Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Rail Trip

When last I left you, we had returned to Edinburgh, where we spent the next couple of days.  Hubby had lots of plans, and our first full day was spent retracing our steps from 1996.  Back we went to Linlithgow Palace and Stirling Castle.  In '96, we went to the castle first, and the palace second.  This time, we stopped off at the palace first.  I already mentioned the Patchwork shop in this post, so I'll skip it this go around.

We began the day at Waverly Station.  This is the view, as we took the elevator down to the bowels of the station.
 Once inside, we bought our tickets.  As Pete ran out the door, I paused to capture this poster, which had me laughing out loud.  "Bums in Seats"?  In the US, they prefer no bums in seats.  But bums aren't bums, and despite knowing the difference, I kept chuckling.  yup.  Easily amused.
The chuckle ended when my spouse disappeared out the door and into the crowd.  He came back to chide me for dawdling.  He'd neglected to let me know that we had about 3 minutes to catch the train.  Then he dashed through the turnstile with all of the tickets, leaving me behind again.  He came back wondering about the hold up, gave me a ticket, and took off again.  When it didn't work, one of the station masters looked at it.  It was a return ticket FROM Stirling, so of course I couldn't use it.  He came back AGAIN, and this time gave me the correct slip of paper.  whew!  We stepped onto the train as the door closed behind us.  Made it!

Once I teased him about how it would have been so much easier and cheaper to have left me stateside, instead of hauling me all the way to Scotland to be done with me, we settled down and enjoyed the ride.
 Linlithgow Palace was...the birthplace of Mary Queen of Scots?  At least I think it was.  It played a predominant role in her life.  It's been a few weeks, and the specifics are becoming less specific.
 We were encouraged to go to the top of the tallest tower first, because "The sky is blue!  The sky is rarely blue this year!"  We saw cobalt blue skies on multiple days.  It was spectacular.
 This is the view looking down from the tower.  The fountain in the center still functions, but it only runs on Sundays during a couple of summer months.  We'd missed seeing it by a day or two, and they'd shut it off for the season.  (My close-up shot of the fountain keeps coming up sideways, so we'll skip it.)
 We spent at least an hour roaming around the palace.  Actually, I sat in the courtyard and wrote in my journal after exploring about 1/4 of it.  Husband went through the entire thing, reading every informative plaque he could find.  I glance at plaques for the highlights, and prefer to experience the buildings with all of my senses instead.

Once back on the train, we headed to Stirling.  I think they said that Stirling was the most sieged castle, changing hands a dozen times, back and forth between English and Scottish control.  Eventually James VI of Scotland also became James 1 of England, the first Scot to sit on the British throne.  He was the son of Mary Queen of Scots.  Stirling became a showplace under his rule, however once he became the King of England, he only returned to Scotland once. 

This is the approach to Stirling Castle.  It was about a 20 minute walk up the hill from the train station.  It's the uphill that makes it take 20 minutes, not the distance.
 This statue is a representation of either James V or James VI, I'm not sure which.  He was known to dress as a peasant and wander down to the town.  He would sit in the pubs and listen to what his subjects had to say about him and his rule. 
 The Great Hall has been restored to its 16th century glory.  The guide told us that at that time, ALL of the buildings were lime-washed with ochre, to give them a golden glow when seen from a distance.  Apparently when the restorers unveiled the new color in the late 1990's, the locals were aghast, labeling it as an egregious act of vandalism.
 You can see the Great Hall peeking out from behind this portion of the old castle.  The remainder of the buildings have lost their lime wash and are naked stone.  The foreground is the Queen's Garden.  I think we arrived during a changing of the plantings, because there weren't as many blooms as I remember from years ago.
This altar was set up inside the chapel.  The cloth was appliqued, beaded, and embroidered.
 This is one of the restored rooms inside the castle.  I believe it was just inside/under the statue of King James that I showed you earlier.  They had guides in costume, to help you "experience" 16th century life.  It reminded me too much of Disneyland.
 My husband was taken by the reproduction carvings in the ceiling.  Above the docent's head were 36 of these carvings, each depicting a different figure.  Many of them were Greek or Roman gods, as well as Scotland's kings or queens.
 Upstairs, in a light and humidity-controlled room, they had the original carvings on display.  The paint had completely worn off over the centuries.
And I think that with that, I will end this installment.  One thing I loved were the cobblestone streets, which were found in almost every place we went.  It's hard to imagine roads that never need repair.  Maybe we should have cobblestone highways in CA?  Or not.  I just really, really loved looking at them.
Right alongside such historic artifacts are signs that remind you that you are not back in the olden days.  I saw many "dog fouling" signs, but this one had the most informative image.  Just in case you weren't sure how to do it?  I don't know, but I think it's pretty funny.  :)
And with that, I'll end this.  Hope I haven't bored you to tears!!

Friday, September 25, 2015

Edinburgh, Take 2

After three days in the Highlands, we headed back to Edinburgh. As we were packing up the car, I looked at one of the mountains and suddenly realized it was familiar!  Check this out:
 The last time we were here, there was digitalis (fox glove) in bloom, and sheep beneath the rockslide.  We took pictures of the kids, posing with the sheep in 1996.  This is Adam.  I tried to quilt the rockslide, with grey thread.  It gets lost in the dark green, but wow.  Same place.  There was some deja vu going on as we left.
It had rained a LOT while we were at Glencoe.  Mountains literally ran with water.  Waterfalls were plentiful, where the day before there were none.  The creek that flowed by our Inn was raging when we left.  It was moving so fast, a couple of kayakers had pulled over and were getting ready to launch down the white water that had been a mere creek the day before.  It was incredible.

I had my husband pull over at the first viewpoint.  ooh!  aah!  Look at all that water!
 As we were getting ready to leave, a family from Minnesota pulled up, accompanied by a loud hissing sound.  They got out to discover a tire that went completely flat over the course of about 2 minutes.  They'd hit a pot hole.  The daughter was on a one year grant, to study handwovens and knitting in the UK.  How cool is that?!  I was wearing a handwoven shrug, that she greatly admired.  Turns out her mom used to live in Visalia, and studied geologic formations in the Sierras.  Small world!  We chatted at length, while the men changed the tire.
 Pete had been talking about The Trossachs, The Trossachs, blah blah blah The Trossachs.  He never told me what they were, because he'd never been there.  Instead of retracing our route to Edinburgh, through the cute little towns that I wanted to stop in, we drove alongside Loch Lomond, on the side that's just vegetation.  It was beautiful.  And boring.  I didn't take many pictures, as it all looked the same.
We finally emerged at the south end of the lake, and turned towards Stirling.  But when he saw the sign that said, "Balluch Castle," he turned in.  Apparently he'd read a lot about it, but didn't remember the particulars.  I thought the visitor's center looked abandoned, but he wanted to investigate anyway.  I'm not sure why the photo is turned on its side.  We ended up walking through this HUGE park, to the castle...which was privately owned and closed to the public.  oops.  It was a lovely walk.
 We hit the road again, when suddenly, "Do you see them?!  Holsteins!!  Can we stop?  Please?  Please, please, please?"  It's a bit unnerving to see a grown man so desperate.  Sure, fine, whatever.  Go see the cows.  We pulled in and he talked to them and walked alongside, being careful not to touch them.  All countries are very particular about possible transfer of disease.  I could tell it pained him, but listening to their mooing seemed to do him good.

 After about 10 minutes, we got back on the road.  Hey!  What's that up ahead, on the hilltop?
It was Stirling Castle, one of the favorite castles of all the monarchs.  I particularly like this photo, with the bales of hay in the foreground.  We visited Stirling the next day, so I'll give you more pics in my next installment. We continued our drive back to the airport, to return the rental car.  Here's a helpful hint, if you're going to rent a car in Edinburgh.  I think it was 300 pounds to rent a car from the airport for 4 days.  A few days later, we rented a car from Waverly Station for 2 days.  It cost 900 pounds to rent from Waverly Station.  If you want to rent a car, get it from Edinburgh Airport, and save yourself some serious coin.

We took a cab to our new digs, 24 Queen St.  It was an Air BNB, advertised as a "snug."  And snug, it was!  oh. my. goodness.  You climbed a ladder to the sleeping loft, which was immediately over the chairs in the main space.  The main space was so small, that only one of us could open a suitcase at a time.  But it was a great location, and we were within walking distance of lots of good restaurants.
Our cabbie had asked us if we'd come to town for the fireworks.  Fireworks?  What fireworks?  It was the last day of the Festival, and Virgin had sponsored a spectacular fireworks display, to be accompanied by the Philharmonic.  wow.  He said that 300,000 people were expected at Princes St. Gardens, but it was probably sold out. 

I was very tired, and didn't really want to walk any more.  Have I mentioned the miles upon miles upon miles that we walked?  I wore out two pairs of shoes!  But Pete said, "We're here, we should at least go see..."  And so we did.  This is just a fraction of the crowd that did not have tickets.  I don't know if you can see it, but the crowd is wall to wall people, all the way up the street (on the left), as well as lined up along the street above us.  And this was a sideways view of the Castle, which was the launching point.  Many of the displays were above the treetops, but many were also hidden from view.  The music was wonderful.
 I have to say that I was very glad that we made the effort to see this.  Edinburgh's Festival Fireworks left Disney's Phantamagoria - was that what it was called? That's the last commercial fireworks display I've seen, and it was 20 years ago - in the dust.  This was SPECTACULAR!  If you go near the end of the season, be sure to see the Tattoo, and then stick around for the closing ceremonies and fireworks.  You'll be glad you did!
Next up:  Two days in Edinburgh: so much to see, so much to do!

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

To Loch Ness and Back Again

To pick up the narrative where I left off, hubby and I were at the Clachaig Inn, in Glencoe.  On Saturday, we'd traveled south and west to Oban.  On Sunday, we traveled north and east to see Urquhart Castle.  It was built on the shores of Loch Ness, so we saw a lot of the Loch on that day.  It is a BIG loch.  Large enough to hide more than one little Nessie.

We started in Glencoe, at the Glencoe History Museum.  Unfortunately, it was closed.  Next to the Museum was a church, with this amazing rock fence surrounding it.  The rockwork captivates me.  Why do we not do this here?  I guess the rocks aren't as plentiful?  It truly is Art.

 We passed a number of lochs on our way, so many, that I didn't bother to pay attention to their names.  To my uneducated ear, they all sound alike.
 Then again, there is a story about the head of the MacDonald clan.  He was ordered to sign his allegiance to the English crown, and hemmed and hawed about doing so.  He had to sign by a certain date, and he was to do it at...Invergarry?  Only he went to Inverlochy? by mistake.  Missing the deadline resulted in the slaughter of the MacDonald clan at Glencoe by the Campbells.  I'm pretty sure that the Inverlochy Castle ruins that we visited were the site that he erroneously reported to.

We weren't looking for them, I just spotted a sign on the road with an arrow "Inverlochy Castle."  Pete turned in, we went down a lane, over a weak bridge, and parked across from this.  Outstanding!  It was one of my favorite castles, in that it was well groomed yet not commercial.  There was no entry fee, one could just wander about as desired.
 We'd driven by some sheep on the hillside, as we looked for the castle.  This was the first time that hubby actually pulled over, so that I could get some good pictures.  I loved their access to the cemetery.  I think the well-manicured look of Scotland can be attributed to the ever-grazing sheep.
As you can see, it was a grey day.  The rain came and went as we drove.  In 1996, Scotland was the first place that I heard the comment, "If you don't like the weather, just wait 15 minutes."  This time, I heard, "Scotland:  All four seasons, every day."  And it was true, with the exception of snow.  It did not snow while we were there.

Our next stop was at a war memorial.  I was more entranced by the sheep, though I have to say that the Scots do much to honor their military.  Every place that we went seemed to have some sort of tribute to those who have given their lives for their country.  They do not forget.  They do not want to forget.
 This is my favorite sheep picture of all that I took.  The thistles in the foreground are perfect!  I couldn't have set this up better if I'd tried!
 We pulled over multiple times on this trip.  I saw a bus unloading tourists, and said, "Stop!"  And he did.  Bridges like this were everywhere.  Water is everywhere.  Everything was wet and green and lush and MARVELOUS!
 This was a private home, immediately next to the bridge.  I saw many rooftops covered with greenery. 
 This one actually looked like it was planted with lettuce.  I LOVE the look.  Husband HATES it.  I told him, "I know what you're thinking.  You're thinking that the roof is going to rot, and it's going to need to be replaced, and you would get rid of every bit of that."  He looked a bit uncomfortable, as he admitted that I had completely read his mind.  Thirty four years will do that to a person.
 He lucked out, though, because with this stop, we got to get up close and personal with a Highland cow.  I took pictures, which he forwarded to his business.  Apparently most of the secretaries have now adopted her as their desktop wallpaper.  (It's a dairy practice.  They're all about the cows.)
We eventually made it to Urquhart Castle, a place that was too touristy for my taste.  It reminded me of Disneyland, with the presentation and the gift shop and the PEOPLE.  But it is a beautiful place, and a key location back in the day.  It changed hands many times, and when the last owners/residents were under siege, they blew it up to keep it from falling into the hands of their enemies.  This one isn't a natural ruin, it was intentional.
We spent a while here, then decided to head back to Glencoe.  I love the signage, particular the reminder to "Drive on the left."  Notice that it's not just Americans who need reminding.  Apparently the Germans are right there with us.
 We eventually made our way back to Glencoe, and our lodging.  This is not a painted backdrop, it's the mountain, rising straight up behind us.  A glass of Thistly Cross cider, a wool sweater hand-knit by my sister, and my journal.  I was set for the evening.
Next up:  Back to Edinburgh.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

A Bit of an Interlude

oh, wow.  I just spent the last hour resizing and saving the pictures for my next Scotland post.  Then I checked my last post, and realized that I'd skipped over a couple of days!  arg!  What was I thinking?  I've had enough feedback - thank you!  See me smile! - that I don't want to skimp on trip pics, but I also don't want to spend another hour resizing pics right now.

Instead, I'll tell you what I've been up to.

On Sept. 10, four days after we returned from Scotland, I had my thyroid out.  It wasn't a mandatory procedure, it was elective, but according to the surgeon, it was "going to have to come out eventually."  We've been watching it for a year, and I decided "Let's do this!"  I wanted it done after Scotland and before Houston.  That's right!  I'm headed to Houston next month!  woohoo!

The thyroid came out, best surgery experience ever.  I feel better than I've felt in years.  I haven't felt this good since I was 40!  I'm still having some surgery-induced calcium issues, but if taking megadoses of calcium is all it takes to keep me feeling this good, bring it on!  :)

I made a single birthday card, for my oldest son, for his birthday on Sept. 14.  He manages our walnut ranch, so I made something I thought he would appreciate: fallen leaves, and money in the form of a walnut.  :)
 I spent a couple of days quilting at the County Fair, and I went to the Kings River Quilt Show in Reedley, but forgot to take pictures.
 I got really really excited about this Estate Sale find.  I was looking at shells, and one of the workers asked, "Did you see the big one on the hearth?"  I hadn't.  She brought it to me, in this presentation.
 I flipped it over, tried to hide my gasps, and flipped it back.  "I'll take it!"  For $5?!!  You bet I'll take it.
 Here is another view of this "shell," as seen with a second one, and a quarter.  I believe the little one is star coral, the bigger one is mushroom coral.  (I identified them using online images.  If anyone needs to correct me, please do!)  Coral is no longer sold retail, I'm pretty sure there are laws against it.  But vintage coral?  This is not my first piece, but it's definitely my best deal yet.  LOVE it! 
 And finally, this is my real dog.
 My son and his wife sent me this flower dog, as a get well gift.
It took a few days, but now it looks more like Scruffy.
And I'll leave you with that.  Hopefully next time, I'll have resized the proper set of photos, as we continue our tour through Scotland.  Ta!