Tuesday, May 27, 2008

London, last day

I've been in London for 4 days now. It's been pretty good. I've been to Harrods, Hyde Park, Kensington Gardens, Kensington Palace, St. James Park, Buckingham Palace, Westminster Abbey, Piccadilly Circus, Trafalgar Square and Covent Garden (shopping) oh and Big Ben and the Parliament. London is definitely a busy city - a little similar to Glasgow in that regard, actually. I can see how Glasgow is the second largest shopping area in the UK.

I was surprised by how close a lot of things are. I walked from my hotel to Harrods, then to Hyde park and through Kensington Gardens. Then back to the hotel. Then I took the train to piccadilly and walked south through Trafalgar Sq into the parks and to Buckingham palace and Westminster and the Parliament. I didn't realize I was so close to the river there. Oops. I was exhausted by then anyway and took the train back to the hotel.

I haven't seen the Tower of London yet which kinda sucks. It was one of the things I wanted to see. I have seen a lot of the Tube. It really isn't that hard to get around on, but it can be packed - especially during holiday weekends. As was Piccadilly - holy people!

The last 2 days it's been rainy and windy so not real great. My rain jacket has been put to good use between Edinburgh and London. But now I'm off to my last hotel.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Haggis and Tatties and Shopping

Finally got the courage to try Haggis this morning. Easy since it was free with my breakfast at the hotel. It's not so bad. Much like sushi, you're fine if you don't think about what you're actually eating. To be honest I found it quite tasty.

The Radisson is pretty nice. I'm getting spoiled before heading back to the hostel in Edinburgh. It's nice and close to the shopping here in Glasgow (second largest shopping district outside of London, they tell me). So I had to check out the shopping. I like it :) HUGE stores with a ton of different things in them. I didn't buy anything because I'm convinced by the time I get back to London, I'll be a size smaller. Yeah, yeah, I know. Let me live my dream for a day or two here.

I likely would be a size smaller by now if they had any cooking technique besides deep frying. Here in Glasgow they at least are honest and call fries "Fat Chips." Kinda helps you say no to them! Two things I haven't done yet that I wanted to was have sushi and curry over here. Basically, you get a bit of a funny look when you walk into places alone. So I've been sticking to take out and chippy's for now. Well, the odd pub stop. You can't think I'd come all this way and NOT visit a pub!

Also took the open topped bus tour around Glasgow. Saw all the buildings, snapped a picture or two, but I think I've already hit my limit of old, stone buildings. Although the Glasgow Cathedral is quite something, and pictures of the University show that it is also quite a structure. Thankfully, this place is much less touristy than Edinburgh. I only saw one shop peddling plaids in all my travels for the day. It is heavy on the pubs, though, and apparently not too safe in the evenings/night. That is one thing that has surprised me around here. They tend to be quite angry most of the time. I'm starting to think Grandpa wasn't the exception to the rule.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Isle of Skye and Glasgow

I finished up my 3 day tour of the Isle of Skye last night. Probably the best part of my trip so far. Amazing scenery. Oddly touristy, yet not. Most everything is closed on Sundays. A few tours are operated from the town of Portree, but aside from that it's a very small village. We toured the northern and northwest peninsulas, even getting out to the most western point of the island and this fantastic walk to a lighthouse. A ton of steps though (thanks to the gym before I left it wasn't too difficult).

Today I'm in Glasgow. Found my hotel almost immediately thanks to some help from another passenger on the train. Without him I would've had a long walk. He pointed me to a bus that would take me within a block for free with my train ticket. Glasgow is less of a tourist trap and definitely busier. I think it's got about a million people - at least that's what one tour guide said. He also said it depends what area they include in the population so it could be less as well. Still, it's about the size of Edmonton or Calgary so it should be fine.

I'm a little homesick to be honest. You get kind of tired of hotels, hostels and restaurants. Although the hostels have been great. In Portree, I met sisters from Finland who are backpacking around Scotland, 2 girls from Spain and a girl from Australia who lives in Berlin. The 4 German men at the hostel had it all figured out and I was trying to figure out how to share in their huge, yummy looking breakfasts! Instead I visited the local bakery (so much for low carb) to pick up breakfast for under a pound.

I've sampled whiskey (dear god, I don't know what we buy in Canada but it tastes nothing like the stuff here!); seen mountain, prairie and sea; all manner of animals (sheep, highland coos, pheasant, horses, swans, heron, sea gulls, salmon, deer) and castles by the dozen. I can safely say that I love the country here, but not the city. And none of it makes me want to stay.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Mr. bean's brother is apparently a tour guide

I swear, Mr. Bean's brother was my tour guide today. Looked so much like him :) I got down to the borders today. Found out that this is the origin of the Border Collie (imagine that) and got to see the ruins of Melrose Abbey. Along with the first William Wallace Monument and Scott's View. Then off to Rosslyn chapel - I'm uploading those pictures at the moment.

Oddly enough, it doesn't feel that different from home - barring the accents. Greener, sure, and things are blooming everywhere, but it still is so much like home. Even ate at McDonald's yesterday (yeah, yeah, I know but it's cheap! About the same price as in Canada, really.) Mildly disappointing, but still, I'm in Scotland!

Next time, I'll book longer tours rather than the day tours.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Stirling Castle and the Trossachs.

Yesterday was my first day tour in Scotland. I headed off with Rabbies Trail Burners to see Stirling Castle and the Trossachs. It was...fantastic. Gorgeous scenery, beautiful castle, great tour guide. We got tidbits of history along the trip, even finding out where "armed to the teeth" comes from. (Way back, the highlanders raised cattle and drove them south to the lowlands to market. On the way back, they'd stop at the river teeth overnight. At this point they'd drink, get rowdy and fight. Of course, having weapons handy, they often killed each other. Soon, laws were made forcing the men to leave all of their weapons with the...well...local police until they left in the morning)

Our tour guide even sang some lovely songs for us. We spent about an hour and a half at Stirling castle, then headed into the Trossachs for the afternoon. Beautiful country and I got several pictures. We had lunch at Aberfoyle and stopped in the afternoon at Loch Lomond. The ch in Loch is a sound like clearing your throat. I don't do it well. We walked along the shoreline of the loch and then up a small hill. The weather was fantastic with the sun shining. Many boats were out on the loch. I picked up some rhubarb and custard rock candy at Aberfoyle at lunchtime and it tastes fantastic. I've been trying to find more of it, but I haven't been able to.

On the way back, we stopped at the Forth bridges - one being over 100 years old. And couldn't see much of them due to fog. Very disappointing. I did get a very foggy picture of about a third of the rail bridge since it may be my only visit to them. The bridge for cars is apparently falling apart because it wasn't built for the kind of traffic it now sees.

The Royal Mile in Edinburgh is essentially Whyte Ave, only the buildings are stone instead of...well the varied material used on Whyte ave. There are buskers and many, many people. During parts of the day, the street is shut down and only pedestrian traffic is allowed. It's a mile from The castle to the palace at the other end. I've walked it twice today. I wandered down to the Palace which is closed due to someone currently living/staying there. Then back up to the castle and now I'm almost back to my hotel. The time at the gym is definitely paying off since the royal mile is all a hill. And there are stairs EVERYWHERE.

I did get to Gladstone's Land today - the oldest tenement in the city (quite interesting for such a small little place) and then the castle where I spent about 3 hours and had tea. The Scottish Crown Jewels are housed here, along with the stone of destiny. No pictures allowed of these though. The prisons were depressing and they have a soundtrack which just make them creepy - people talking of why they're there, how they got captured, etc. Very disconcerting having someone cough from the cot beside your head!

The military and war museums are very interesting as well.

I'm now staying in the hostel. It also houses University students while in session so there are many students around. I'm a tad out of place. The fire alarm went of shortly after I arrived which made me a little concerned that would be a recurring event, but aside from some getting rowdy in the courtyard in the middle of the night, it was all fine. The bunk beds are definitely not made for adults and I feel for the students who live there. My back aches a bit today but only 4 more nights. The back ache could be attributed to wandering around carrying a large satchel as well :)

I've booked a couple more tours - St. Andrews and the villages of fife one day and Rosslyn Chapel and Melrose Abbey the next. Tomorrow I'm just wondering around a bit more. Heading over to "new town" for some shopping and sightseeing as well as train reservations. Hopefully the weather improves. It's rained every day I've been in Edinburgh except for the afternoon of sunshine yesterday on my trip.

Oh...oddly enough, the girl who checked me into the hostel is from Edmonton. She's been in the UK for three months and will likely stay til the end of the summer. What're the chances?

Saturday, May 10, 2008