Thursday, July 26, 2018

Scotland, Part III--Edinburgh & Tips

Aboard the royal yacht Britannia.  
We (mostly Kathy) usually do a good job of trip planning.  But this time, we both screwed up.  We simply didn’t allow enough time for Scotland, especially the Glencoe area and Edinburgh.  Ten days for Scotland simply aren’t enough—three weeks would have been much more comfortable (and expensive).  And perhaps 3-5 days in Edinburgh would have been more appropriate.

The summer crowds in Edinburgh are huge, with people from all over the world.  The success of the Harry Potter books and movies could be part of the reason.  But even then, Edinburgh was visitor worthy long before that, dating back to the Middle Ages.

Cow Corner, just below the Royal Mile
It was fun riding around the narrow and choked streets in the front row of a double decker bus, piloted by courageous and skillful drivers.  This city exudes history, architecture, beauty, art, cultural events, and international food—and again, lots of tourists, including many student groups. The friendly locals (mostly wait staff and our two Uber drivers) we chatted with love it here.  Some were students from all over Europe who would live here permanently if they could. 

The castle complex

So, besides the ambience and the Royal Mile leading up to the castle, what did we see?  Not much!  We toured the famous castle, jostling among the hordes speaking multiple languages.  It is a truly impressive 900-year old fortress and the free audio guides are very educational.  If you go, go there early.  Avoid the crowds of the 1:00 pm firing of the cannon.

St. Giles Cathedral on the "Royal Mile"
just below the castle.

Gladstone's Land, the world's first high-rise apartments, also on
the Royal Mile. (The colorful arches are barriers on the
pedestrian mall to prevent truck-style terrorist attacks.)

We wanted to tour the tenement museum, but the tours were fully booked.  It was in one of the world’s first high rises, nine stories up with no running water—or elevators.  (Our microscopic third story walk-up B&B was a modern version of a tenement, but at least we had plumbing, electricity, and even a washing machine.)

Our B&B in an old tenement.  Entrance by the red area,
then a two-story climb up a narrow spiral staircase.
So we went to the other extreme of society and visited the well-preserved Georgian House in the New Town, laid out in the mid-1700s in an attempt to make Edinburgh look more cosmopolitan.  Many of the palace-looking buildings were subdivisions of row houses.  We’re so glad we didn’t live in the 17th and 18th centuries! It sucked to be upper class and sucked even more to be their servants.  Still no indoor plumbing, but lots of cholera, TB, and more.
The George Street home, circa 1750. Each home was three
windows wide, and the buildings took up an entire block.  

Our cozy living room

The highlight of our brief stay was a tour of the royal yacht Britannia, launched in 1954.  We probably wouldn’t have enjoyed it as much had we not watched part of The Crown on Netflix where two episodes took place on it.  The audio guides brought it to life.  While admiring its splendor and attention to detail, the extravagance and formality of life aboard only reinforced our distaste for royalty.  Tony Blair did Great Britain a big favor by ordering it decommissioned in 1997, saving countless millions of pounds per year in operating costs. 
The royal yacht Britannia.  A very worthwhile tour. 
(A few more photos of the interior can be seen by clicking the link at the end of this post.)
There is so much more we wanted to see and do, including visiting some interesting-sounding museums and art galleries, the botanical gardens, parliament, and perhaps a cemetery or two where J.K. Rowling found inspiration for many of the characters’ names in her Harry Potter books.

We’re sure we’ll back again, especially with newlyweds Shanti and Alan to visit in London.  We have a few tips:

1.       Plan on at least two, ideally three weeks, for Scotland.
2.       If you go in the summer, book accommodations in advance.  Most places had no vacancies.
3.       Join the National Trust of Scotland at your first opportunity at an historic site.  The annual membership fee will pay for itself in just three or four visits to other sites in Scotland and Canada.  The same goes for Historic Scotland.
4.       Unlock your phone before you leave and buy a local SIM card upon arrival.  They don’t cost much, but are essential for confirming reservations, getting online, YELP restaurant reviews, communicating with your B&B hosts, Apple/Android Pay, directions, and finding reach other via text.
5.     Upon arrival, download when you have a good wifi connection.  It works off-line no matter where you are.
6.  A great starting place is the book Top 10 Scotland:  Your Guide to the 10 Best of Everything.
7.       We rented a small Peugeot crossover SUV.  While the high clearance and larger tires helped on the rough roads and unpaved areas, a narrower vehicle would have been less nerve wracking—especially for the passenger sitting on the left.  Make sure it has GPS to help you through the hundreds of roundabouts.  And her Scottish voice is very calm and polite--just like the friendly, but hard to understand Scots.

In the Highlands, near Glencoe enroute to Ft. William 9 days earlier.
Definitely more serene and green than Edinburgh!
We’re home for a few weeks to bone up on Spanish and get in shape for our 6-7 week hike of the 500-mile Camino de Santiago de Compostela in northern Spain.  Hopefully our latent aches and pains will be gone by then. Pilgrims have done it for more than 1,000 years, with heavier packs thans than the 12-15 pounds we plan to carry.  So if they could do it, perhaps we can, too. It will certainly be a change in mode of travel, scenery, and accomodations in hostels from what we experienced in

Here is the link to about 20 photos of Edinburgh.  Enjoy!

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