Day 2 in SA Wine Country – Only 1 Winery – Thank Goodness


We wake to our alarm, and go down stairs for breakfast. While not quite as wonderful as the breakfast at the Cape Heritage, it’s a delightful spread of various cheeses, cereals, fresh fruit (I love fruit), 4 different kinds of breads, and hot items such as scrambled eggs, bacon and potatoes. I order a Latte (wonderful), and even score a newspaper to read. Nice start to the day.

We head out to Spier, one of the massively huge wineries in the area. Spier offers family friendly entertainment along with the wine tasting – there is a ‘Bird of Prey’ exhibit, a large area for picnics, and even Segway Tours of the vineyard. But we are here for the tasting. We are seated at a table, and asked which of the options on offer we would prefer – the standard tasting, the chocolate and wine tasting, or the prestige tasting. Victor reminds them that we’d pre-ordered our selections – and this upgrades us to the ‘knows something about wine’ category. A shift in staff happens – and our new ‘server’ is far more knowledgable about what Spier has to offer. It turns out that she started in the Cellars 3 years ago and has been steadily promoted to a role as one of the ‘top’ tasters.

She certainly knows her wines – and gives us an excellent taste tour though what the vineyard has to offer. The challenge comes when we try to buy some of the wines. They can’t figure out how to ship to the US. Seriously? You are one of the largest producers in the area, and you have no US distribution? How odd is that.

Well – never mind – your competitors have it figured out – we’ll buy wine from them.

After the tasting, we head over to the ‘Slow Market’. I’d seen the signs – it’s held at a winery near by on Saturday from 10-3 – and I think it sounds interesting. And I was right. Unlike the market we went to a few nights ago – this market is huge. There are vendors both inside and outside, and they are selling ready to eat food, soaps, African handicrafts, their personal art (paintings mostly, but there are a pair of brothers doing wire bead work that I love), flowers, vegetables, hand painted this and that – basically it’s a giant assortment of vendors, all selling things that they made.

We love it. We wander thru the entire market, checking prices and admiring this, that and the other before we decide on a freshly made waffle for lunch, along with strawberries picked that day by a local farmer. I surrender to the need to buy something by picking out beaded flowers made by the two brothers mentioned above, and Victor buys some wooden bowls to give as gifts.

After lunch, we head back into Stellenbosch to check out an antique store we spotted (it’s closed by the time we get there), and to visit two of the non-wine related highlights of Stellenbosch, the Village Museum and the Botanical Gardens.

At the Village Museum, the movie isn’t working, but the visits to the 4 older homes (one from 1750’s, two dating from around 1812, and the last from 1850. All 4 homes have interpreters dressed appropriately who give you the standard intro when you walk in. If you ask them questions, they actually know quite a bit about the homes, but the onus is on the visitor to be inquisitive.

We are particularly impressed with the knowledge of the gal in the first 1812 house, and actually leave her a bit extra as a tip.

The Botanical Gardens is a relatively compact area in town that has been a public garden for over 200 years. It is tied to the University – and there are students doing homework or just lounging on most of the larger green portions. The gardens has 4 large greenhouses, a giant Fern garden, a rose garden, several pond areas, and lots of paths winding here and there. It’s quite a lovely spot to spend some time. We are particularly intrigued by a large flowering plant that apparently grows in the shade. But of course – we can’t bring anything home with us like that – we must admire but not buy!

Eventually we head back to our hotel, change for dinner and again wander the streets searching for just the right spot to have dinner. We opt for a hotel restaurant that has set up tables on the sidewalk, making for a lovely outdoor eating area. I love my braised pork belly – a nice change from Lamb chops.

After dinner, it’s back to the Oude Werf for bed.

Tomorrow is another day, another winery… Signing off – The Soup Lady

Cape Town – The Waterfront, District 6 Museum – and a horrid hotel


So – we arrived by rail into Cape Town – and like the luxury excursion it was meant to be – the trip ends just as well as it began – porters take our luggage from the cabin to the debarkation point where all the shuttles are gathered to take guests here, there and everywhere. Rohan Vos, our host and the owner of Rovos Rail is in Cape Town to bid us farewell – and makes an effort to shake everyone’s hand. His personal commitment to this grand adventure is intense. Yes – for him this is personal.

As pre-organized, we are met by a gentleman from the Southern Sun hotel chain. He helps us into the car – and drives us quickly back to the hotel, announcing that he’s in a rush because he has another appointment.

The Southern Sun – Cullinan and the Southern Sun – Waterfront are actually back-to-back hotels on one large piece of land – not quite at the Waterfront – although the name does imply a rather different location. To get to the waterfront is probably a 10 minute walk – max, but we are told that this area is not safe to walk around – even during the day. A scam currently in vogue is to approach tourists and inform them that there is a fee for walking on the sidewalk. Nice welcome, eh?

Sufficiently cowed, we foolishly opt to eat dinner at the restaurant in the hotel. Be forewarned – it’s a buffet – and the food is mediocre at best. There is plenty of it, and a nice selection of cheeses, but after the careful plating and elaborate fare on Rovos Rail – this is a let-down. It’s a bit like going from one of the nicest boats on a fancy cruise line to one of the cheapest. They got the memo, and think they can ‘do’ the same – but they miss the point.

Our room is fine – a smallish bathroom where they have crammed in a bathtub and a shower – with notes everywhere telling of the water crisis in Cape Town. So please – keep showers short, don’t run the sink, and for goodness sake, don’t take a bath.

Oh well – we weren’t planning on it.

After our oh-so-forgettable dinner, we are off to bed. Tomorrow we will try to explore Cape Town.

Breakfast is another buffet offering – but this time I ask if there is any other option. Given that you can’t ‘walk’ the streets – the pleasant gal suggests that we try the cafe, located a floor below the restaurant. They are happy to serve us just a latte and a cup of coffee – and two poached eggs and toast. Total cost – $10. Not a cheap breakfast, but better than the sky high prices of the Buffet.

To get to the waterfront, where our cruise to Robben Island starts, we must take the hotel shuttle – and that leaves every hour at 5 minutes past the hour. Ok – we will wait. Eventually the shuttle leaves, and because we don’t explain that our purpose is to take the trip to Robben Island, he takes us to the far end of the Water front. We hustle as fast as we can towards the meeting point – but arrive 10 minutes too late. We understand from the information gal that it will be ok for us to wait till the 12:30 trip, advice that turns out to be totally wrong. We have missed our trip, that money is spent – and the next opening for ticket sales is on Friday – by which date we will be long gone from Cape Town. I’ll admit now that I’m not happy about missing the tour, I’d organized it months ago, it was one of my ‘must do’ adventures. But I can’t really blame anyone. We could have moved a bit faster in the morning and caught the earlier shuttle – we could have asked to be let off nearer the meeting point – could-da, should-da. But these didn’t happen.

Oh well – such is travel – if nothing goes wrong, it’s not much of an adventure.

Faced with lots of time on the water front, our next choice is the new Modern Art Museum. But today entrance is free in celebration of Heritage Day and the grand opening of the museum. The line up stretches around a city block. This kind of thing is not appealing, I’m sorry.

So our third choice is the Chavonnes Battery Museum – which turns out to be a good option. The museum is very small – and devoted to the history of this tiny section of Cape Town, but on the main floor there is an exhibit of Prize Winning underwater Photographs. And they are stunningly beautiful. Really the highlight of the museum space.

After the museum, we go looking for fish and chips – but our first choice is sold out. Heritage Day has proved unusually popular! Our second choice is near where we will catch a taxi to the District 6 museum, an exhibit that I’m quite keen to see. So we eat there (it’s ok – not outstanding), and we grab a taxi. Hint on taxi’s in Cape Town – insist that they use the meter. They are very keen to quote you a price – much higher than the meter would be – but so reasonable by our standards that it’s hard to resist. We are quoted 90 Rand by one guy – and the actual metered cost was under 60 Rand. Lesson learned. Meters on please.

The District 6 Museum is a one room affair with lots of reading material. The point of the museum is to celebrate and explain the happenings in 1970-1976 when this part of Cape Town, a thriving if poor ‘multi-racial, multi-cultural’ area was deemed by the then government to be ‘white’. All the current inhabitants were told to move – and ‘relocated’ to appropriate settlements much much further from the center of the city – and their jobs! And the relocation locations were different depending on your status – so folks of Chinese background where forced to locate to one place, blacks to a different area, Indian’s (from India) to yet another. This despite having been long term neighbours and despite having owned their homes for up to 100 years!

It is very hard to defend a seemingly arbitrary decision like this – particularly since most of District 6 is still undeveloped land today. As folks were ‘moved’ out, their homes were bulldozed to prevent other folks from moving in, and while a large portion of the newly ‘flattened’ space was used to build the (at that time) white only Technikon College, the rest was left uninhabited. There is an on-going attempt to make restitution – but to prove that your family actually owned land in District 6 requires photographic evidence. And folks are not able, or in fact willing to move back. They have new homes, new communities, and District 6 is barren.

After our tour, we decide to try for the Castle of New Hope – a fort located close by the museum. But it is closed at 4:00 PM – so we decide to walk back to our hotel. Mistake. Should have taken the taxi. Our walk is short – maybe 15 minutes, but we are approached by young men several times, and while I don’t know what they wanted – we weren’t willing to slow down and find out – the result is a very uncomfortable feeling.

Back at the hotel, Victor decides to go back to our room and work on his computer – I’m itching to go back to the water front – and so I catch a taxi in that direction. He doesn’t even have a meter – so I overpay a bit – but I’m glad not to be walking alone. Once on the water front, I check out the line for the new museum – and it’s gone! Perfect – just what I wanted to do.

So I explore the brand new Zeite MOCAA museum. This is a modern art museum that has been open for just 3 days – and has been built in restored grain silos. It is a stunner. The architecture alone is worth the visit. The museum occupies 6 floors – with an additional 6 floors of what I believe to be condos soaring above. They have skillfully opened spaces in the silos, sometimes keeping the distinctive silo appearance, other times losing it completely to the space for art. It is glorious. And mobbed. I run into two young SA ladies in one of the rooms – filled with bricks hanging from the ceiling, forming a barrier to progress but providing multiple photo ops – and they ask me to take their pictures. We chat a bit – one is a model/Actress (her words), and is quite stunningly beautiful. Her friend is no slouch in the looks department either.

We wiz thru the exhibits – it’s very close to closing time – and end up missing the last 2 floors – simply no time left. But as is normal with Modern art museums – some things you get, some you wonder why they are considered art. One section of rooms were cow skins that had been formed into bodies of women in a variety of poses. The skins aren’t complete – so you must imagine the parts of the women you don’t see – but the effect is quite brilliant. I also loved a series of black on black photographs of young black women. Not so obvious to me were an area of candles – some lit, other not, and a series of hair styles on oval picture frames. But modern art is always a bit challenging.

After the museum, I wandered a bit of the water front – it’s busy and bustling, there are friendly faces everywhere – and it’s the first time in our trip that I have been able to walk and feel comfortable. I go into the Victoria and Alfred (Not Albert – this is about her son, not her husband) Mall – and am immediately impressed. It’s huge, filled with nooks and crannies that provide an interesting walking experience – and the stores are incredible. There are the traditional over-the-top international shops – Gucci, Hugo Boss, and the like, there are multiple Diamond merchants, and there are some not so familiar names – like Woolworth, There are a total of 450 different outlets scattered over 300 acres. There is a food court, multiple restaurants – including Willoughby & Co where I had a lovely sushi dinner, and a variety of ‘African’ art shops – from the insanely expensive to the relatively bargain variety. I had a lovely time wandering the space – enjoying the freedom of being able to just walk!

The Water Front area is a working marina and port – albeit for small boats – the larger boats go elsewhere. And this of course adds to the ‘reality’ of the place. Bridges open and close as boats go in and out, and there is a section where the Hairy Seals that love these cold waters hang out to sun bathe.

Bottom line – I loved it!

Eventually, I head back to where the shuttle will pick me up to go back the oh so short distance to the Southern Sun Cullinan, and head home.

This day has ended much better than it began – I have high hopes for tomorrow.

Signing off – The Soup Lady

Rovos Rail – Cruising Across South Africa


I’m on the Pride of Africa – an over the top luxury 20 car train that is currently snaking itself from Pretoria to Cape Town.

And it is truly a cruise on land. All the things that annoy me about cruises – too much food, and not enough exercise – but oh so relaxing. My fellow travellers are an eclectic mix of South African, Dutch, Canadian, Australian, and American. English is the language de jour, although one occasionally hears Chinese (from Vancouver), Africaans, and Dutch. It’s all together kinda neat – in an decidedly too elaborate way for my simple mind.

And alarmingly – no Wifi. Nada. For a full 3 days and 2 nights. Which means I’ve been out of contact for all that time. I just spent a few minutes chatting with the train manager – and he assures me that in a year or so, they will have solved that problem. Bit late for my purposes of course.

There are almost as many wait staff as there are guests – I suppose that is not surprising given the cruise motif. But there aren’t any shows, other than the food of course, and there is no pool or exercise facility. Instead, we have an Observation Car, a Lounge Car, a Smoking Car (glass walled to keep them in – and us out), two dinning rooms, a car devoted to a huge kitchen, and the rest of the train are the cabins.

The private cabins are huge. Our cabin is a mid-sized version and features two comfy arm chairs, a bathroom with a full sized walk-in glass shower, and a Queen sized bed. I think most cabins are the same size, although one group I was chatting up complained that their cabin didn’t have the two chairs. And I did peak into a cabin that had a bit more space between the chairs and the bed. Apparently it also had a bathtub, but that’s just a rumour. But never mind – everything is leather, or wood, or glass, heavy brocade materials, old fashioned lamps, and lots and lots of AC units.

Wouldn’t want someone to get either too hot or too cold!

And the views out the absolutely clean windows are of Africa. We started our journey in Pretoria (just a few kilometres from Jo-burg), and for the first two hours or so we go past station after station with primarily black customers patiently waiting for their commuter trains. Young folks and old, in traditional dress and today’s standard jeans and a T-shirt – they were, as we’d been warned, primarily blacks. Apparently the white population of South Africa has abandoned their rail system to rely on cars. This is a terrible mistake, but given that the trains we saw (other than ours) had no AC – and it’s over 90 degrees – I suppose I’d be hesitating to use the public rail as well.

A more disturbing view is that of the corrugated metal tiny shacks that serve as home for countless folks. We rode past whole towns of these shacks, some with fenced in yards – some with nothing but dirt in front and in back, and others with carefully planted gardens. The sheer numbers is astounding. But even more disturbing is the casual attitdude towards garbage. There is literally tons of garbage in just the section between the rail lines and the homes – it’s very clear where ‘no-man’s’ land begins – and that’s where the garbage is left. I asked about social services to clean up this mess – and was told that it is done often, but the lack of places for these folks to put garbage properly makes dealing with the problem an endless task. Maybe so – I must admit a lot of it looked to be ‘fresh’. And sometimes it was just a question of where you looked. On the right side of the train – clean as a whistle. On the left – coloured garbage bags lie everywhere, and those light weight plastic bags are as common as Christmas Ornaments on the bushes.

Back to Rovos Rail. This is a private rail service that offers luxury travel on several ‘Journey Itineraries’ thru Africa. We are taking the journey to Cape Town, but they also go to Victoria Falls, Durban, and Namibia. The train is glorious – it’s hard to find issue with the abundance of silverware at dinner, the constant inquiry as to your happiness and needs, and the over abundance of delicious alcohol on offer. Naturally, the Pride of Africa’s wine cellar specializes exclusively in the high end South African options – including a Port and a Brandy that blew my socks off.

Breakfast offerings include lattes of course, Lunch offered as much as you can drink white wine and port, and we’ve been promised a 5 course tasting menu for dinner tonight – paired with 5 other South African wines.

My issues are pretty much as predicted – the scenery, while lovely, is huge and perhaps a bit boring. I mean we saw a massive flock of Pink Flamingo’s – from a distance, and a herd of Springbok fled when we quietly came past, but generally it’s hours and hours of flat dry lands – going from the more bushy grasslands near Jo-Burg to the Karoo Plains. Eventually we will enter the mountain passes and tunnels that herald our arrival into Cape Town – but right now – after almost 2 full days – I can’t say the scenery has been stunning by Canadian Standards.

And sleeping last night, despite the amount of alcohol and the soft as down duvets, was problematic. The train did stop for 5 hours – but I actually find it easier to sleep when the train is moving – for some reason I kept waiting for it to start moving, even though our all so competent hosts had made it clear that we were deliberately stopping so that folks could get a good night’s rest.

Just like a good cruise, there are excursions. Today’s ‘off the train’ trip was a 2 hour tour of the Diamond Museum in Kimberley. I was thrilled by the prospect, but disappointed in the reality. Our guide was very careful to explain that they no longer use the methods on show – but there was no description of how they are currently mining diamonds. Even more disappointing – our ‘mine’ tour was a fake. Concrete, wood, and flashing lights to convince us that we were underground. Having actually taken a real mine tour – where we actually descended in a still working miner’s lift – and walked thru actual stone tunnels – this was quite disappointing. I did enjoy the movie, and there’s a fair museum to visit – but despite renovations in 2009 – it’s at best a ‘less than Disney’ experience. There are much better museums in the UK – I suggest you read up on some of my other blogs.

Another source of disappointment – we are just two. So if conversation lags, we must chat up strangers. Not a problem – but lots of our fellow travellers came in groups – so the pickings have been slim. And since I’m not travelling with The Intrepid Traveller, I can’t rely on her ability to instantly appeal to strangers.

On the other hand – food has been excellent (I always wondered what Ostrich would taste like – and it’s like lean beef, not ‘chicken’ at all). The service can not be faulted. The wine selections have been superb – and we still have a day to go.

Signing off with hopes that things will improve in the next 24 hours – The Soup Lady

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.

Vikings Explained – FINALLY!


Ok – we’ve done the Viking Experience – but are still left with so many questions. We’d assumed that the Vikings had mostly been a plunder and raid society here in the UK – and the evidence discovered in York – and dated around 975 AD clearly shows that this was certainly not the whole story.

So today our goal is to go to the other museum in York that’s been recommended – the Yorkshire Museum – and check out their exhibit on the Vikings. Note to the reader – this is not a permanent exhibit – it’s on loan from the British Museum in honor of the re-opening of the Viking Experience. Check to see if it is still on if you come to York. And just FYI – the Yorkshire Museum is in an amazing location – the former Abby of St. Mary – and it’s an outstanding museum in its own right – with or without the Vikings.

But we are into Vikings – so we skip past the wonderfully interactive exhibit on the Roman occupation of York (Check out the video on dating skulls by their teeth – so interesting) and go right down to the Viking Exhibit.

This is a multi-piece effort to explain the history of the Vikings in the UK – and starts with an overview of the extent of their lands. They truly conquered the world as it was known in their day – and towads the end their reach extended much further than that of Rome.

But tightening in on how the Vikings influenced the UK – the exhibit switches to a short overview of that history. The Vikings at first were – as we’d been taught – plundering and raiding – and going home every winter. But eventually they sailed an armada of ships across the North Sea and landed in the UK – at basically York from 866 – intending to conquor and stay. They made York (or Jorvik as it was known then) the largest city in England outside of London.

They set up a tent camp the first winter – and then redeveloped it into the wooden town that became Jorvik later. The exhibit traces this experience in several ways – thru the objects found in the York cashe, in cards found near the displays that say ‘Dig Deeper’, and in story telling archeologists who are wandering the exhibit asking if they can answer any questions. We are luckily in a small room towards the end of the exhibit when Collen finds us and we can sit down to listen. He regales us with the tales from this tiny portion of UK history, interweaving what we know about the Battle of Hastings (not fought at Hastings), and the various Henry’s who were fighting (or trying to fight) over this land. The Vikings backed one of the Henry’s – and it is thought that they were also backing William of Orange thinking that if he conquored the southern part of the UK they would be free to rule the northern section.

Scotland wasn’t involved actually (this we didn’t know!). They were too strong to be attacked, and too well organized to conquor. So the battles fought were all fought well south of them.

In the end (1066), William won – and marched his troops northward forcing the Vikings to choose to flee – or be absorbed into the Ango-Saxon world. Many choose to stay – which explains a lot of the ‘Old Norse’ that is found on street signs in this area today.

Well, that clears up that mystery. But I’m still wondering why there were only 2 skeletons found in all that cashe – and where all the other bodies must be buried.

Liz says that the norm was to bury folks outside of the walls – which means her home is effectively on top of a graveyard. As are all of the other homes just a short distance outside of the walls. So many in fact, that most are not dated.

If you are going to be digging in your garden – be prepared to call in the Archeologists! At least you don’t have to worry that it might be the body of the wife of the last guy who owned your home. Nope – that skeleton is likely much, much older.

Suitably informed we head to the York Art Museum (not wonderful – so sorry), and then head back to Liz’s for our final dinner party. Tomorrow we travel on to Scotland, stopping first at Edinbough.

Signing off – The Soup Lady and the Intrepid Traveler

Finally the Viking Experience


During breakfast – Liz reminds us to be sure to walk the top of the walls of York – so we head out to do just that. I’m determined to find the Viking Experience, but I’m also determined to revisit one of the ‘charity’ shops we checked out yesterday – they had a lovely Silverplated Serving knife and fork that would be great for our Regency Dinner parties at home.

We are rewarded in many ways. The walk along the wall starting at BoothBar (which means Booth’s Gate – or the Gate of Booths – in reference to market stalls that would have existed here hundreds of years ago) is lovely. We are 30 to 40 feet above the ground, with clear views to either side of the wonderful gardens behind the homes on either side. Another York Must do!

We hit the Oxfam charity shop – and my serving knife and fork are still there. If they are there – I was meant to have them – so I buy them. Jill finds a gift for her daughter at the same time – so we are both happy.

We continue on walking the wall – and eventually end up at the King’s Pond – a water feature in Medevial times that protected a huge section of York from attack. Nearby is a decommissioned church that now serves as a ‘reservable’ place of meditation. You book ahead on line, and are given a code to enter in the keypad on the door.

We’ve been constantly impressed with how creatively folks here are dealing with the issue of old, but under used churches. Some are turned into housing of course, but others stay churches, albeit smaller, and house cafes, restaurants, or even public service offices. In this case – another less appreciated need is being met. How nice.

We are now back at the York Castle Museum – still no Viking Experience – and decide to finish what we’d started the day before. The highlight of this visit is the Prison Section with audio/visual projected lectures by 5 of the famous inmates of the Prison. They tell you their side of the story – and then in the end, you can read up on the historical accounts. Morbidly facinating. I’ll save you some time and tell you that none come to a very good end!

Ok – now I’m getting serious. I will find that Viking Experience or else!

And of course – it turns out to be a lot easier to do than our mis-adventures can explain. It’s hidden in plain sight down a narrow passageway into Coppergate. Ok – just a bit of Old Norse for you – gate means road, bar means gate. This area is called Coopergate because it is presumed that ‘Cooper’s’ worked here making wooden objects. That information is revealed during our Viking Experience.

Bit of York arcological history now – in 1976 to 1980 a huge cache of Viking material was found hidden for over 1000 years in the wet clay (aka oxygen deprived) soil of York in this exact location. They were digging the foundations of a shopping center – and everyone was shocked to find over 40,000 Viking remains. The wet soil had preserved them so well that even pieces of material – including a silken head scarf were perfectly preserved. Most dramatically – there was even a Viking helmet found – complete and in perfect condition. No swords were found however – this was not a burial site – these were the remains of an entire village street. Pig pens, wooden houses, personal grooming items, all the stuff of ‘comfortable living’ were found right here – right under our feet. Incredible.

So of course a museum was created to house the artifacts – and in doing so the Jorvik (York in Old Norse) center was started. It was always intended to be an immersive experience – aka Disney-esque ride thru time to the time of the Vikings – but by Christmas of 2015 it was getting old and tired.

So nature intervened with a huge flood. Ok – maybe not on purpose – but the result was the same. The entire center had to be refurbished and re-imagined – and it just reopened under a month ago. I can’t speak for the old display – but we can tell you that the newly opened display has a ton to recommend it!

You can choose to pre-book, which puts you in one line, or you can take your chances and queue. We did the latter, and were rewarded by entering before the folks that had pre-booked. Not sure how that happened.

One interesting note – remember that Serving Knife and Fork I’d bought? Well they were not allowed in the center – and thus had to spend time with the ‘Viking’ on guard at the door. All of the staff is dressed from head to foot like Vikings – From men with long beards that were either braided or tied, to gals sporting Viking shoes, dresses and head gear – the staff were impressive in not only their appearance – but also their knowledge of the place and the Vikings. All were either archologists or story tellers – and they were great – if you bothered to engage them. Here-in lies the rub. It is easy to run thru a museum without talking to a single interpreter – and if you read reviews of the center that earn it less than 5 stars – that is what happened.

It is not sufficient to just ‘ride’ the ride and leave. It should be about learning about the Vikings – but we can understand how folks could easily get confused by the ‘Disney’ feeling that the ride conveys. It’s wrong – but understandable.

Anyway – we enter down a staircase into a large space that has a glass floor. Under our feet are evidence of the dig – including re-created timbers, objects and the like. Video footage on the walls explains what it was like on the dig – and invite you to participate in a current dig happening only 200 or so yards away. In one corner is a costumed interpreter with objects that you can touch and handle, and in another corner is a computerized interactive exhibit on the challenges of conserving the materials of the primary items found – glass, wood, metal and stone. Most folks just line up for the ride – missing the good stuff in the corners. So sad.

The ride itself is amazing. The detail is incredible – sights, smells, sounds are all here to make sure you know you are visiting a living viking town. I actually ride the ride 3 times to try to see and hear everything. There are audio interpretations in 12 different languages – including an ‘adult’ English and a ‘child’ English. Of the two English commentaries – I actually prefered the ‘child’ version. In that version, a young male voice pretending to be a local of the period explains to you what you are seeing from his point of view. “Oh, there’s my friend Eric, he’s been learning how to make knives from his father – looks like he might be doing better.”

From the front of the ‘ride vehicle’ you can see that the ground underneath is complete with muddy footprints and sewage. There are rats hidden here and there as would have been the case in those days, and tiny details add to the realism in surprising ways. At one point, a figure in a boat suddenly looks up at me and welcomes me in ‘Old Norse’ – it’s actually a staff member!

But you can’t appreciate the level of detail in just one ride thru – good thing that the ticket they sell you is good for a year.

When the ride ends you are in a small, but very complete exhibit area – with at least 3 interpreters willing to take time to answer in great and loving detail any questions you might have. There is a young man making coins, the hard old fashioned way by slaming the dies with a hammer. We chat with him on the origins of coins in general – and Viking coins in particular.

This is a wonderful experience – but as with most museums – you take out what you put in. Take time to chat – it’s wonderful.

Lunch is a brief respite on a bench in Coopergate and a lovely chat with a Welsh gentleman who lets us know that he was very anti-brexit. We’ve actually not come in contact with folks who voted yes – but since it was a 50/50 vote – that’s not totally surprising.

Our next stop was supposed to be the Viking Exhibit in the Yorkshire Museum, but instead we opt for the physically closer and much less demanding Barley Hall. This is a medieval home that once belong to The Lord Mayor of York. Suitably large and painstakingly re-done – it’s now a quick and dirty history of Henry VIII. The exhibits are interesting, and I must admit that I didn’t know that much about Henry VIII coming in, but the lack of guides and the limited about of interior furnishings made this tour a very quick in and out. Not our favorite museum, but after the two ‘Must Do’s’ of the Jorvik Viking Experience and the York Castle Museum, it’s almost a good thing. We’re pretty wiped and keen to head back home.

Liz is shocked to see us this early – but we hand over our bottle of wine and tell her not to worry – we’re going to hide out in our room and nurse our feet and backs into better shape with a spot of tea.

A couple of hours later – and suitably refreshed – Liz annouces dinner. Again we are impressed. After bringing each other up on our travels today, our conversation centers around her desire to enlarge her Air BnB empire by buying another flat. We are keen to find out how that goes down – but of course won’t ever know if she doesn’t keep in touch. So I’m seriously hoping she will read this – and keep in touch!

Another relaxing evening enjoying the birds, the bees – and Liz’s wonderful backyard and it’s off to bed.

I think this is becoming a pattern!

Signing off – The Soup Lady and the Intrepid Traveler

Still no Vikings – but the York Castle Museum is a Must Do


We are awoken early by the birds. Liz’s house is just outside the city walls – a 200 year old Victorian that she has carefully restored – and there are lots of trees – and lots of birds. A flock of geese call the open space behind her place home, and there’s a colony of doves that spend the night perched in a tree in her neighbor’s yard. Dawn at Liz’s home is a sympthony concert on steriods.

We head downstairs for breakfast, served at a table in her ‘living’ room. Delicious Quarker Oats, some yogurt, your basic local buns, coffee or tea, and a bit of fresh fruit combine for a perfect start to the day. Walking past Liz’s door alerts the excitable Bertie to our presence – and he’s perfectly happy to start the day too. Liz drops in to check if we have any questions about where to go and what to see – then sends us on our way with specific directions to return for dinner at 6:30.

We repeat our walk into the walled city, and wander around pleasantly lost amid the mydrid shops and wandering tourists. Our official destination is the Viking Experience, but the maze that is Old Town York is more challenging to navigate than expected. Liz had suggested that we take a ‘Squiggle’ or narrow part between buildings into the back area behind the ‘Hole in the Wall’ – one of zillions (yes I counted) Pubs. We are in the narrow laneway behind the Pub when the bells of the Minster announce 10:00 AM. No sleeping late in York I’m going to tell you! Peter (that’s what they call the big bell that sounds the hours) is seriously loud. You can feel the vibrations all the way from your feet to your head.

We wander in the gardens, quickly visit the old chapel (now library), and see the Treasurers House. We check out some of the ‘charity shops’ dotted amongst the more touristy offerings, buy a Cornish Pasty for lunch, then head toward the Viking Experience. We twist and turn – and eventually end up looking up at a castle on a mound.

It’s Clifford’s Tower – the site of one of the darkest days (not my words – that’s how they describe it in the history notes) of York’s long history. In 1190 approximately 150 Jewish citizens of York were trapped in the tower by an angry mob. Egged on by wealthy men who were in debt to the Jewish Moneylenders and had not secured Royal Appointments and thus could not repay their debts, the mob surged around the then Royal Castle. These events were cronicled by at least 3 different sources at the time. In the end, most of the Jews committed suicide, the men killing their wives and children, and then killing themselves. The men owing money to the Jewish Moneylenders then burned their notes, thus freeing themselves of the debts, and the land and possesions of the Jews reverted to the crown. (http://www.historyofyork.org.uk/themes/norman/the-1190-massacre)

The event is recorded on a plaque outside the tower for all to read.

But on to happier thoughts. Right beside the tower, which stands at the highest point of York, is the York Castle Museum. Not the Viking experience we were heading for – but it was on our hit list as well, so in we go.

The York Castle Museum is a huge winner. It occupies a former prision that was in use for over 400 years, and today contains not only information about the prision, but also a re-creation of a complete Victorian Street, an exhibit on the 60’s, a series of ‘demo’ kitchens dating from 1650 till 1960, and ‘demo’ Victorian Parlors from humble farmer to moderately well-off middle class. There’s a section devoted to toys from the 1900’s up to 2017 (truly fascinating), and a display on undergarmets that spans several hundred years.

This museum is almost impossible to leave! We can’t get enough of the complete Victorian Street scene – it extends for several blocks, is complete with period appropriate ‘smells’, and what really makes it great – knowledgeable guides in period clothes who delight in telling you about their times. Our favorite is a gentleman in a top hat who spends almost 30 minutes discussing his world. So cool.

We don’t finish – we simply run out of time and must head back to the Minster for Evensong, then on to Liz’s place for dinner. Fortunately, the ticket we got is good for a year – so we will definitely be back!

At Evensong, we are almost trampled by the rush of people trying to get good seats – but are rewarded for our slow pace by a young female priest who directs us up into the choir stalls. We are seated 6 seats away from the Dean of the Minster – the Very Revd Vivienne Faull – a lovely older woman whose face is featured on most of the marketing for the huge Cathedral. The Minster was spared by the German Blitz because it acted as a landmark for the German Pilots. We are told this by one of the tour guides, who was lucky enough to have given a tour to a former German Pilot! He told her that they would never have hurt it – if you were flying from the South and came upon a huge white cross in the middle of a green circle – you turned right to get home to Germany. And if you were flying from the North – it was a left turn.

And it’s actually a good thing that this lovely building was not hurt. The main tower is high enough to contain the Leaning Tower of Pisa, and the vast vault with it’s Gothic finishings is the 2nd largest such building in Northern Europe. It was built between 1220 and 1472 – and is justifably one of York’s main visitor attractions. But we are here for Evensong – and are rewarded by a 45 minute long service sung by a mixed choir of 18 children and 12 adults. Lovely.

Our dinner with Liz is equally pleasant. We again chat on various topics – and Liz tells us the recent history of her lovely home. She has lived here for 10 years, and it was in the spring of the 2nd year that problems began. Her ground floor (aka basement) was flooded – not just once but 3 times. And it wasn’t just her basement – all the basements in the area suffered, and the city of York determined that the fault was theirs – inadequate sewers. So the city decided to fix the problem for the entire area of several hundred homes and businesses – and a major hospital – by building a huge underground water holding tank in the vacant land to her left. They made one tiny error. They ignored the sandy soil that lay adjacent to the site of the new construction, and in digging out the tank, caused an earthquake. Liz’s home literally split in 2 – while she was inside!

The house between her home and the ‘hole’ suffered more – but since it was owned by the hospital, which in turn is owned by the National Health Service, it was less of a problem. Since her home was privately owned – and terribly damaged, after some litigation, the city paid for her renovation.

And the home was saved – and better than saved – restored to it’s former glory. She took that opportunity to move the kitchen into the basement, making an extra bedroom on the ground floor. The work was only completed about 2 years ago – and she’s been doing Air BnB only since March.

We mentally observe that one would never have a conversation like this in a hotel – one of the reasons Air BnB is such fun is the delightful chance you have to really get to know a local!

The Intrepid Traveler and I eventually toddle upstairs to bed. Tomorrow we are definitely going to find the Viking Experience.

Signing off – The Soup Lady and the Intrepid Traveler.