UK Trip Part 1

As some of you know, Phil and I were lucky enough to get to go to the UK this past few weeks. Background on the trip is in this entry.

Itinerary
8/26-8/27 Edinburgh, Scotland (part 1, below)
8/28-8/29 Various spots around Scotland, including Brechin and Inverness (part 2)
8/30-8/31 York, England (part 3)
9/1-9/4 London, England (part 4)

Thursday, August 25th
We left our house at about 6 AM. We were lugging one large suitcase, one small one, and two carry ons, plus Phil’s new bass that he bought just for this trip (this will be relevant later). We checked 2 bags and the bass, and our departure from Seatac was relatively uneventful. We flew into Newark, NJ, and my mother came to the airport to visit with us. Luckily, our bags were checked through to Edinburgh, so we just had to go outside of security with our carry ons and we were able to talk to mom for an hour before we went back through security. We ate at a Portuguese restaurant and were met by two members of the band. The band were flying out of Seatac a little later because we were able to get them cheaper flights if they left on Alaska instead of Continental. The leader of the band had realized that his passport had expired, so he had arranged to have it delivered to Newark airport, so he had been running all over trying to get that, and we finally met up with him just before we got on the plane.

Once again, the flight was uneventful. We watched Miss Congeniality 2 (well, I watched most of it, I did fall asleep through part), and then I slept on and off throughout the flight. Phil didn’t sleep at all.

Friday, August 26th
We arrived at 7:40 AM in Edinburgh. It was bright and sunny, and a beautiful landing coming in over the water. I don’t think much about England and Scotland being an island, or a collection of islands, really, (much like I don’t think about Manhattan being an island), but from the air, it’s quite obvious. After clearing customs and getting our bags, we were met by our host, Ewan, who arranged for a couple of cabs for us. You know, those marvelous British cabs that are high and wide and have jumper seats. First we stopped at the hotel that he booked for Phil and I and dropped off our luggage, and were told to come back around noon to check in. Then, we headed over to the hotel booked for the other 3 members of the band. We couldn’t all stay together because of the Edinburgh festival and the lack of available rooms. Our hotel was next door to the Edinburgh Zoo, but because of our short stay, we didn’t get to go to it. Their hotel was in an area called Leith, which is the waterfront and is also where the Queen’s former yacht, the Royal Britannia, is docked. The band was playing at the Ocean Terminal, also very close to their hotel. The Ocean Terminal is really just a new mall right on the water (the Firth of Forth).

We walked (rather briskly) over to a restaurant and had breakfast. Here was my first experience at the Scottish attempt at coffee, which just isn’t very good. However, I did have some wonderful European yogurt not full of the crap you find in American yogurt. After walking back to their hotel, we sat for a bit, and then Phil, Greg (the drummer) and I decided we’d go back to the first hotel, check in, and then do some sight seeing. We were determined to stay up and not make our jet lag even worse. Ewan came with us because he had to give them his credit card for the 2 nights we were staying there. Well, at least we thought so…it turns out that because of communication difficulties (which we had a lot of trying to arrange this trip), he was under the impression that we were staying all the rest of our time in Edinburgh, when in reality, we had already booked our hotels all over Scotland and England. He, of course, was quite stressed, as were we, because one of us was going to have to pay for all the remaining nights, to the tune of £1K. Luckily, the reception lady let us off the hook, likely because she didn’t want one of her countrymen to be screwed by two stupid Americans.

Our room was just fine, albeit a bit small, and after I brushed my teeth, we headed out. We took a cab to the top of the Royal Mile, just below the castle. We wandered up to where the military tattoo was being held (which is just outside the castle), and then started meandering down the street. Since we had arrived we had been trying to adjust to cars driving on the left, and being a pedestrian is just as difficult, as you have to look right, left, right. Anyway, our first stop was the Scotch Whisky Heritage Center. We paid our entrance fee, sat down, and immediately all got handed glasses with a “wee dram” of whisky. Whisky (without the ‘e’) is only whisky if made in Scotland, all else is Whiskey. They don’t call it scotch in Scotland, because that would seem, well, redundant. We learned how to look at the color, smell it, and taste it, similar to what you do with wine. We learned that you can identify elements of the area where the whisky is made in the smell and taste. There is a wide range of different flavors and smells and this is largely due to what the French call “terroir,” that is all that is a part of the area (soil, air, other plants, etc.). Now, we were operating on little to no sleep, we had been travelling for about 24 hours, and we were having whisky. Let’s just say we got a little, um, well, woozy.

Here is where I discovered that my camera was broken. The door that holds the batteries in is no longer functioning, so the batteries come loose and the camera is unable to function. So, we’ve used Phil’s camera throughout the trip. I hope we’ve gotten all the shots we’ve wanted. All the pictures can be found here.

We walked around the museum with our guide, and the final part of the tour was a “whisky barrel ride,” which consist of sitting in a plastic barrel with benches and moving around an exhibition about the history of whisky. So, we were tired, a little drunk, and a little punchy, and the three of us, who are not small people, are sitting in this “ride” which is barely moving under our weight and looking at the silly diaramas of historical whisky figures. We started giggling uncontrollably. Luckily, we pulled ourselves together for the tasting at the end of the tour. Yes, tasting, which means we tasted 4 more whiskys. After walking through the gift shop, we stumbled out on the street and headed to our next attraction. We stopped in some shops, and walked into some “closes” which are courtyards behind the street that used to be closed off at night.

I was getting pretty tired, so we headed into a restaurant and had some fish and chips. I was practically falling asleep in my food by now, so after we ate, we decided to try and head back to our hotel by bus, a double decker one at that! We decided to try the bus, because the bus ride is only 80p, where as the cabs in Edinburgh are very expensive. The ride between our hotel and the gig spot was £15, which, due to the poor exchange rate, is just a little less than $30 (not counting the fact that for us to get money from a cash machine adds a 1% conversion fee). So, let’s just say that throughout our trip, everything we spent in pounds was roughly twice as much American. Phil, being the intrepid map reader he is, pointed us back in the right direction, but we had to get back up and over to the other side of the gardens and train station to get over to where our bus would pick us up. So, we ended up having to climb a hill after no sleep, whisky, and fish and chips. Let’s just say I was quite slow. Along the way, Greg got distracted at a war memorial (which, by the way, are all over the place) and Phil and I found the bus back to our hotel. We had a stop right across from where we were staying, and the road led straight into town, so it was actually quite a good location.

We got back to the hotel by 4, and fell asleep pretty quickly. A little after 8, the rest of our crew called to say they were dining at a restaurant near their hotel, but we hadn’t showered yet, and we were pretty drowsy, so we declined. After pulling ourselves together (and, by the way, this hotel had one of the best showers either one of us has ever taken), we went downstairs and ate in the hotel restaurant, which had a variety of Asian dishes. In fact, Edinburgh has a wide diversity of food types as have most places we’ve been in Britain, which is a pleasant revelation. We finally got to sleep around 11, and I woke up at 4:30. Phil was sleeping, but as it was only 8:30 PM Pacific time, I was ready to go. After lying there for 2 hours, I finally fell back asleep and we didn’t wake up again until almost noon.

Edinburgh is a beautiful city. The castle is situated on an extinct volcano, and the entire city is surrounded by volcanic ridges. What is not built upon is a beautiful green, and it is quite easy to get a view of the water. We did not get a chance to see any festival or Fringe Festival shows, but I was none too impressed by any of the lineups, really. It seems like people just go mostly to have a good time, and the shows are really secondary. The streets were bustling, and everyone seemed to be in a wonderful mood, and the residents of Edinburgh are downright friendly to tourists.

Saturday, August 27th
Still in Edinburgh, we awoke late as I noted above, and then took the bus back up to the castle so we could actually tour it this time. I should mention here that we were without Internet access throughout Scotland. None of our hotels had it (besides dial-up) and we didn’t bother to go to an Internet cafe. I mention this because we discovered throughout the trip and with the foreknowledge provided by Samantha Brown that if you bought tickets ahead of time, you could avoid the line (the queue). So, we found ourselves in the queue at the castle and noted that there was something called a Scottish Explorer Pass. It turns out that this pass, once purchased, could get us into all sorts of sights all over Scotland, and would allow us to avoid the queue. So, as we were planning to spend the next 3 days in Scotland, it made sense.

Edinburgh castle was worth the wait. As I mentioned before, it’s the highest spot in the city, and the views alone make going up to the castle worth while. I really think this was my first official visit to a castle. There aren’t as many castles dotting the landscape of North America as there are in Europe (please note sarcasm). Anyway, the thing that I fully comprehended on this trip was that castles are not just one big building to house nobility or royalty; they are in fact walled villages that house several people, including servants and guards and whoever else. Also, this particular castle was used as a military prison and today includes a military prison museum. It also contains a few other mini-museums and several exhibits, and of course, several gift shops.

We walked back to our bus stop (this time avoiding the high hike) and grabbed a bite at Marks & Spencer, which is basically a department store with a kickass cafeteria. Seriously, how come we don’t have a place like this in the States? We took the bus back to our hotel and Phil got ready for his gig, which was the reason we were there. He took a taxi over to his rehearsal/soundcheck and I hung out for awhile before heading over myself.

The gig was fabulous. It’s this thing called “Vegas Night” that the promoters move from venue to venue throughout Edinburgh. Not only do they provide bands and DJs, but young women come in (very modest) showgirl outfits and dance with everyone. The surprise for me was that people actually come in costume. They dress up in all sorts of outfits, including mobsters, their molls, movie stars, and various types of dress from the 40s and 50s. My favorite costume, though, was Hunter S. Thompson from “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.” They were all having a fabu time, and The Jet City Swingers played a great two sets. Phil even sang his hit, Mack the Knife, and went over very well. It was very surreal, being this far from home, and being surrounded by people celebrating American culture.  My highlight of the evening was that some Scottish young man actually grabbed my bum! Me, an old fat married lady from the US!

Although the party went on till 3, we left at about 1:30, and left the bass with Phil’s bandmates to take with them back home. We went back to our hotel, ready to start the “real” vacation.

Look forward to future entries about the rest of our trip.

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