About Me

I am a 45 year husband and dad, currently adjusting to life back in the United States after living in Italy for a little over two years. I love spending time with my family, cycling, model railroading, mosaics and watching TV and movies.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Scot Rail to Edinburgh

This morning we enjoyed one more Scottish breakfast, check out and headed to the train station.  

Strathness House, our home for the last three nights.

Katrina stops along the way to take more pictures.

Our train ride to Edinburgh took about 3 1/2 hours, through fantastic countryside and scenery.  We even crossed the Firth of Fourth Bridge, which made Brandon very happy.  He's had a favorite bridge book since he was a little boy and this bridge is one of the highlights of the book.  

Once in Edinburgh, we took a taxi to our home for the next two nights, the Gil Dunn Guest House.

Our room, with Brandon already crashed on the his bed.  

View from our room - the guest house is located in a regular Edinburgh neighborhood.  

Edinburgh is the historical and cultural capital of Scotland.  It was once a medieval powerhouse and was the hometown of Robert Louis Stevenson, Sir Walter Scott and Robert Burns.  Edinburgh was once the most crowded city in all of Europe.  In the Age of Enlightenment, a Georgian city was laid out to its north, now todays new town.  The new Georgian area of town celebrated the union of Scotland and England.  For the past several centuries, Scotland was ruled from London.  But in 1998, the Scots voted to gain more autonomy, and brought their Parliament back to Edinburgh.  Today their are many references to the 'nation' of Scotland and there is an upcoming decision on whether or not Scots want total autonomy from England. 

We decided to take a City Sightseeing tour first, to get an idea of the general layout of Edinburgh.  

Edinburgh Castle

Another side of Edinburgh Castle

Brandon listens to the audio commentary through headphones.  

Sir Walter Scott Monument, built in 1840, honors the author.  You can climb its 287 steps for a city view.  

Palace of Holyroodhouse.  This is located at the end of what is known as the Royal Mile, a mile long street from Edinburgh Castle down to the palace.  It is normally open for public tours, but during our visit there were  royal family members in town, so it was closed.  

Arthur's Seat.  You can hike up the 822 foot remains of an extinct volcano.  The trail is famous for a running scene in the movie Chariots of Fire.  

Once we had ridden the entire loop of the City Sightseeing route, we hopped off at the train station and walked up to the Royal Mile, stopping for an early dinner at a fabulous Thai restaurant - one of the best meals of the trip!

The train station.  

St. Giles' Cathedral, Scotland's most important church.  It's ornate spire, the Scottish crown steeple from 1495, is a proud part of Edinburgh.  

The Royal Mile - its actually 200 yards longer than a mile - runs from Edinburgh Castle down to the Royal Palace.  

Looking down the Royal Mile

After wandering this area for awhile, we realized we were tired and ready to head to our room for the night.  

Tomorrow we will visit Dynamic Earth, a museum near the palace, and Edinburgh Castle.  

Monday, May 30, 2011

Culloden Battlefield and Cawdor Castle

We enjoyed another Scottish breakfast in our hotel this morning - eggs, bacon, sausage, potato scones, black pudding (didn't eat this - click on the link if you don't know what it is!), cereals, fruit, yogurts, toast, teas, and juices.  Its a pretty hearty breakfast.  

After filling up for the morning, we headed into town to catch a bus to Culloden Battlefield.  The Battle of Culloden, on April 16, 1746, marks the end of the power of the Scottish Highland clans and the start of years of repression of Scottish culture by the English.  It was the culmination of a year's worth of battles.  At the center of it all was Bonnie Prince Charlie.  

On this field Jacobite troops under Bonnie Prince Charlie were defeated by supporters of the Hanover dynasty.  This battle marked the end of Jacobite resistance and the beginning of the clans fall from power. From then on, clan chiefs were desposed; kilts, tartans and bagpipes became illegal and farmers were cleared from their ancestral lands.   

Brandon listens to narration from a hand held GPS tour guide.  As we walked the paths of the battlefield, we could listen and learn about the battle.

Many of these grave markers can be found in the field.  Entire clans fought, died and were buried together. 

This cottage was used as a makeshift hospital during the conflict.

Inside the Visitor's Center is a large display of artifacts, history and even a 360 degree movie that puts you at the center of the battle.

Brandon tries out one of the muskets used in the battle.

He also tried out a sword and shield.  The real soldiers would have also had a short bladed knife in their shield hand, but that was too much for Brandon to hold.  

This was an impressive place to visit.  This battle, had it gone the other way, could have changed the outcomes of the Seven Years War with France which could have led to a very different outcome for the American Revolution.

Our next destination was Cawdor Castle, a few miles down the road.  We had to catch another bus to get there.

Brandon shows off some moves while we wait for the bus.  What moves are they?  We are not sure...he's 10 years old, that explains it all.  

Cawdor Castle is the residence of the Dowager (widow) Countess of Cawdor, an aristocratic branch of the Campbell family.  The castle's claim to fame is its connection to Shakespeare's MacBeth, in which the three witches correctly predict that the protagonist will be granted the title "Thane of Cawdor".  There is no real direct connection, since MacBeth took place 300 years before this castle was built.  

We had to walk up a beautiful country lane to get to the castle.

No pictures are allowed inside the castle.  It is the home of the Countess, who moves to another residence in the summer.  We are pretty sure that opening up the castle in the summer helps pay for its upkeep.  

We had lunch in the cafe before touring the castle.  

Inside the castle you can see a tapestry bedroom, tartan hallways, antique artwork and modern art side by side.  

The gardens around the castle are fantastic.  

At one end of the gardens is a network of trails that pass through the forest.  Brandon wanted to hike the short trail loop, so off we went.  The forest is very similar to the Pacific Northwest, thick with ferns, rhododendrons, and even some redwood trees.  

Old wagon display next to the ice cream stand where we had a fun snack.  

Walking back to the bus stop we realized we had over 45 minutes before it would arrive, so we popped into a little tea room in Cawdor and enjoyed a drink and cookies.

This evening my feet were really hurting from my shoes.  My normal pair of shoes got soaked on the day we left for Scotland, so I wore a different pair.  These shoes have proven to not be very comfortable for lots of walking.  I decided to take a break in the hotel room.  Brandon and Katrina took a walk down the river so that Brandon could view the second suspension bridge in Inverness.  

River Ness - photo by Katrina

Church across the street from our hotel - photo by Katrina

All of these pictures of the bridge and river are from Brandon and Katrina's walk - photos by Katrina.

We hung out in the room for awhile, then headed around the corner for dinner at a Mexican restaurant.  It was good, but we have found that great Mexican food just does not exist in Europe.  

Tomorrow morning we will catch the train to Edinburgh.