David and Ginna Zoellner love to travel. We live in Nice, France, half the year; the other half we live near Chicago, Illinois. We do 'home-exchanges' to explore other areas as well as taking normal trips. We'd like to share some of our experiences with you.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Great Britain: Carlisle and Edinburgh May 2008

Photos: View of Edinburgh
Keswick in the Lake District, Cumbria England
On Saturday, May 3, 2008, we left our home in Nice for Carlisle, England, flying Easyjet. Monique and Marcel, our dear neighbors, dropped us off at the airport; we had an easy flight of a bit over two hours to Newcastle. At the airport there we had a bite of lunch, then found the Metro for the quick ride into downtown. From there we caught a train almost immediately to Carlisle. The trip was lovely, with a friendly engineer and beautiful scenery, including a bit of Hadrian’s Wall and many baby sheep prancing in the meadows and charming villages along the way.

We took a cab to Peggy Milledge’s home, a three story townhouse backing up on a gentle river where some swans are nesting. There was also a blue egret nearby. The house is comfortable but will give us plenty of exercise, although the stairs are equipped with an electric lift, which was a big help with the luggage. We settled in and had a bit of supper of some Cheddar, a pear, and a nice wine Peggy had left. We tried the TV but could only get 3 channels. Tried the computer and it was fine but found no way to turn it off! Opened the door from the living area to the garden and great view of the river and then couldn’t get the door to lock! Sometimes things in British homes are tricky to figure out! Then to bed.

The next morning we woke early to the chirping of the birds, hoping to go to the Lake District. But the weather was threatening and the forecast for the rest of the week looked encouraging, so we decided to stay in town, putting off the Lake District for another day. We had breakfast, watching the many birds at the feeders off her living room. Then we braved the right-hand drive car and went into Carlisle where we found a parking spot easily. We walked around the lovely downtown, much of which is a pedestrian zone, and through the area surrounding the Cathedral. We found our way up to the massive Castle, started in 1093, where Mary Queen of Scots was imprisoned in 1568. There was an interesting display of the history of this border town.

Afterwards, having waited until services were ended, we visited the Cathedral Church of the Holy and Undivided Trinity, started in 1092; services have been held here for over 900 years. The doors lead to a sort of large vestibule. To the left is the Nave, where some of the oldest parts, the early 12th century bays, remain. To the right one enters the choir area, lined with beautiful wood Canons' Stalls dating from the 14th century. The ceiling is a heavenly gold star-studded blue. The tracery on the main stained glass window is also 14th century. The church, like so many other buildings in the entire area, is built of a beautiful brownstone.

We looked at the Tullie Mansion and the beautiful gardens with pink flowering Japanese cherry trees which are stunning, quite different from other cherry trees we’ve seen, with few leaves and mitt-sized clusters of blossoms. Another walk through town, searching for a restaurant that was open for lunch on Sunday and finally found the Gilded Lily. We settled down to a well-deserved meal, a wonderful hamburger with chips for me and chicken in gravy with chips for David, each with a delicious glass of wine.

We next headed to the train station to buy our tickets for Edinburgh. Apparently there is track work on the weekends so there is only bus service, which we opted for, at 9:30 AM. We picked up some wine, cheese, and sweets, and headed home. I tried driving this time and did all right. A bit nerve wracking.

In the late afternoon I took a walk along the picturesque river behind the house. Along the way I saw people fishing and many dog walkers. There were the Swifts (also called by one person San Martins), birds like smaller swallows who are here just for a few months, living in the banks of the river. They were swirling in formation over the river, twittering away. The sun didn’t set until almost 8:30.

Monday we were up early, having gone to bed very early. We left the house by 9 AM, driving to Housesteads to visit the Roman fort and Hadrian’s Wall. David had decided that he didn’t want to drive any more, so left it to me. Anyway, we drove through many charming towns – passing Once Brewed and Twice Brewed, Haltwhistle, and so on. We finally found Housesteads. The remains of the fort are extensive and very interesting – perched on top of a high hill, looking towards the north and the invading Barbarians (although now only sheep threaten), with bits showing the latrines, the ovens, the granaries, the barracks, and so on. There were 12 of these forts along the wall, although this is the one that is most complete. Afterwards we walked along the top of the wall for a ways; in this area it is built very high up on a cliff, with lookout posts along the way, and steep and dizzying drops to the north.

Next we headed back to Brampton. We ended up going to the tiny town of Castle Carrock, for a restaurant written up in the Michelin Guide, The Weary. The food was great – David dug into Cumbrian sausage on mashed potato with a beer, while I had country pate and tomato bisque soup with a glass of rose – but the music was terrible, as we find too often. The ambiance, also, was a bit disappointing – a too modern update to a traditional pub, for our taste.

We tried to see the stained glass windows at the church in Brampton, but sadly it was locked. Instead, we headed on to Lanercost Priory where we explored the graveyard and the church, which is still their village church and where they’ve had services for over 800 years!Then home to our exchange in Carlisle by 4:30. A long day, with lots of exercise! We’ll look forward to a light supper and an early bed again, foregoing the river walk tonight!

Tuesday we set out early, before 9 AM, for Keswick (pronounced Kessick) in the Lake District. It was a pleasant drive and we stopped before Keswick at the osprey look-out area, which Peggy had recommended, where we parked and climbed up to the viewpoint high above Bassenthwaite Lake. We could see the nest but no ospreys were in sight, but you can check out the ospreys at http://www.ospreywatch.co.uk/. We did see a lovely red squirrel enjoying nuts nearby and many other local birds. I love the names of English towns: we passed Blitterslee and Blackdyke.

Then on to Keswick itself, a lovely town, with a mostly pedestrianized downtown. We walked to the distant lakefront of Derwent Water - not sure why they built the town so far from the shore - through the beautiful gardens left to the town by the local nobility. In town there are many Victorian mansions, many now B&B's and hotels. We found a nice pub for lunch; David ordered the "Chump" of lamb with roasted potatoes while I had a Caesar salad. The potatoes were outstanding - crisp on the outside but extra fluffy on the inside. At a small cheese shop we purchased some local cheese for supper.

To drive back to Carlisle, we headed west to drive up along the Solway Firth. We stopped at Mowbray Garden Shop for dessert of Sticky Toffee Pudding (David thought it was too sugary but I thought it was divine!). We stopped along the waterfront so that David could walk in the sand, but sadly there were no shells to collect. Home to Carlisle for a light supper of cheese and crackers and pear.

Wednesday we went again to the Lake District, driving further south to Kendal, the southeastern gateway to the area, and on to Windermere. There we walked to the busy lake front, where boats were taking tourists for rides and children were chasing the ducks and swans swimming near the shore. Windermere, although very commercial, is a charming town, with streets lined with elegant B&B's; one can just picture people in the 1890's taking the sea air in their afternoon frocks and coats. Again it was a beautiful day, with lots of sun and temperatures in the 70's. We had a nice lunch in town at Hyton's: huge fishcakes for David and a salmon Nicoise salad for me. They even took pity on us and gave us a 'doggie bag' for our leftovers. We headed to one of the several ice cream shops nearby for dessert, choosing hazlenut/chocolate and chocolate/orange from the more than 30 possibilities. It was great ice cream, made with local rich, bio cream.

Next we drove 11 miles - perhaps the longest 11 miles of my life - on narrow, rock-wall-lined, windy country roads with large trucks and tour buses seemingly headed right at us. We passed stone cottages and wonderful old hotels and country pubs with tourists basking in the sun. We finally reached the northern end of Ullswater where we embarked on a steamboat excursion on the lake, a fun experience. The shores were lined with boat clubs, with many sailboats and motorboats moored close to shore.

We had hoped to visit Long Meg and her Daughters, the third largest prehistoric stone circle in England (we've seen the other two: Stonehenge and Avebury), but had to admit that we were just too tired. We headed home to Carlisle.

Thursday we headed up to Dumfries, in Scotland. Dumfries is the home of J.M. Barrie, the author of "Peter Pan" and also famous for its associations with Robert Burns. We visited the home where Burns lived at the time of his death, a small stone cottage of six rooms. He died very young, only 37 years old. We also walked a bit along the River Nift, a picturesque walk below the town, and along the High Street to the very attractive Church of Scotland Cathedral, again the beautiful brown stone.

From Dumfries, we drove down towards Solway Firth for a picnic along the water by a lighthouse. Afterwards we stopped in the Paul Jones Hotel, whose proprietor had allowed us to park in their lot, for a coffee and hot chocolate. We passed through the town of New Abbey and visited Sweetheart Abbey, founded in 1275 by Lady Devorgilla of Galloway in memory of her husband; nearby is the birthplace of John Paul Jones, the American hero of the Revolutionary War, famous for his statement, "I have not yet begun to fight." Then finally back to Carlisle.

Friday we decided to go back southward to finally see Long Meg and her Daughters, the stone circle we'd missed. It was a bit of a search, with a couple of stops to ask directions and a lot of wandering through picturesque villages, but we finally made it. It was worth the effort: a large stone circle, with Meg, a tall, narrow stone off to the side.

Then it was back to Carlisle where we had an Italian meal at Vivaldi, both opting for pasta with wine and hot chocolate cake for dessert. It was a good meal with the worst waitress we've ever had anywhere. I don't know what nationality she was - definitely not English or Italian; probably Scandinavian from her appearance. She didn't seem to understand a word we said and kept getting our order wrong, not even seeming to be aware of the dishes on the menu. But they changed the terrible music to some Vivaldi tape, as we requested, so we were happy.

Finally 'home' for the last time, with no harm done to the car. We filled the tank for $100 (!) and cleaned it up a bit for Peggy. I hope never to have to drive in England again.

Saturday we got a cab to the train station and got on our bus (the train tracks are having work done on them) to Edinburg. It was almost a 3 hour trip but with nice scenery, passing through pretty towns and lovely countryside. At the train station in Edinburgh we found a taxi and headed to our next exchange in the Stockbridge area of the city. Janet's friend Christine was there to greet us and show us the tiny apartment which is charming. We dumped our stuff and went for lunch at a nice Italian restaurant around the corner, the San Marco. David had the pasta with salmon while I had a Tuscan bean soup and a panino with tomatoes and red peppers. We headed into town where we wandered around a bit and got our train tickets to York and Heathrow. The rains finally caught up with us and we headed home for a light supper.

Sunday: Our first full day in Edinburg, a very chilly and gray day. We headed by bus to the National Gallery to see all the wonderful art: the Monets, Sisleys, Rembrants, Cezannes, and Raeburns. There were also a lot of beautiful pieces of furniture displayed in the museum.

We had a very ordinary lunch, with terrible service, in a rather touristy pub, the Deacon Brodie; he was the model for R.L.Stevenson's "Dr. Jeckel and Mr. Hyde". Afterwards we walked down the Royal Mile a bit, stopping at St. Giles Church, the church of John Knox during the Reformation, and seeing John Knox's house. Over on Princes Street, we checked out the extravagant Balmoral Hotel (in an unsuccessful search for the Int. Herald Tribune), the fanciest in town and discovered that they have a relatively reasonable lunch and also serve afternoon high tea. We'll be back!

We decided to walk home through New Town and tried a new route along beautiful George Street, seeing the two squares at either end, the Melville Square and Charlotte Square, surrounded by elegant Georgian buildings. This is a fancy street with lots of intriguing restaurants and hotels. We went past Moray Place with its lovely stone apartments buildings (Georgian? Edwardian?), built on a crescent surrounding it. There are many streets in Edinburgh like this: beautiful buildings curving in a 'crescent' with a gated park in the middle for the local inhabitants. Some are 3 story townhouses and some are apartments on three levels, but all are elegant.

Monday: Today we took the bus on an 'all day ticket' to Holyrood Palace. We were shocked to learn that a representative of the Queen was in town for 10 days and the palace was closed to tourists. We did visit the Queen's Gallery which was hosting a special exhibition of Italian art which was very nice. We headed back into town to a restaurant we'd seen in "Let's Go": The Grain Store on Victoria Street. We found it after walking up hills and down stairs and it was well worth the search. It was upstairs with stone ceilings and walls, small rooms nicely furnished with wooden tables; our room had a giant clock and heavy beams adding to the ambiance. Even the music was wonderful, starting out with classical and moving on to more contemporary jazz. Our waiter Paul served us the smoked salmon (for me) and the black pudding with apples (for David), both of which were outstanding. They were followed by David's duck confit with plums and my poached cod with fresh peas and lardons. We enjoyed a whole bottle (it's been a long time since we did that!) of chenin blanc with the meal, all of which was delicious. We followed up with bread and butter pudding, a bit dry until Paul brought us a little pitcher with more sauce. The menu was 10.50 for two courses, 14.50 for three. We enjoyed this restaurant more than any we've tried in such a long time and even planned to return. Paul gave us a few tips on other restaurants he was sure we would enjoy also.

After lunch we took another bus out to Craigmillar Castle, an interesting ruin from the 16th century and one of the many places associated with Mary Queen of Scots. We climbed around the tower and saw the bedrooms and kitchen and grand hall, all with great fireplaces. The rooms were posted with signs and pictures showing what they would have looked like, which added to our understanding. From the tower there were views of the Firth of Forth. Then a long ride home to the opposite end of Edinburgh on the upper deck of the bus, with great views all the way. The sun had finally come out and it was warming up at 5 PM! The best part of the day was arriving!

Tuesday: Another cold and gray morning but we set out to visit Dean Village. Edinburgh is an interesting city, with small villages that have been incorporated into the city over the years. To get to Dean Village we walked up the hill to Queensferry Road, then across the Dean Bridge, looking down over the bridge to the stream and village far below. We followed the steep, cobbled lane of Bell's Brae down and felt like we were entering a time and place of 200 years ago. The village was founded in the 12th century as a milling community; by 1700 there were 11 mills along the river. Now the hidden area is a residential place with one of the old mills converted into flats. We wandered along the river path about 1/4 mile to steep steps that took us back up to today! We found the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, housed in a beautiful neoclassical building. We toured the museum with works of Picasso, Braque, Moore, and so forth as well as many works by Robert Bevan, housed in rooms that evoked the rooms of his country mansion. Outside there are many sculptures in the beautiful grounds.

Then we took the #36 bus to Leith, for lunch at The Kitchin, recommended by Paul, our waiter at the Grain Store. We were disappointed with the interior; housed in an old warehouse, we had expected something more rustic than this modern, clean-lined dining room. But the food lived up to its reputation. There was a 'bouche amuse' of smoked eel in a beet soup, that was very different and intriguing, setting the tone for the meal. They also served several breads, all made in-house. Then I started with vegetables done in the 'Greek fashion', with a lemon sauce while David had the pork belly. Then we both had the beef which was perfect: a large portion, cooked to perfection as we each had requested, served with a bordelaise sauce and beautiful root vegetables. For dessert we each had the rhubarb/pistachio tart served with pistachio ice cream. Everything was delicious. At 21.50 pounds, it was a lot more than the Grain Store, so we each held to one glass of wine. The service was 'too - too', with the waiters constantly hovering, refolding the napkins when you left the table, and placing the napkins back on your lap when you returned. We're not fond of this frou-frou sort of thing.

After lunch we headed to our primary target in Leith, the Royal Britannia, the yacht of the royal family from 1953 until she was decommissioned in 1997. We spent about 1 1/2 hours touring the ship, which, as one might expect, is spacious and elegant. The royal quarters are sumptuously done: the queen and prince each have a separate bedroom and bath. Each also has an office/study. The queen would travel with 45 members of her household, five tons of luggage, and even a Rolls Royce! The informal sun room and the rear deck of Burmese teak for the family were for games and relaxing. There are also more formal reception rooms and a state dining room. The crew quarters are interesting to see, along with the kitchen, the laundry, and even the engine room. Quite a life!

Wednesday we took a bus to St. Andrew's. We thought it would be a 2 hour trip but it ended up as almost 3 hours, through many of the charming towns - Elie, Anstruthers, and so on - of the Kingdom of Fife, to arrive at perhaps the most charming, St. Andrew's. During the ride up the skies were gray and threatening but by the time we arrived the skies were blue and it was sunny. We were delighted! We had a quick lunch at a student hang-out: soup and a sandwich; then headed to B. Jannetta for their award-winning ice cream: a cone of Snickers for me and Chocolate/Peanut Butter for David. Yum.

Next it was time for the sites we had some to visit: we went to see the ruins of the Cathedral, once the largest in Scotland. It was founded in 1160 and was a point of pilgrimage until the Reformation when it was pillaged in 1559. We walked to the ruins of the Castle, set on the North Sea. It too is 12th century and was founded as the home for the bishop. The University, which dominates the town, was founded in 1410, the oldest in Scotland and third oldest in Great Britain. James I (James VI of Scotland) received part of his education here.

We walked further along, admiring the beautiful greystone homes built with a view of the sea, and finally came to the clubhouse of the Old Course, this most famous of all golf courses. We watched the foursomes teeing off at the first tee and others finishing off at the 18th. If you have any interest at all in golf, it's a thrill to be here.

We headed back to the bus station and waited for a bus to take us home. A long but very interesting day.

Thursday was again gray and we walked to the Dean Gallery, across from the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art where we had been the other day. Sadly the upstairs is undergoing refurbishments but we spent some time viewing the downstairs. The collection contains works by artists such as Max Ernst, Miro, Dali, Giacometti, Picasso, and much by the Edinburgh-born Sir Eduardo Paolozzi.

After seeing the museum, we decided it was time to take care of a few errands and chores . We shopped for food and a few other necessities, picked up something for lunch, came home and ate. There's a wonderful 'cheese monger' a couple of blocks from Janet's place - stopped in for some Stilton and Cheddar, both really good, and a loaf of country bread. We've also discovered a cookie at the local co-op store - their brand - chocolate chip with hazlenuts; I have to really control myself to limit myself to just two each evening. After lunch, did a load of laundry and some organizing for the next few days - I think we're set on what to do until Tuesday!

Again tonight, after a very grey day, the sun came out at 7 PM! All the spring flowers are in bloom here, so they obviously don't feel the cold that we do! There's a vine of flowers that look like dogwood, pink and white, just beautiful. Haven't been able to find out what it is yet.

Friday: Today was supposed to be the chilliest and perhaps rainiest day of the week, but it ended up being sunny and warm. Will never be ready for the weather that arrives in this country! Anyway, prepared for a dismal day, we set out for the Museum of Scotland. Being us, we arrived before it opened and crossed the street to Greyfriar's Kirk and its extensive and interesting cemetery. Here are buried John Grey, an Edinburgh police officer, and also his dog, Bobby, who guarded his master's grave for 14 years until his own death.

We found the Museum (all these museums are free), once we finally entered, to be fascinating. We started on the lowest floor, where there are wonderful exhibits of the formation of Scotland itself. Can you believe it - the land that is now Scotland was once SOUTH of the equator! The exhibits continue on to the first man in Scotland and to the Romans who introduced the first writing. We spent 2 hours and would have kept going except that David reminded me that we had planned to go to St. Giles for a concert at noon.

We rushed over to St. Giles and got there just in time for the hand-bell concert by a couple of charming Scots ladies. They played "Amazing Grace", "Morning Has Broken" (which was the tune of an old Scots melody), and many other familiar semi-religious tunes. When they played "It's a Gift to be Simple..." I remembered my kids singing that in the Elgin Community Childrens' Choir so many years ago. It was an hour well spent. We crossed the street to the St. Giles Cafe for a light lunch of soup, wine and dessert. The soup was 3.60, which seems inexpensive until one remembers that it's $7.20 in USD! Lunch was $56.

Afterwards we returned to the museum and went to the top floor where there is a rooftop observatory, with great views of the city, including the castle, and landscapes of the sort seen all over Scotland, from the highlands to the seaside.

Saturday: We had arranged to take a bus tour and were disappointed to wake up to a dismal day. We headed up to the Balmoral Hotel where we were picked up and headed off to Glasgow. There we stopped for only 20 minutes; David and I didn't feel we needed to rush around as we plan to go over for a day next week. We then drove on to Loch Lomond, the largest fresh water lake in Great Britain. While some of the tourists took a boat ride, we had an aperitif at a local pub in Balloch. We drove through beautiful scenery of the Trosswachs area, deep forests, heather covered mountains, and lonely valleys of sheep, stopping for lunch in Aberfoyle. We had a dreadful lunch of what seemed to be boiled hamburgers (if that's possible). We drove through the pretty village of Callander and passed the 14th century Doune Castle (from "Monty Python and the Holy Grail") and finally arrived at Stirling Castle. We toured the castle but weren't really impressed - have we seen too many castles? We returned to Edinburgh through Bannockburn, the scene of Robert The Bruce's famous victory over the English in 1314, and passing Linlithgow Palace, birthplace of Mary Queen of Scots in 1542. It was a long day; Ross dropped us off near Charlotte Square and we walked home for a light supper. We arrived home around 5 PM, and again it was the best time of the day with lots of blue sky and sun!

The drivers/guides on these tours are always a font of information. We learned that the mayor is called a Lord Provost; a 'strath' is a long wide valley while a 'glen' is a narrow valley. Loch Lomond is Great Britain's largest body of fresh water.

Sunday: We'd planned to visit the Botanical Gardens today, hoping for a sunny day. Well, much to our surprise, we GOT a sunny day! and we headed off to the gardens, within walking distance of our place in Stockbridge. The gardens are extensive and beautiful, especially at this time of year with so many things in bloom. The only problem we found was that the plants and trees were marked only with their Latin names; common names were rarely noted. When questioned, a garden representative stated that we would be surprised: most people would know the Latin names and we were under-rating the knowledge of the population. Well, we were surprised and even skeptical. So I undertook my own survey, asking people as we toured the gardens whether they knew the Latin names for the plants or even the common names. Out of twelve people questioned, only one said she knew some of the Latin names, although she was "a bit rusty". Most said they would appreciate the common names. I myself would be surprised if 50% of people should know the common names!

After an hour or two, we headed to Tempus (another Latin name!), next to the George Hotel on George Street for lunch. Last Sunday we had passed the restaurant and heard some live jazz, and we determined that we would return this Sunday for lunch. We spent 3 1/2 hours over a delicious meal (D - a whole sea bass, G - a crispy duck salad and tomato salad with Pinot Grigio - we'd both started with a butternut squash soup with parmesan - and then had apple/cranberry crumble and chocolate tart for dessert with an Irish coffee and a glass of rich red wine) listening to and thoroughly enjoying the 3-piece band (keyboard, bass, trumpet) and chanteuse regaling us with songs from the 40's - Cole Porter, Benny Goodman, and so on. We loved every minute!

Monday started out a bit iffy but turned into a beautiful day, although still a bit chilly. We headed by bus to Glasgow, about an hour trip. Once there, we walked to the 12th century cathedral dedicated to the town's patron saint, St. Mungo (made us remember the old Brooklyn Dodgers' pitcher Van Lingo Mungo!). Behind the church the cemetery with its massive vaults looms on a high hill, appearing like some bizarre apartment complex. Nextdoor is the Royal Infirmary, a building that looks like a castle. Also in the area is the Provand's Lordship, the oldest house in Glasgow, built in 1471. We then boarded a tour bus, a 'hop on, hop off' bus which would take us to all the sights. Our driver and guide were very amusing, doing songs and little dances and such.

Glasgow is a very industrialized city with many modern buildings. It's easy to miss the charm of the beautiful old brownstone buildings, with their intricate detail. But they are worth looking out for. The bus passed through the University district and Kelvingrove Park, with its tennis courts and bowling greens. We got off near the original Willow Tea Room, designed by Charles Rennie Mackintosh (1868-1928), Glasgow's most famous architect/artist/designer. His work reminded me of Frank Lloyd Wright. We had a nice lunch although we discovered this is the only one of the 4 tearooms that does not serve alcohol! David had haggis with neeps and taties (mashed potatoes and rutabagas); I had an English tea which was brought on a plateau - sandwiches of cucumber and cheese, salmon, ham, and egg salad on one layer, a scone with clotted cream and strawberry jam on another, and a rich chocolate layer cake on the final layer, all accompanied by a pot of tea.

Afterwards we 'hopped on' again, passing by the River Clyde where the old shipyards built the Queen Mary and many other famous ships. We went on to the Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum, housed in a magnificent building of brownstone with turrets and much decoration. It's a stunning building, inside and out. We toured many of the rooms showing the art collection, including Monet's "A View of Ventimiglia" which reminded us of home. Then we jumped back on the tour bus to return to the bus station and our trip back to Edinburgh.

Tuesday: Another beautiful day! We took the bus to Cramond, one of the ancient villages that have been incorporated into Edinburgh. This charming place, first started as a mill town, looks like an old fishing village with quaint white-washed buildings lining the River Almond which opens to the Firth of Forth. We took a nice slow walk along the river and then returned to the village for a wonderful lunch at the Cramond Inn, an ancient looking pub. David had the steak and ale pie while I had bangers and mash. For dessert we split a 'sticky toffee pudding'. Everything was outstanding.

Then we walked up to Lauriston Castle, not a very old castle but lovely with very pleasant grounds, and even a Japanese garden. The views out to the Firth are beautiful. Finally home on the bus.

Wednesday: Again, a nice day. We took the bus to Duddingston, another of the ancient villages that are part of Edinburgh. This one is just beneath the slopes of Arthur's Seat, an old volcano in the middle of town! What other major city has such a thing? Anyway, although Bronze Age remains have been found here, there were none on display. The village was also a mill town where they made a heavy linen cloth called 'Duddington hardings'. We did see the Cottage where Bonnie Prince Charlie held his Council of War in 1745 before the Battle of Prestopans, and the 12th century parish church. Outside the gates to the church there is a Loupin-On Stane which heavy-set people could climb to mount their horses. Nearby is the Sheep Heid Inn, probably the oldest inn in Edinburgh (and maybe even Scotland) with a license dating from 1360. The present building is only a few hundred years old but is very welcoming with its low ceilings and thousands of treasures such as old mugs, pictures, and such. We're told it was a hangout for R.L. Stevenson and Sir Walter Scott. We had an aperitif and enjoyed the ambiance.

We walked partway around Arthur's Seat and then took a bus back to the center of town. For lunch we headed to the Balmoral Hotel. One of their restaurants, the Hadrian, has a special deal for lunch, 14.50 for 2 courses. David started with cream of tomato soup with shrimp; we both had the amazingly tender oxtail with root vegetables for the main course, and I had the chocolate chip/orange cheesecake for dessert. We shared a nice half-bottle of Fleurie (Lucien Lardy 2006) which was lovely with the oxtail.

Edinburgh is such a beautiful city. The castle looms on a promontory, high over the main street, Princes Street, across a deep green where people sun and picnic on the nicer days. The Mound, just east of the castle, has beautiful buildings soaring high. It's tricky to walk around, much up and down and stairways, with funny little streets. It's a bit brooding with all the dark gray stone. The temperatures are rather chilly and we can't get over how many people are going around with open-toed sandals and just a light jacket! One thing we've really noticed is how much longer the days are here. Sunrise today was 4:47 and sunset at 9:34. Compare this to Evanston with sunrise at 5:23 and sunset at 8:13 or Nice with 5:58 and 8:58. Edinburgh has more than 16 1/2 hours of daylight while Evanston has 14 3/4. Almost two hours more. Amazing.

Thursday we returned to the Scottish National Museum this morning, as we had covered only one floor the other day. We covered another 1 1/2 floors of the history of Scotland, which was interesting. There was a lot of information on St. Andrew, the patron saint of Scotland. He carried the cross that is now the symbol of Scotland and appears on their flag. Then back to The Grain Store for another lovely lunch. We had the same entrees - smoked salmon for me and black pudding for David; then stuffed chicken leg for David and tagliatelle with asparagus, mushrooms, and rocket for me. For dessert David again had the bread and butter pudding while I had the tart lemon tart. With a full bottle of wine, again, we were in heaven.

This evening we went to a local pub we'd read about, The Antiquary on St. Stephen Street, just a couple of blocks from us in Stockbridge. Thurday evenings they have folk music sessions, so we headed over there, hoping a few musicians would show up. About 30 did! There were more than 15 fiddlers, several guitarists, a drummer, a harpist, a bag-piper, a mandolinist, several pipers including a couple of Irish penny whistle players, and an accordianist. We stayed for 3 hours and loved every minute. They were still singing and playing when we left. Perhaps the highlight of the whole 3 weeks!

Friday: Our last day in Edinbrrrrrra. Finally we got to visit Holyrood Palace, home of the Queen when she visits Scotland. This is also where Mary, Queen of Scots, lived when she was queen. We visited the newer State Rooms, where the present Queen entertains dignitaries and also the quarters of Mary, QoS, in the older section of the building. Afterwards we saw the old Abbey, founded in 1128, now in ruins, and the beautiful gardens. Holyrood is situated near Arthur's Seat, a dramatic setting. Across the way is the ugly new Parliament Building.

We had lunch at Cafe Rouge, which we didn't know is a chain. A very ordinary lunch. We'll have to count yesterday's lunch as our big 'farewell' to Edinburgh. $90 for David's lamb shanks and my sanglier sausage (with mashed potatoes loaded with cilantro!), plus very average desserts. Oh, well. Then home to pack.

Saturday: The cab was to pick us up at 8:30 and off to the train station for our 10:05 train to York. On the train we sat next to three gals and a fellow from Glasgow - the gals were dressed in black with shocking pink tutus. They were all on their way to Newcastle for a friend's birthday party, drinking and having a ball all the way. It was a lot quieter when they got off!

We arrived safely in York and had to wait a while for a cab to our hotel, the Ramada Encore, which was in a very good location, although an ugly hotel. We settled in and then went out to find some lunch; we chose a place along the River Ouse and sat outside on a lovely warm day. Lunch -- again I ordered a hamburger and again it was terrible. Will I never learn. We then set out to explore the town and headed over towards the Minster. We passed a square where there were many teams of dancers from all over the world doing some special sword dance; apparently these teams had traveled all the way here for a weekend of dancing.

We found the Minster and entered (9 pounds for the 2 of us!). It's huge - the largest medieval Gothic cathedral in Northern Europe - and impressive, but not that different from others we've seen. It's a cathedral because it's where the bishop has his 'seat'; it's a minster because it was founded as a missionary church. The first Minster in York was built in 627 AD.

Afterwards we strolled more around the town, seeing the tower that is the only part of the castle remaining; and The Shambles, a very narrow street of interesting shops, the buildings leaning in towards each other. We stopped at one of the many ancient pubs for a drink and went back to the hotel for the night.

Sunday we slept in and then went to meet Amanda Peck, an old friend from Nice and Penny Lloyd's cousin, at the Minster. While we were walking through the narrow streets she found us! She had made a reservation at a Cafe Rouge (oh, well, what could we say?) where we went for lunch. Terrible service and food that seemed to have sat out for a long time. But great conversation, catching up on the several years since we had seen her.

Afterwards David headed for the Train Museum and Amanda and I set out to find the Quilt Museum. We never did, but we had a good time checking out the shops and chatting some more. We got her back to the train station for her trip home and David and I went out for supper at a wonderful Italian place, L'Anttica Locanda, for a bowl of outstanding minestrone and a limoncello dessert. A perfect meal.

Monday we took the train to King's Cross in London where we were to pick up the Piccadilly Line to the airport. We boarded the subway but it went only a few stops and stopped. We were told to find another means of transportation: there were problems at Acton Town. WE dragged our luggage (with a lot of help from strong young men) up and down stairs to board the train to Paddington Station. When we finally got there, we first went to the toilets and then to a fancy lunch in the Hilton. We were exhausted. We tried to take a train to the airport, but were told the Piccadilly Line was working again, so back we went, up and down stairs, and finally got back on the tube. But it didn't stop at our stop; we got off the stop before and took a cab to the hotel. After 5 hours, we finally arrived. Tuesday morning we took a cab to Heathrow, boarded our plane, and took the 8 hour flight back to the States. My seat partner, Sara, was a charming young lady who works for GE and is studying Mandarin! We talked most of the way.

Reed picked us up and delivered us home. We're so happy to be here!

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