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20 August 2014 @ 08:57 pm
The Trip To Europe - Part 3 - Scotland and Wales  
As I stated in PART 1 - ITALY, and PART 2 - AUSTRIA & GERMANY, it may be helpful if you follow along with the photographs. The link is here, and it should open in a new window. Enjoy!

Mon., July 14 – Travel Day Munich to Edinburgh
Today was a travel day. The way we scheduled things, we expected no problems with timing across the day. We started out by heading towards the local bakery to get food for both breakfast, as well as lunch while traveling. We left for the bus about a half an hour before we planned originally. Hey, more time means less rush. It was a good thing we did. I apparently had switched the endpoints on Google Maps, and had us going to our bus that was on a one-way street going the wrong direction. Oops. That was alright, though. We had left ourselves so much time, and we were already almost halfway to the train station, that we just decided to walk the rest of the way there. So hey, we got our exercise in for the day, which we otherwise would not have had today.

We got our train tickets out to the airport, and started to find our train itself. We followed a maze of escalators, pathways, construction areas, a set of stairs because the escalator and the lift were behind the construction barrier, and eventually found the platform itself. Once we were there, it was easy going the rest of the way.

I’m finding it interesting just how different airports deal with different things. In San Francisco, my surgical mesh set off the backscatter thing. Here in Munich, security asked me to open my camera backpack and turn on each camera, open each lens to show that it was actually a lens, and also lift out each piece to show that there was nothing hiding under each piece. They weren’t treating it like a problem, just a way of doing things. Later in the day, London (Heathrow) ignored the camera equipment, but my mesh set off the metal detector. At least I think it was the mesh. I had already taken off my belt and shoes, and emptied my pockets. I didn’t have any metal on my person that I know of. Meh, whatever.

When we arrived in Edinburgh, it was cloudy and raining lightly. E had already decided that it would be worth it to her to get a taxi from the airport, so we headed straight for that. Our cabbie was a pleasant and chatty fellow, and made the drive across town pretty good. Then we got to the castle, I mean our hotel.

We stayed at the Best Western - Braid Hills. It has the look of an old manor house, and it sits at the top of a hill. Upon first entering our room, we saw the double bed for us. Then we saw a doorway to a small hallway across the room, which led to the bathroom…and a stairway. The stairway led up to an adjoining room just for Kidlet. Our room was a two-story suite. Cool. If you look at it from the outside, that room really is a small tower room. E got her castle, and our little Princess got her own tower, literally. I guess that makes me king!

We got settled in, and then we walked to the pub next door for dinner. It’s called the Buckstone Pub (www.buckstonepub.com/). We were thinking comfort food in the form of fish and chips. Then E started to read the menu they had posted outside the door. Steak and Shallot Pie, Venison (!), Pork and Ale Sausages, and yes fish & chips were on the menu. E was drooling before walking in the door. She ended up choosing the Salmon over Risotto. Kidlet and I had the fish & chips anyway, and we were not disappointed.

So yeah, it was a good travel day. The weather is supposed to clear out tomorrow, so that will be good.

Tues., July 15 – Edinburgh Castle
Edinburgh Castle is apparently preparing for a fairly large concert series at the end of the month. They were in the process of building a complete stadium off the front entryway of the castle. I would guess that this thing would seat 20,000 or so when they’re done. It was about the size of Arco Arena, and it’s temporary. Yep, you heard right. When it’s all over, they’ll tear it down and store the pieces in a warehouse somewhere. I was amused. Along one fence line separating the visitors from the construction workers, there was a sign saying, “Please do not feed the monkeys.”

The line to get into the castle was really long. We estimated a couple of thousand people just across the morning. Kidlet’s thought was, “At these prices, do you think this place makes just a little bit of money?” Isn’t she a little young to be thinking things like that? (*Sigh*) E made a comment that they took a cue about queues from Disney, in that they could fill a space with turnabout-lines leading to other spaces with turnabout-lines. E bought a three-day pass, figuring that we could probably save money when we go to Stirling in a few days.

The view from the top is, of course, impressive. You can overlook the whole town, including the Ferris wheel and Barad Dur, I mean the monument to Sir Walter Scott (writer, poet, the one allowed to open the box with the Crown Jewels to put them on display). E and I both thought it looked like the tower in The Lord Of The Rings.
The outer defenses had several signs making note of the distances the cannons could reach, as well as pointing out locations of various battles that happened nearby the castle down in the town area. One cannonball is said to have landed two miles away.

The Scottish War Memorial inside the castle was mostly dedicated to the participants, branch by branch, of those who fought in World War I. They listed out not only the foot soldiers and airmen, but also the engineers, the veterinarians, the nurses, and several other specialties. Yes, they also had a special tribute to the Unknown Soldiers.

We walked the Royal Mile after the castle. We stopped in to explore the grandeur of St. Giles’ Cathedral before heading down to Holyrood Palace. It was closed by the time we got there. Ah, well. So, we decided to head back to the center of town (Princes Street) and catch a bus back to the hotel. We stood there for several minutes before realizing that the bus we wanted had stopped running about 20 minutes before we got there. At least we had a second bus route option that ran a similar route. The trick was in having to know about looking for the other-numbered bus.

Wed., July 16 – Travel Day to Inverness
Today, we spent four hours on a train through central Scotland. It was a nice, easy ride. The most interesting thing about it was sitting in Edinburgh (Waverly) station and not knowing which platform our train was going to be on because they still hadn’t assigned it…ten minutes before it was scheduled to depart. So imagine this: You’re looking at the departures board and you see “Aberdeen, Track 2;” “London, Track 18;” “Inverness, Track ——.” Finally, they posted it, and we got on it with just a couple of minutes to spare. Okay, we can relax now.

We were going to Inverness to visit our friend Noire_M, who had married a Scotsman and moved there a few years ago. She and her daughter met us at the train station. That was an exceptionally nice treat. We spent the afternoon with her, and then went to dinner with her and her husband, Chris. We went to a restaurant called Zizzi (zizzi.co.uk), and it is/was an Italian place with a large open-flame oven, and all the preparations out in full view of the dining public. The food was really good, although the service was at a snail’s pace. Yes, the place was packed, so there is that. I kind of wish I had a video camera with me at dinner just for the show of their front line making the main dish meals.

After dinner, we walked back to their place, called a taxi, and headed out towards our hotel. In this case, it was a Holiday Inn Express. I hate the fact that to use their WiFi, you have to register, and there is no option to opt-out of their advertising if you do that. Grrrr.

Thu., July 17 - Inverness
We slept until a little after seven this morning. We grabbed our showers, and headed downstairs to breakfast. The meal was listed as Continental, and included cereals and yogurt, hot eggs and sausages, as well as toast and juices of various sorts. It hit the spot pretty easily for all of us.

We walked the ¼ mile or so to the local grocery store / Wally World equivalent (how is it we keep finding these in the most out of the way places?) and got lunch supplies for the day. Then we caught the bus, and walked the last couple of miles out to Noire_M’s place. There’s a really nice river walk alongside the River Ness. Yes, that Ness. The Loch isn’t that far from town, all things considered. No, we didn’t go to the Loch this trip. That’s something to look forward to for next time. There will be a next time, right?

After meeting up with Noire_M at her place, we all headed out to the town Athletic Center. Oh, my. We had seen something like this in Spittal, but still. This place had a seven-wide set of soccer fields, an ice rink, campsites, a ¼-mile track, and a Natatorium / Indoor Aquatic Park. It’s called Inverness Leisure (http://www.invernessleisure.co.uk/facilities/pools/6212-inv-leisure-0025/ and click on the picture). That’s where we went. Inside and upstairs is a gym and spa area. Downstairs, you’ll find the building split into two very large spaces. One space has a competition swimming pool that most people would do laps in. The other space is, for lack of a better term for it, a water park / leisure pool. This space includes a kiddie pool, which is only a foot deep or so, a larger pool that has space for a wave pool (the wave generator wasn’t working today), a section loop which has river-style currents, and a third part which has stairs leading up to three water slides. Yes, all of this is indoors, under one roof. Impressive, it is.

It was a lot of fun. Those of you who remember my descriptions of the Disney Cruise from last year might remember how much Kidlet likes water slides. I stopped counting at ten times up the three flights of stairs for the slides. I went to hang out in the pool, especially swimming in the river rapids loop. The girls kept going up and down the water slides. Oy. Even the attendant at the top said that he was getting tired just thinking about how many stairs my daughter must have been running to go past him that many times.

Yeah, that was a good time to just…be. Noire_M had to go to work that afternoon. We headed back to her place, since she gave us the key, and we slounged there for the rest of the afternoon. After that much exercise, we needed the downtime. Noire_M took her daughter with her towards work, and Chris met her there to bring their daughter home. Dinner was take-out. Easy and relaxing.

Fri., July 18 – Travel Day To Stirling
Today, we got up early enough to get breakfast and head out to the grocery store before heading to the train station. The bus stop was at the grocery store, which helped. We headed in to the center of town, and we had no trouble finding and getting onto our trains for the day.

Once we arrived in Stirling, we went to the busses. Our bus had a lot of elderly people getting onto it. E thought out loud that there must have been good shopping nearby, as several of those people had similar bags to each other. These were very friendly and helpful folks, too. Several of them across the entirety of the bus helped us know exactly where to get off the bus, including correcting the driver when he got confused as to which stop would be closest to the hotel we told him we were heading towards. That was amusing.

We ate a good lunch at the restaurant next to our hotel, and settled down for a quiet evening in.

Sat., July 19 – Stirling Castle
Today we hiked up the hill towards Stirling Castle. The weather report said that there was a 75% chance of rain today. Little did we know, that meant that it would rain for 75% of the day. E used the multi-castle pass that she had purchased in Edinburgh, which ended up being a good thing. That pass did end up saving us some money overall. Yay!

The castle itself had several exhibits of course, from the outer and inner defenses, to the kitchens, the great hall and palace living spaces, and a few special bits on the various art forms around the castle. These include not only the statues, but also the wood carvings that were used by James V to promote himself and proclaim his own legitimacy to the throne.

We especially liked the tapestry set of the unicorn hunt, as well as the location downstairs where the castle has several artists-in-residence re-creating the tapestries that had been taken through history out of this castle. This set of tapestries in particular had been plundered about 500 years ago, ended up in France two hundred years later, and eventually bought by Rockefeller and donated to the New York Metropolitan Museum Of Art. Scottish artisans were allowed to make detailed scans, photographs, descriptions, and measurements of those original tapestries. Using these, they are re-creating the tapestries on the Stirling Castle site with modern wool and cotton, so that they will last for several hundred years to come. Cool.

The castle also has several exhibits geared towards younger kids. These include video tours and tactile exhibits. “Please touch this.” “Smell this.” “Try this on.” There was a part with jesters, tailors (including sample clothes to try on!), musicians, and artists, and woodworker. As a fun find-the-detail aspect, each of these rooms had a small wooden mouse hidden somewhere in the room. The tailor mouse had a pair of sewing scissors on her belt.

E really liked the Great Hall ceiling, which was re-constructed after the military moved out. Yeah, it went royals’ great hall, they moved out, the military moved in and converted it to a three-story barracks for a couple of hundred years. They moved out in the late 1969, and reconstruction to restore it to its’ original great hall design finished around the 1990s. 400 trees were used for the lumber, but they used no nails, just like in the original design. They used hand-carved pegs to hold the pieces together.

There was a sign on one of the walls, saying that you could not climb on the wall because it was also undergoing reconstruction and repair. They even had a sign with a photograph showing that they had numbered the rocks in a grid, so that when their repairs were finished, it would resemble as closely as they can the original layout of the wall.

We made it back down the hill in time for the second-to-last bus to leave. Dinner was steaks and lamb chops. Yeah, we splurged, but the prices were actually quite reasonable for what we got. Tired Kitten wrote her postcards, and shortly afterwards fell asleep. It was a good day.

Sun., July 20 – Travel Day To Cardiff
We were up early-ish this morning to be out to the train station by 9:30 or so. We caught the 9:50 train towards Edinburgh (Haymarket), then we transferred to the 10:55 bound for London, knowing we would get off in Crewe. In Crewe, we transfer for the Cardiff bound train. As I start this entry, we’re on the second of three legs. The toilet on this train apparently has a recording that says, “Please do not flush feminine products, nappies, or gum down this toilet. Please also refrain from flushing old phones, unpaid bills, junk mail, your ex’s sweater, hopes and dreams, and goldfish.”

The train into Crewe was a couple of minutes late, and our train to Cardiff was already arriving as we were. We were expecting a fifteen-minute gap between trains at this station. Yep, we made something of a mad dash up the stairs, across a couple of platforms, and down the stairs to get on our train, but we made it. Turns out that we didn’t have to hurry quite so much, in that they were using Crewe as a timing stop, but we didn’t know that at the time.

When we arrived into Cardiff, we had the shortest walk of the entire trip so far to our hotel. We walked outside the train station, looked to the right, and there was our hotel, just a couple of buildings away. We stayed at the Best Western Maldron on the 11th floor. We all really liked the view from up there.

Since it was about 5:30 or so, we set down our things and went out to see what we could see on a Sunday evening. There was a large walking mall area right across from us, and we ended up walking all the way over to Cardiff castle. We got there right at 6 PM as they were closing. Ah, well. We kind of expected that sort of thing.

On our way back, we found a pub that was still serving food. We had fish & chips and beef ribs for dinner this time around. It was actually rather disappointingly blah, sad to say. But it was food, and the hospitality was warm and friendly. Dessert was better, though. We ordered a pair two-scoop sherbets, one orange and one lemon. There was also a raspberry sauce underneath the lemon scoop and whipped cream over the top. Kidlet liked the orange flavor best.

We went to bed early that night, because we needed to be at the train station by 6:30 AM to catch our train out to Fishguard Harbor.

Mon., July 21 – Travel Day (Cardiff to Rosslare / Wexford)
I don’t think it matters where you are in the world, but 5:45 AM still comes way too early… We were out the door as we planned by 6:15, and at the train station just a few minutes later. The morning train, as you could probably guess, wasn’t that full to begin with. Our conductor said that we would have to be careful though, as our train would split partway through the journey, but that the car we were in should be just fine all the way through. Only half of our train would make it to Fishguard, the other half going…somewhere else. Right. Good to know.

As the train progressed from station to station, you could tell that commuters were on their way to work on a Monday morning. People would get on and off the train after a stop or two. A couple of ladies put on their makeup. One gentleman read the morning paper. As I was looking at the back of the newspaper from where I was sitting, I could see that one story was Putin saying there’s a serious problem with gravity over Ukraine (Thank you, HuskerJAG, for that phrasing!), I mean Putin was denying responsibility for a downed passenger liner over Ukraine.

At one point, a different conductor came through our car. He mentioned that the car that we were currently sitting in, yes the same car that the first conductor had said was just fine, was among the cars splitting off of the train we wanted, and we should probably change cars before the next station. When we mentioned what the other conductor had said, he replied, “the other conductor was apparently confused. Just change to that next car over there.” Right, then.

We pulled into Fishguard Harbour about 4 hours before we really needed to, but hey, that was the plan. Don’t miss the boat, literally. We had seen something when booking the ferry tickets about them not accepting people checking in “under an hour before departure” or something like that. The next train was scheduled to arrive 45 minutes before departure. That’s why we headed out on the first train.

It turns out that they were not worried about that part at all. The next train arrived when the next train arrived (four hour later), and people checked in just fine. The ticket agent did say that at least I was early enough to not worry about a potentially long line checking in.

E and Kidlet ran into town to see what they could see. I pulled up next to an electrical outlet and started pushing through some of the photograph editing. Yes, I found that relaxing, believe it or not. The girls said they found a marine exhibit. “We cannot compete with Monterey, but we’re still pretty nice.” We were among the first to check in (go figure!), and amongst the first on the boat.

The first part of the crossing from Fishguard to Rosslare we spent on the top deck. Soon after leaving harbor, though, Kidlet got cold. So, we spent the rest of the next 2.5 hours below deck, but near a window. We didn’t know about the restaurant seating, which everyone who did not pay for “special reserved” seats staked out and planted for the duration fairly quickly. Yeah, well, that was fine. We found an out of the way place with a bulkhead window. Kidlet even got a nap for about an hour of that time.

Our bus stop was right there after we landed. One of the other passengers was helping people find their way through the terminal. It turns out that he is a driver for Bus Eireann. The bus eventually got there, the (now) two drivers got into a decent conversation, and off we were to Wexford for the evening.

Now, in planning this out, we relied fairly heavily on The Google. Herein lies the tail The Google Fail. The Plan™ was to take the #40 from Rosslare to a certain bus stop in Wexford, which happens to be near both a hospital and horse racing track. Yeah, I can hear the comments; moving on. The Plan™ was to then transfer to the #740 bus to finish the last mile of the journey.

The Plan™ worked just fine until that last mile. We got to the correct bus stop with a few minutes before the Last #740 Bus Of The Evening came along. We flagged him down. He then said, “This bus only accepts people going to the Dublin Airport. Yes, I go by your hotel, but I don’t accept local fares.” With that, he closed the door and drove off into the coming night. There were no other busses that went that direction that we knew of. Well, drat. Darn. Shucks, even.

So, we set off back the way we came a little bit, to the hospital. We can only imagine the security guy’s reaction at Emergency Reception at seeing three people dragging in luggage through their door… Fortunately, he was very kind, and called a taxi to come and get us to finish the last mile of the journey for the evening.

So, after a 14-hour day of travel, we finally arrived at our hotel. Yay!

The Fourth and Final Part of this adventure can be found here, if you're interested in reading farther.