Posted by: Kelly | May 31, 2010

Glasgow – Day 2

It’s Day 14 and despite the aches and pains that come from 2 weeks on unfamiliar beds, hours in the car, hiking and slip and sliding down hills we set out to enjoy our last full day in Scotland.  We begin with a jaunt to the bus stop only to be told the bus doesn’t go where we want to go. So we walk up to the Glasgow Cathedral, stopping along the way for breakfast. It’s a full Scottish breakfast in a tiny cafe and I’ve never really understood beans for breakfast. But the coffee is good and we have a nice break before moving on.

Just a few miles from our hostel is the Glasgow Cathedral and Necropalis.  It’s stunning. The day is beautiful. And I have no proof of this because while I carried my camera everywhere, I forgot my memory card. Doh.

However, it was beautiful.

The land for the necropolis was bought in 1650 and in 1804 the area became a Victorian park and arboretum.  The site has some amazing architecture, including the John Knox monument which was laid in 1825.  At that time it was called Fir Park, because of the fir trees that had once filled the park.

“The Fir Park appears admirably adapted for a Pere la Chaise, which would harmonise beautifully with the adjacent scenery, and constitute a solemn and appropriate appendage to the venerable structure (the Cathedral) in front of which, while it will afford a much wanted accommodation to the higher classes, would at the same time convert an unproductive property into a general and lucrative source of profit, to a charitable institution” it was to be “respectful to the dead, safe and sanitary to the living, dedicated to the Genius of Memory and to extend religious and moral feeling”

-“Thoughts on Death and Moral Stimulus” John Strang, Chamberlain at the Merchants’ House, 1831

So the city began the transformation and to date 50,00o buriels have taken place on the Necropolis and 3,500 tombs have been constructed up to 14 feet deep.

Here are Georgia’s photos of the Necropolis:

Below the Necropolis, in the square, is the Cathedral:

And what’s a church without a Bible?

As we made our way back to the hostel we stopped for tchotchke where I picked up Walker cookies for the co-workers, sheep magnets for friends, shot glasses and contemplated the world’s tiniest bottle of Scotch. Let’s just say a few dozen of those would fill a shot glass halfway.

I dropped off the last of my postcards in Glasgow and after (another) trip to Lush went back to the hostel.  Melissa decided to bank some sleep since we were planning to wake up at 3am and while I would attempt sleep later she and Georgia were staying up all night.  I used up the last of my internet access and contemplated another wonderful ginger beer.

Since I’d paid for 24-hours of wireless service and that time was quickly running out, I opted to lounge down at the Oasis bar at the hostel where my signal was a hundred times better than in our room.  I listened to music, worked online, watched the Manchester United game and had a drink before dinner. We went out for an early dinner and it took 3 tries to find a place that was a) serving food and b) had food in the kitchen. I don’t remember much about the dinner, but I did have another haggis meal because when in Scotland…

Back upstairs I managed to repack my suitcase and bags, a feat only possible now that I’d thrown away a whole bunch of crap and then went to sleep obscenely early.

Next up: there’s a 3 AM? and 30 hours to SFO

Posted by: Kelly | April 14, 2010

Art, Tea & Indian food

Turns out there’s a bit of a difference between train stations:  Pollockshaws and Pollockshields. Luckily the helpful Scottish come through again and we’re directed to the correct train heading to the Burrell Collection.

The collection was a gift to the city from Sir William Burrell in 1944. The collection includes Egyptian, Chinese and Islamic art including stained glass, tapestries, furniture, weapons, armor and modern sculptures.

The artwork is stunning and we’re lucky to get photos indoors.

We return to Glasgow proper and decide to stop for high tea at the Willow Tea Room. The tea, and the food, is wonderful and we take some time to walk about the city.  After the first of many trips to Lush, we find an unexpected friend is now modeling in Scotland.

Back at the hostel we go up  to our room on the 9th floor (which becomes a problem very shortly) and figure out the wireless situation.  After resting up we decide to pull the trigger on our dinner plan: Indian Food.

Because Melissa is not exactly ambulatory we choose a restaurant and order take-away via Skype.  Almost the minute the call is over the fire alarm sounds. Georgia and I are still getting our things together to pick up dinner and Georgia repeats again and again “there’s no fire!”

Another few minutes pass and the alarm changes, shrieking now so loud we can barely talk.  So we hustle down 9 flights of stairs and outside to find the entire building has vacated and the fire department is on scene.

Melissa hangs around while Georgia and I head to Candlebriggs Street to retrieve dinner. Unfortunately the stairs plus the strain of driving leaves me in a not unsubstantial amount of pain and I end up consuming more rum than naan for dinner.

Next up: Our last Day.

Posted by: Kelly | April 13, 2010

Blue Ghost Brunch

Waking up on Day 13 is wonderful. The four post bed was damn comfortable, Melissa’s bruises are healing (slowly) and we’re finally enjoying a bed and breakfast.  We’re up at 8am and packed the car before 9am when Lady Lydia (who is German, not Scottish) prepares us breakfast.

It’s a feast. And served in the weirdest “dining room” I’ve seen. Check out the other random pictures by Lydia:

Last night when Lydia asked us what we wanted, “bacon, sausage, eggs, hashbrowns, yogurt, juice, coffee, fruit…” we said “yes.”  It’s quite a lot of food and we enjoy it while discussing the castle in general.  When Lydia comes to check on us she asks, a bit coy,

“Did you see the White Lady?”

Apparently we’re venturing into the ‘haunted castle’ portion of the morning so I joke that we are ALL white ladies. No, no, apparently an early castle inhabitant was a bad woman, killing peasants (Georgia noted that was par for the course). The queen had this woman imprisoned in the dungeon where her husband starved her to death. Now haunting the castle as a “friendly” ghost and appearing as a white apparition or series of blue lights, the White Lady is visible to small children and likes to tuck in the guests.

Nice to know.

I’ve also managed to snoop around a bit in the other rooms, including a bathroom with an honest to god claw foot tub:

After enjoying a leisurely (not pastry & juice) breakfast we pack the rest of our bags in the car and I snap a few pictures of the beautiful gardens.

Melissa decides now is an appropriate time to visit the dungeon and we leave her to it.  Now that we know how to use the GPS we program in the Glasgow hostel and we’re on the road.

In a little under 2 hours I drive into Glasgow, we check into the hostel and leave Melissa there, fill up the car with gas, return the car and walk back to the hostel.

We’re still full from breakfast feasting so we walk down to Glasgow Central Station and buy our train tickets out of the city center to the Burrell Collection.

Next: Glasgow

Posted by: Kelly | April 8, 2010

White Lady’s Castle

The evening of Day 12 is, shall we say, difficult.  Melissa is black and blue all over and we’re now staying in an authentic 16-th century Scottish castle. Run by Germans.

Seriously, Lady Lydia and Sven are as German as they come, don’t offer to carry our luggage up the two spiral staircases but do prepare a mean evening tea! We limp upstairs and spread out in the Master Suite.  The room is… unique. There are the most random paintings all over the walls, a crazy VHS collection, tartan everywhere and bright pink bedding.


Of course I’m distracted by all this because as soon as we link into the wireless (always Georgia’s first question) I find out British Airways has canceled my flights on Sunday. They’re in the second worker’s strike in as many weeks and I am NOT happy.  So I borrow Georgia’s Skype to call the information hotline where we get things sorted out after a very tense half hour. I decline to offer to spend 14 hours at LAX and finally accept a plan that puts me on four flights instead of two, nearly doubles my flying/waiting time but bumps me up to first class for the Transatlantic flight.

Now that that’s done with we head out to an early dinner since Sven has informed us the restaurants close up early. Dinner is unremarkable. The climb back up the stairs is a pain in the knee.

We decide to repack our suitcases now that we have some space to spread out and no roommates. While rotating time in the lovely bathtub we watch episodes of Blackadder on VHS.

Posted by: Kelly | April 6, 2010

One Day Bust

On Day 12 we’re up and leaving the hostel earlyish, heading into Oban to the Pancake House we saw last night. And it’s closed. On a Thursday at 9:30 in the morning.

We head down the coast through Kilmartin Glen, stopping at a museum for the sole purpose of coffee and pastries to fortify our journey.  We get a map obviously drawn by a fifth grader showing the sites. According to the gift shop lady it’s very easy to see, right off the main road and has close parking.

She’s a lying liar.

We find one small set of standing stones which are less than impressive. Especially since Melissa and I spot a sheep uh, getting familiar, with one of the shorter stones. Baaaaa.

We drive on, going up and down roads, unsure where these monuments seem to be.  Finally after a bit of searching we find a site of a fort.  It’s raining. I’m cold and we JUST discovered the car has GPS. I wimp out and tell Melissa & Georgia to go ahead and hike while I stay in the (warm) car and fiddle with the GPS.

After that’s done I start to wonder what’s taking so long. Is it just so pretty I’ll be obliged to climb up myself? No.

Turns out the fort is a ways up the hill. On slippery grass and grounds. Which hate Melissa.

She falls approximately two dozen times, turning both ankles and folding her leg back.  It’s not pretty. Good thing I’m up to driving because we decide to leave  behind the historic sites and make our way down to Glourosh and our promised room at Castle Levan.

Despite the dodgy part of town we have to drive through (yay GPS!) we find the Castle is decent. It’s in the middle of a quiet suburb so that’s a little weird.

But all things considered it’s pretty good that we only had one day bust considering how many things could go wrong.

Next up: White (lady) Castle.

Posted by: Kelly | April 4, 2010


Day 10 continues with our return to Ullapool. Our next destination is the Isle of Skye but we need to get back to the mainland first.  So we board another ferry and head east to Ullapool.  We dock a few hours later and make the trek out of Ullapool down to Kyle of Lochelsh.  It’s a relatively easy drive, there are two lanes (!) and enough sunlight for us to find our way south.  After a nice drive we arrive at Kyle and cross the Syke Bridge to our hostel on the Island of Skye: Saucy Mary’s Lodge.

After settling in we go out for dinner, including haggis, and then back to the hostel to hand off our laundry to the staff.

We wake up late on Day 11 and it’s 9:15 before we’re out looking for breakfast. We discovered the wonders of Tesco on Orkney and find their pastries worth every pence.  After stocking up on breakfast, drinks and snack food (for about 5 pounds each) we head north up the island of Skye to Portee. We do the long loop around the island stopping at Kilt Rock and find this great waterfall:

Further north we get a few shots of the island, a mix of small coastal communities, sheep and beautiful cliffs like the Old Man of Storr.

Back to Kyle, we pick up lunch and head to Eileen Dunnan Castle cross the bridge.

We decide to do the self guided for 5 pounds and get a few more shots of the loch.

There’s no photography allowed inside the castle but the grounds are beautiful. After this brief stop we continue south, stopping at Glenelg then Glencoe.

Darkness is falling when we head down to Oban but I did manage to get a few shots of the sunset over the Loch.

It’s late when we get into Oban and we’re in a small room overlooking the bay. We go out for dinner and then I head back for bed while Melissa and Georgia share a bottle of wine.  I don’t really know the details the night ends with Melissa falling into the bay.

There’s no photography allowed inside the castle but the grounds are beautiful. After this brief stop we continue south, stopping at Glenelg then Glencoe.
Posted by: Kelly | March 28, 2010

THE Standing Stones and we get FLEECED

On day 10 we’re up early and out of the hostel with our cab driver from last night. He appears to be in his 80s, has lived on the island his entire life, and loves to point out things we are passing. The castle ruins. The bones of a whale and the harpoon that killed it. The YMCA. A supermarket. The television tower. A newly constructed house.

We reach the stones quickly enough but the standing stones the visitor center is closed for the season so we are unable to call another cab back to pick us up.

My personal favorite shot of the morning:

After seeing the stones and taking lots of pictures we returning to the cab and ask to take the road back to Stornoway. The cab driver is pretty insistent that we take the route past the black houses because they have thatched roofs! Thatched roofs! We mention the meter and that we’d just like to get back. The cabbie says it isn’t a longer road…. much.  Against our judgement he turns the cab round “for your own good!” and takes us the long way. And I do mean the long way.

It’s a small island but oh boy were we fleeced!

Back at the hostel we find the power is off on this side of town so we leave behind some luggage and go out.  We split up for awhile and I was able to do some shopping. There were a few little thrift stores I wanted to see and in the second one I found a nice warm green vest. Also a very funny children’s book on the adventures of Super Gran! Heh. I’m looking forward to reading about the world’s favorite senior citizen on her adventures in the circus.

From there I walked round until I found a little souvenier shop. They had so many cute things I wanted to spend more pounds than I had on me! I reminded myself that there is limited room in my luggage and even adorable souveniers are too expensive when they’re shipped back to California.

So I found hand purses that are both adorable and squishable.

I stayed in the shop for probably a half hour longer talking to the shop girl and another customer who happened to be from Washington State. We talked on a variety of subjects, laughing like old friends. I was reluctant to venture back out into the cold as it was plenty windy, cold and the power is still out in much of the town. After a bit of adventuring, checking out a few pubs the bartend on the ferry recommended to me, I settled at a cafe that seemed to have a little power. Enough to light up the sweets display at least.

After coffee to warm myself up I went back to the hostel until meeting Georgia and Melissa to board the ferry. Next up: our last ferry ride (!) and finding saucy mary.

Posted by: Kelly | March 27, 2010

Skara Brae, Stromness, Scrabster, Sheep & Stornoway

Our first stop is Tesco, Scotland’s Wal-Mart, which offers amazing pastries and drinks for a very affordable rate. We venture on to St. Magnus Cathedral in the heart of Kirkwall.

From there we go west to Skara Brae where we had previously (and rudely) been denied access. This time it’s open, we pay our 5 pounds and go out to the site.

There’s no other way to say it: it’s cold. It’s raining. Umbrellas are failing against the wind off the coast.

We quickly snap pictures, not even enjoying the fact we’re the only tourists on site.  Then we huddle futilely in a small shack which has an impressive 3-D rendering of the site and a very friendly guide. She tells us about the homes which were all built underground with just the thatched roof above ground, uncovered by a storm in 1976.

The site is 5,000 years old and no metal tools of any kind were found.  The homes follow a predictable pattern: fire pit in the center, women and their beads on the left, men sleeping on the right, a dressing center straight across from the doorway.  Within the small sleeping areas the people would cut out small shelves for their things, and meat or fish was hung from the roof and smoked above the fire.

It’s a beautiful sight and quite a find.

On our way back to the visitor’s center we find the reconstructed hut that has been built to show how it would have looked in 3,000 BC. It’s dark and Melissa and I are using our camera flash for light and I end up (accidentally) taking a few pictures.

After our trip to Skara Brae we go back to Stromness where we catch the ferry back to Scrabster. This has definitely been one of my favorite stops. The islands are just so damn beautiful. I can only imagine how the islands look in the summer without all the rain and wind. Oh the wind!

Another 90 minute trip and we’re back on the mainland and heading to Ullapool.  It’s a bit of an adventure as we have exactly 5 hours to make it to Ullapool and the trip is a little over 3 hours.

Wrong turns, sheep in the road, logging trucks and road work conspire against us and we make it to Ullapool with just an hour to spare.  At one point we’re told the road is closed for 20-30 minutes and turning back will only make the journey longer. We theorize our horror and despair was apparent because we’re allowed to go after just 5 minutes, the first ones cross the newly laid road.

The sheep in search of grass think it’s greener on the other side of the road and frequently impede our progress.

The scenery is beautiful even if the roads are terrible (mostly one lane with turnouts).

The land here is a national park and mainly uninhabited.  We drive down the length of one loch and run across a handful of quaint little towns. Unfortunately, because of the time crunch, we’re unable to stop.

We park the car in Ullapool and hussle down to the ferry, buying our tickets quickly.  Since we knew in Kirkwall we’d be leaving the car behind we’ve consolidated luggage to backpacks only so we don’t need to haul much when we’re on foot.

Interesting enough, once we’re out of the Bay you cannot see Lewis to the East. It’s a little like sailing ‘off into the sunset’ and I brave the wind and rain and slippery deck to snap a few pictures.

and I had to do the first one in black & white

We dock nearly 3 hours later and depart into Stornoway. A man from the ferry snags us a cab and we’re off to dinner at the Royal Hotel.  I really enjoyed my mussel and salmon dish with cidar. It’s not cheap but we’ve had a low budget breakfast and lunch today.

After dinner we venture down the street to the hostel, another nice one. It’s even got a big bathtub in the en suite bathroom and we spend a few hours chatting with our roommate who is spending a semester interning at Scottish Parliament in Edinburgh. She’s originally from Oregon by way of California so we find a lot to talk about.

Tomorrow morning our plan is to get out early to see the Callanish standing stones and enjoy a few hours in Stornoway before our ferry departs.

Posted by: Kelly | March 25, 2010

Orkney Island

It’s already Day 8 and we’re over halfway through this holiday. After leaving the Inverness hostel as quickly as possible Melissa and Georgia fetched the car while I stayed with the luggage nest and ordered us a quick breakfast from McDonalds.  It’s pretty much the same in Scotland and the prices are actually better!

I’m driving again and we head north, reaching Thurso in record time. It helps that there is no one on the road and we can go 50 here.  Once we locate the ferry terminal we decide to take a detour up to Dunnet head. It’s beautiful. There are great views of the cliffs, the ferry we’re taking to Orkney, the most miserable looking cat I’ve ever seen, and the northern most point in the United Kingdom.  We turn back to Scrabster and finalize the ferry arrangements.

Our ferry is, in a word, exquisite. The car is parked below and we’re up on one of the decks that’s furnished and ornate. There’s a restaurant, gift shop, bar and a variety of sitting arrangements.

When we arrive on the main island of the Orkney Islands we stop for lunch at a local hotel. We’ve been given directions and maps by a very nice man who directs the cars departing the ferry. A woman at the information center is similarly very helpful.

After some research on the Lewis ferry we plan on taking tomorrow we head around the island.  First up is the Stennis Standing Stones. They’re… small. There’s just a few left but the photography opportunity is one I cannot pass up.  I’m even grateful for the clouds and bit of rain because it makes for some dramatic shots.

Melissa and I decide to measure the shortest stone using our heights as a guide. I’m 5’8″ so you can see some of the stones are quite short.

We go up the road a short way to the Ring of Broder which is both more complete and bigger. The stones here vary in sizes and it’s quite cold up on the slight hill.

Georgia is definitely in her happy place:

but when we find a non-standing stone we decide to reenact ritual sacrifices:
Thankfully Melissa fights for her life and wins:

Next up is Skara Brae, Britian’s Pompeii and a village over 5,000 years old.  Unfortunately we arrive 35 minutes before closing and the sentinal at the door informs us they only permit visitors 45 minutes before closing. Grrr. So we turn round and make way to the far end of the island, nearly to Hoy, and the Italian chapel built by prisoners of war in 1939.

We arrive with just enough daylight to take a few pictures of the statute:

the building,

and the interior.

The paintings on the ceiling are a site to behold:

After the chapel we found our room at Kirkwall, one of the nicest hostels thus far.

Posted by: Kelly | March 23, 2010

the Road to Inverness

In order to leave Aberdeen on Day 7 we pick up our rental car and then our luggage before heading out of Aberdeen and heading north. On the advice of the museum docent from Edinburgh we head up to Pennan.  It’s a beautiful drive and we stop a few times to take in the scenery.

After lunch Melissa takes the wheel.  Driving on the left is a bit of a challenge after 10 years of driving on the right side but we manage.  I do not envy Melissa the “narrow, winding road” down to the fishing village of Pennan where we’ve been promised an amazing view of the sea.  We are not disappointed.

It’s a small town and primarily serves tourists.

The road winds west to our next destination: Inverness

We’re not disappointed about missing most of the tourist crazies at Loch Ness as we’ve arrived at nearly dusk.  The drive along the Loch is beautiful and we stop shortly at Urchart Castle which is, unfortunately, closed for tours.  From the viewpoint up the hill we get some shots:

After leaving the Loch we stopped at a nice restaurant in the hub of the town. It had every reason to be overpriced, terrible food and with poor service. Instead the atmosphere was quiet and lovely, the prices reasonable and the food of the highest quality. I made a last minute switch to the gnocchi with mushrooms and a cheese sauce and I was NOT disappointed. Melissa (now relieved from driving duties) had the whiskey taster, fish & chips and Georgia enjoyed the house soup.

It’s now that our journey took it’s first… let’s say speedbump. After locating the hostel in Inverness we had a few concerns. When showing us the room the desk clerk stopped for a bucket and mop.  Didn’t realize we’d booked a loch side room. The “do not use” sign was back on the sink (the water culprit) and we soon climbed into lumpy, nasty beds. Ick.

At this point I was also surrounded by drying laundry as I’d used the sink to wash about half my clothes.  In the morning about half of those were actually dry. Goodie.

For obvious reasons we were up *early* and on the road north to Thurso.

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