Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Wednesday, July 16th

Wednesday morning we woke up and headed out for our Loch Ness tour, but first, to lock our luggage in the train station, so we didn't have to lug it all around all day! Now, in fear of being too late, we probably over-compensated, but as it turned out, it was fine because when the taxi driver let us off at the cruise place, he told us about this hotel/restaurant directly across the street where we could have breakfast. We had a very nice breakfast - I tried marmite, I'd heard about it before but wondered what it was, (sort of like I've heard of the Austrailian's veggie-mite) and I do not recommend it - BLAH!

When we left breakfast to cross the street and get to the boat, it had started raining. This was the only down side, in my book, to our not getting to go on Tuesday's cruise, the weather would have been fine on Tuesday... but we were told that the weather today was more "authentic" so... And the rain didn't last, it was very breezy, although some or all of that may have been our speed in moving on the water, I don't know. On Facebook, you can see the pic of my hair standing totally up on end, due to the wind. We did not see Nessie, she may have been sleeping in, or even on vacation.. who knows!? She might be in the Pacific Northwest looking for Bigfoot! But we did see some fantastic scenery, and a castle or two, the mountains.. I'm incapable of finding the words for the beautiful scenery we've seen on this trip.

The trip took us down the Ness Canal, to the Loch, and lasted about 1:45, and they then let a lot of people off the boat because they were going to tour the castle and then bus it back to town, so we were able to nab decent seats (all the good ones having already been nabbed when we first got on), for the return trip. For the return, the rain had stopped and the sun was beginning to contemplate eeking out. It was a lovely ride back. It was even nice enough that at one point, Holly and Tom upstairs to ride on the upper deck.

After disembarking, we caught the bus back to town and had a nice lunch at, you guessed it... another pub!, before catching our train south to Edinburgh. That's where I am at the moment, I've been taking advantage of the free wifi to catch up on the blog. Watching the guy in the seat catty-cornered from me downing four (count them, 4) huge beers in about an hour and a half, then when he got off the train, the slug left all of his empties! Holly and Tom have been playing musical chairs and when I'm not typing, I'm looking out the window at the scenery. The sun, by the way, decided to come south with us and the skies are painfully blue with lots of fluffy clouds.

This may be the last "on the road" blog as the wifi may be iffy between now and Saturday. But here's the plan: We'll be arriving at Edinburgh about 7:30pm. We'll get a taxi to our dorm - we'll be staying in the same place, or thereabouts, as we stayed the last time when we were stuck in Scotland post my appendectomy - and then investigate the dinner options. Tomorrow will be our only day in Edinburgh and there is the Castle and the Holyrood Palace which are two musts.. there may be a hop on/off bus tour, don't know, but that would be nice, as you get commentary during the trip so you know what you're driving past. Either that or Holly is well acquainted with the bus system here and we may just get an all-day pass (3 pounds 20) and motor around that way.

Friday, we'll be getting up and taxiing it to the airport for our flight back to Indianapolis. The flight leaves around noon, if I recall correctly, and we'll be landing about 11pm in Indy. We'll probably be mostly dead, so we'll pass out at Chez Burns and in the morning, I'll head home... hitting a McDonald's first, for some ICED TEA!!!

Thanks to all who have enjoyed our journey with us. I'm sorry I couldn't include photos in the blog, hopefully you've been able to follow along with the pics posted on Facebook.

Until next time,... :)

Tuesday, July 15th

The entry for Tuesday may be brief, instead of several small places to go and see, we had just a couple of big ones, so...

We slept in, had a leisurely breakfast at the cafe at the bus station - sounds worse than it was. I had a steak sleeve (or something like that) and it was this very tasty roast beef all cut up, in gravy, cooked in a delicious flaky pastry... two thumbs up! - and caught a bus to Culloden Battlefield. Unfortunately, the bus we caught was going to Culloden the town, rather than the battlefield... so the driver dropped us off and told us to wait, because the bus we needed would be coming by and we could take it to the battlefield.

So we waited for the bus... and waited.. while we wait, let me point out that Tuesday was St. Swithen's Day - I got this info from the UK edition of USA Today (does that make sense??) - and tradition goes that if it rains on St. Swithen's Day, it will rain for the next 40 days! So we were keeping an eye out for rain that day 'cause we did not want guaranteed rain for the next three days (as long as we'd be here :).

Anyway, the bus came and we rode to Culloden Battlefield. Culloden was the last battle fought in the British Isles. It was the battle where the Jacobites (people who thought that James the Something should be on the throne rather than George I (either the father or grandfather of the George who lost the American Revolution) fought to replace George with Bonny Prince Charlie (James' son). Lest I bore you, let me just say that they lost big, and thousands were slaughtered in about an hour and George Something was on the throne in 1776. We only had about an hour to tour the place, so we couldn't see the battle re-enactment or take the guided tour of the battleground, but I got a really cute apron covered with cartoon cats wearing tartan on it in the gift shop!

The plan for the afternoon was to take the bus back to the bus station and catch a bus to the place where we were going to catch the boat for our cruise around Loch Ness. Unfortunately, all that waiting for the bus two paragraphs ago threw a wrench in our works and we didn't make it in time. Tom was able to convince the lady behind the desk to switch our tickets to the 10 am cruise the next morning - he said that the words "Stupid Americans" were heard... So not only were we free for the afternoon, but we'd be taking a later train on Wednesday to Edinburgh.

How did we spend our free time? Well, like all good Americans, we hit the mall! :) Ok, well first we hit a Victorian Market (I found a Scottish flag for Gnarley and Holly found a nice chocolate shoppe!) But then we hit the mall.. mostly because it was someplace we could sit and kill some time before dinner - but Holly took advantage of the opportunity to find herself some sparkly sunglasses to replace those she'd lost back in Dublin on day one (she'd since been using my extra pair).

We had dinner at a local pub and then bussed it back to the hotel and relaxed, watching Romancing the Stone before hitting the sheets. Tomorrow... Loch Ness!

Monday, July 14th

The plan for Monday was to take the train to Inverness and we discovered that we could catch a train at 7:10 in the morning, getting us there about 11-ish. We made it... I can't say we were happy or perky about it, but we got on the train and started traveling north. The scenery was beautiful and there were even pockets of snow in the mountains! At least we're pretty sure that's what they were - don't know what else it could have been. We saw a lot of green hills, trees, fluffy sheep and cows. Very lovely.

Once in Inverness, we nabbed a taxi to take us to our hotel, again too early to check in, but we wanted to dump the luggage. I never realized that hotels would do this, but it's nice to know. We got directions to the nearest bus stop and trekked out. First, food! There was this restaurant that advertised "All American Food" - I'm not sure that it was honesty in advertising, but it hit the spot. Next, we found the hop on/off bus tour and took a jaunt around the city. It was raining, but we all had our umbrellas, so it was all good.

Our first stop was the castle - very picturesque, on top of a hill, looking over the city. Unfortunately, it is currently in use as a courthouse, so there was no going in, no tour. We got nice pics and then went down the hill to the info center. I hit the gift shop while Holly got the bus schedules interpreted.

We then roamed the city, hitting a cathedral, walking over the bridge over the river (which may or may not have been the River Ness - I don't have the map handy), and we walked on the bouncy bridge (which when you walk on it, it feels like it's bouncing, rather creepy if you ask me.) On our way back to somewhere, (I don't know where - Inverness really screwed with my internal GPS, which isn't all that great to begin with - I never knew where we were!) we discovered this old church, build in 1148 and some nice ladies talked to us about it while my footies rested and Holly and Tom looked around. A beautiful church and the ladies were so friendly to chat with.

Then again, while continuing on our wandering, we discovered this used bookstore/cafe in another old church building. We had time to kill so we went in for some light browsing and maybe a nosh! We all found something to read, got something to eat, and sat and rested out of the rain before discussing our plans for the rest of the evening. Tom wanted to hit a whisky tasting at a whisky store so Holly and I took a cab back to the hotel, rested and read our books until a James Bond movie came on TV. When Tom arrived back at the hotel, he told us that after the tasting, he discovered the bus he needed wouldn't be around for another hour so he popped into a pub that was having a trivia night. He joined a team in need of a fourth and using his prowess in esoteric American crappy movies, helped them win!

We turned in... it was a short day, but we needed the rest.

Sunday, July 13th

We woke up in the Castle - it was so cool! We had a really nice room, with a closet that held a toilet, and our own bathroom, across the hall. Having left my brain at home, it took me forever to figure out how to use the shower. I swear, each shower mechanism is different! After par-boiling my body, then freezing it to sub-zero temps, I finally got it figured out and had a nice shower. I really liked the shower gel in the shower, but I don't have room in my suitcase to smuggle any home, so it'll have to be a fond memory.

Breakfast was an incredible spread. There were five us there eating: me, Holly & Tom, and the couple from Canada who were staying in the other room. He was a big Colts fan so he and Tom hit it off real quickly! There was so much food on this tiny table, and I swear, the hostess kept bringing more out! The owners were a couple from the Czechoslovakia area and he said that when they saw the view from the battlements, he knew he was moving to Scotland! I can see why, the view was very nice - it was of the River Clyde. After breakfast, we all traipsed upstairs for the view and pictures!

We also got to hear about the ghost of the castle. If I recall correctly, she lived in the castle years ago and she was just mean and nasty and killed the townspeople for sport... and either she was tried and sentenced to starve in the castle OR her husband came home from wherever, found out what she'd been up to, and killed her. Either way, she didn't wake us up. If she attempted, she was destined for disappointment.

Unfortunately, it was time for us to leave the castle. It was a great place to visit, but I wouldn't want to live in a castle. Too many steps, for one, and the cable reception wasn't all that! We got a taxi to the train station and rode back to Glasgow. It was about noon when we arrived, we found our bed and breakfast and, even though it was too early to check-in, left our luggage there so we could catch a bus to see some sights. As luck would have it, the hop on/off bus stopped just around the corner from the B&B. We rode around the city, the entire tour taking almost two hours, and made a mental note of the highlights we wanted to hit. The city of Glasgow is preparing for thew Commonwealth Games - which is like the PanAm Games, only for just the 60-ish countries in the British Commonwealth, and it is every four years - so some of the areas of the tour were blocked off from us. I'm not sure they were places we were desperate to see, but they might have been nice to see.

But before we could hit any of them, we had to wee, so we hopped off at this ginormous museum, the Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum. While we were there, we looked around a bit. It was a very nice and we could have spent a lot longer there! Before we left, though, we did hit the gift shop where I found the most adorable Scottish rubber ducky which, as the only way you can see my pics at the moment are on Facebook, you may have already seen. He's too cute!

After the Museum, we got back on a bus and made our way to the cathedral and necropolis (cemetery). Tom wanted to hit a tour of the Tennant brewery which was conveniently located at the very next bus stop, so Holly and I hit the cathedral while Tom headed down to his tour. The cathedral was beautiful and we took pics. Then we trotted over to the cemetery and took pics. But it was huge and wound its way up this hill that we didn't have time (or in my feet's case, the interest) to climb, so we headed down the hill to search for Tom. Turns out his brewery tour doesn't operate on Sunday, but he found a micro-brewery where he could hang for a while.

We hopped on the bus and started around the city again, until we could alight at a stop near our B&B. We had just enough time to catch some dinner before going back and officially moving into our room in time for the World Cup game. I took a shower, checked my email and went to sleep. The last thing I recall being the impression that someone scored.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Dear Tom Responds - Irish Edition

First, let me say what an honor it is to be posted on your blog. I'm published worldwide in 50+ newspapers (a la Dear Abby), but this is my first adventure into Al Gore's World Wide Web.

1) What was that music playing in that church in the gift shop across from the mummified rat and cat?
Uncle Albert (Einstein) and I were discussing music over cigars one day and he questioned whether Bach or Chopin would be better mood music for cryptologist tours. I laughed in his mustachioed face and told him the ONLY music applicable to such underground pursuits was Toccata and Fugue. He heartily agreed and on page 42, section B, subpart 2.c. of his famous relativity declared it official for EVERY church basement gift shop. The only flexibility is they are permitted to pick the key in which it's played. Since aforementioned feline and vermin were in the vicinity, it was obviously T&F in R sharp.

2) What is the meaning of those road signs with honeycombs on them?
What looks like a honeycomb on a stick is actually a windsock and tells the driver it is an area that historically is very windy (i.e. be careful so you don't blow off the road, not that you could probably do anything about it anyway, but at least you were warned).

3) Why is Molly Malone's statue showing so much cleavage?
Molly Malone is a real woman who lived in the 1700s in Dublin. She is famous for selling fruits and vegetables from a cart, and entertaining people with her singing. The statue wanted to emphasize how much property she owned, i.e., her huuuuuge tracts of land.

4) Why did England and Ireland decide to drive on the wrong side of the road when the rest of the entire world drives on the right side of the road (in both senses of the word)?
The days of taking over other countries to get their booty and bounty are over (except in Somalia and the Middle East, but that's a discussion for another day). The U.K. is stuck on an island and can't really take over any other country except France and they don't want those turkeys anyway. So, the British ingeniously became good at insuring things (you've heard of Lloyds of London, right?). They decided the best way to make money was to confound 'normal' drivers and then charge them exorbitant insurance fees knowing their home country's insurance wouldn't cover them driving over there. Dear Tom has been there, and got the shirt, although I am a professional chauffeur and bag handler.

5) Why do they not serve iced tea anywhere in the British Isles and/or Ireland?
The recipe for ice was lost in every European country during the sieges of WWII and they are still researching and perfecting it. Right now they are focusing their efforts on whiskey and beer, and both are better at 'basement' temps....no ice required. Therefore, when requesting iced tea (or iced ANYTHING), expect either a raised eyebrow (U.K.) or a snarl and a 'look down the nose' (France). BTW, don't get me started on putting ketchup on everything.....

6) Why does it seem that the only veggies served in Ireland are potatoes and cabbage?
The Irish people have two physical states....drunk or hungover. Very colorful things hurt their eyes and therefore they prefer everything to be in muted tones, including their food.

7) What's up with the mushy peas served with fish and chips (which are curiously tasty)?
Fresh peas are very bright green (see answer to #6), so they need to tone it down. The cooks are either drunk or hungover (see answer to #6) so they cook and mash the crap out of them to take out their frustrations over the bright color. To make they palatable, they add butter and a little sugar....this takes out the color, too.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Saturday, July 12th

Today was mostly a travel day - getting from Belfast, Ireland to Scotland - so this will be a rather short blog entry, but with a pleasing surprise at the end.

We breakfasted at the hotel in Belfast and then took a taxi to the docks. Our plan was to take the ferry (only 29 pounds) over to Cairnryan, Scotland and then figure out how to find the train station from there. We figured God would get us where we need to go. Turns out there is no train station in Cairnryan, the nearest is in Ayr. But fortunately, the ferry company sells "Sail and Rail" tickets that is a ferry/bus to train/train combo ticket. We already had our rail passes, so we just needed the bus to the train and that worked out perfectly.

The only other ferry I'd ever been on was that day we were driving to the Cliffs of Moher, so I was expecting something like that, but this ferry was BIG - it had several restaurants, was at least 8 decks, there were entire tour buses on it! And the ride was smooth, really didn't even notice we were moving unless I looked out the window. The ferry ride was about 2 1/2 hours and then we were in Scotland! We got on our bus and took the 30 or so minute ride in to Ayr. On the way, we saw what I would consider to be stereotypical quaint English villages and countryside - and of course all of my experience in this topic is from TV.

In Ayr, we were deposited at the rail station - after a humorous interaction with the ticket counter people, we found our train and boarded it to Glasgow. I should point out that it was at this time that I realized that it was Glasgow and not Glascow... I apologize to my Scottish ancestors. This also explained to me why the weather app on my phone did not recognize the city I was typing into it. I should point out that there are MANY Glascows in the US.

The train to Glasgow was almost empty and very nice. We ate the "crispy digestive biscuits" that were in Holly and Tom's hotel room the previous night (my room had shortbread biscuits) as a wee snack and took advantage of the semi-working wifi on the train.

At the Glasgow Central station, we hopped off to wee, eat, and find our connecting train to Gourock - in that order. There was a "Beer Hotel" in the station where we knocked off the first two. Tom had his first taste of haggis and we all tried Beer Rarebit for the first time - again, when in Rome. After dinner, we found our train to Gourock. Why? you ask... Well, remember my dream of spending a night in a castle? Well, tonight is the night! We had reserved the master bedroom at Castle Levan - a restored castle, turned B&B. At Gourock, we caught at taxi to the Castle and spoke a little with the driver - Tom discovered that while yes, they are technically speaking English, it might as well be a foreign language what with the accent and the speed at which they spew forth. On the drive to the castle, I had fears of it being some rundown rat trap, but it's really rather nice, and the bed that Holly and I slept on had silk sheets - so just a note for my letter to Santa, from here on in it's silk sheets - can't recommend them more highly. I bet the cats would like them too.

It rained the entire day and even though we'd ridden most of the day, we were ready to spread out and relax, so after a short tour of the castle by the "Lady" of the manor, we adjourned to our room and got into our pjs, watched Ghostbusters on TV then it was bed time, for Rose at least.

Of all the possible modes of transportation, we covered taxi, ferry, bus, train, taxi, and foot today. Tomorrow, on to Glasgow!

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Dear Tom - Irish Edition

(Previous readers of this blog know that in the past know that my brother-in-law knows all... or makes it up... so as our party leaves Ireland, we have the Dear Tom - Irish Edition).

Dear Tom:

1) What was that music playing in that church in the gift shop across from the mummified rat and cat?

2) What is the meaning of those road signs with honeycombs on them?

3) Why is Molly Malone's statue showing so much cleavage?

4) Why did England and Ireland decide to drive on the wrong side of the road when the rest of the entire world drives on the right side of the road (in both senses of the word)?

5) Why do they not serve iced tea anywhere in the British Isles and/or Ireland?

6) Why does it seem that the only veggies served in Ireland are potatoes and cabbage?

7) What's up with the mushy peas served with fish and chips (which are curiously tasty)?