight flights in a very small and very narrow spiral staircase. But Isaac grabs one case in one hand, one case in the other – and without stopping for breath fairly runs our cases up to the flat.

Wow. Oh Wow. Seriously Wow. No – really. Wow.

I’m speechless just walking into the entrance hall. This place is glorious.

Later in the evening, Derek explains the limits that being in an A listed building puts on a renovation – but right now – we are just simply stunned. The entrance hall is larger than my daughter’s flat in London. The bathroom (just for us – no sharing) is huge as well – and the ceilings seem to go up forever. We estimate them at 18 feet high, based on Isaac’s height of 6’4″. We’ve never seen spaces like this in the UK outside of palaces.

Isaac shows us our room, explains how the locks work – and excuses himself. He needs to go back to work – but he will be home tonight to make us welcome.

We quickly shop for dinner at the nearby Tesco’s – and then try to locate the Roman Catholic Cathedral. We know it’s here – it appears on both our map and on ‘Maps’ on my iphone, but we can’t spot it.

How do you hide a Cathedral in plain sight?

Well – it turns out that it is hidden on purpose. Religious freedom in the UK in general, and Scotland in particular has never been guaranteed – and at the time that the Cathedral was first built – Catholics were on the out. So the founder of the Cathedral squeezed it in on an anglular corner, squished between two houses and a series of shops. Today the Cathedral is much much larger – but it is still slightly angled to the street – and thus is only obvious from very certain viewing angles. Interesting stuff, eh?

Once we’ve gotten the basics out of the way, we decide to ride the tram and the bus to the Royal Mile, the ‘high street’ of ‘Old Town’ Edinbough. Our lodging is in ‘New Town’, built starting in 1750 – ‘Old Town’ dates back to Medieval days and there are parts of the Edinbough Castle that date back to 1000 AD. Of course, this location has been occupied for much longer, but much of it was originally built of wood – and Henry VIII wasn’t a fan of Scotland after they refused to allow his 2 year old niece Mary, Queen of Scots to marry his recently born son, Edward. The nerve of those Scots! So he invaded 3 times (refered to here as the ‘Rough Wooing’) – twice burning Edinbough to the ground – and leaving frustrated the 3rd time because the town folk had finally made their houses of stone.

We admire the beauty of Princess Gardens (former location of the sewer of Edinburgh as we will find out), and wander up the Royal Mile a bit. We check out St. Giles Cathedral (Church of Scotland) and luck into a story-teller in the Chapel of the Knights of the Royal Thistle. He entertains us by pointing out some of the more interesting wood carvings (Angels playing bagpipes among them), and explains in great length the details in the royal seal.

After learning about the Order of the Royal Thistle, we wander back out of the Cathedral and explore ‘Old Town’. We walk down one close, up another, visit the ‘Grass Market’ where cows and sheep were once sold, and finally quit for the day by catching a bus heading back towards Princess Street.

Everywhere you turn in the touristy parts there are Tartans for sale of all colors and prices, and the war like sound of pipers fills the air. It’s a beautifully warm day – hot almost – and the folks of Edinbough are taking full advantage of the high latitude (at 56 degrees – it’s light until almost 10:00 PM). Folks are picnicking on every grassy spot we can see.

Isaac and Derek’s place is perfectly located. Right at a tram stop, right across from the Roman Catholic Cathedral, and within easy walking distance of a nice sized grocery store. Color us happy. You can get almost anywhere in Edinburgh without getting wet!

We hike back up the 3 flights, and make ourselves a lovely dinner. Isaac arrives home – followed soon after by Derek (only 6’3″ tall) – and they invite us to join them in the living room. It’s another glorious space – huge paintings are carefully selected to suit the space – and the massive windows have shutters flung open so that the air and the view is easy to enjoy.

We sit and chat, and chat and sit – and suddenly realize it’s almost midnight. Conversation has flowed so easily, and so naturally – it’s a shock to realize it is so late.

Of great interest to us are Derek’s challenges with doing their renovation. The rules for A listed buildings (their’s is over 218 years old – for sure. Derek has looked up all the previous owners – and there are many) are complex – and unbendable. You can not touch any existing wall if the original moldings are still evident. Which means that the only rooms they could touch were the bathrooms (there are 2 – one upstairs for their use, one downstairs for our use), and the kitchen. So the kitchen is completely modern as per Isaac’s desire. They were able to put a gas fired insert into the main (huge) fireplace in the living room – and they could also replace the old radiators with new ones that fit better into their color and design scheme. I’ll bet they work better too.

They were also able to add ceiling roses and replace ceiling lighting fixtures. And of course all the electrical had to be torn out and replaced – but without damaging the walls too much please!

There are fireplaces in every room – including their double sized bedroom with it’s view over the Firth of Forth, and even one in our ‘guest’ room. The shower in our bathroom is our idea of heaven – a rain shower, and a shower wand. And large enough for two. One note – our hosts are very very tall – and everything is sized to suit them. So we have to stand on tippy toes to reach the sink in our bathroom, and can only get things off the bottom most shelves in the kitchen. Good thing the guys are so happy to help out! I think they think it’s pretty funny.

They have been working on this project for all 7 years that they have been living in Edinbough, and only deemed it mostly finished in Feburary.

Georgian heaven with a modern twist. Stunning.

We say goodnight – and upon advice from our hosts – shut the shutters. At this elevation, the sun (and most of the inhabitants apparently) get up very early.

Signing off amazed that we lucked into such a beautiful Air BnB – The Soup Lady and the Intrepid Traveler.