Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Sorry for the delay! Here is week 2 of Scotland!

Sorry for the delay in getting my notes together for the second week of our Scotland adventure -- I had to get materials ready for the semester (syllabi, schedules, etc) and before you knew it -- bam!  A week or two has gone by!

So let's pick up where we left off:  After we left Islay in the Hebrides, we took the ferry back to Kennacraig on the mainland of Scotland (south of Inveraray in the map below) and headed north straight up to the Highlands.  The car trip post-ferry was about 4 hours or so.  We stopped in Oban (a place we had seen in a Rick Steves video) but I wasn't too impressed.  It was terribly crowded and we basically just stayed long enough to eat some lunch and then got back on the road.  As you can see from this map below, we basically took a straight shot up BUT the roads were in no way, shape, or form anywhere near being "straight"!  I think it took us a long time to be even a little comfortable driving on narrow, winding roads (and maybe, if truth be told, we never got used to it!).

As you can see from this map, Fort Augustus -- our next home base -- is on the south end of Loch Ness (which I learned ihas more fresh water by volume that all the lakes in England and Wales combined!).  We rented a condo in a renovated monastery -- seriously!  Check this place out! ( never got a picture but the former church in the monastery had been converted into a pool, stained glass and all!)
And here is perhaps the best picture of all -- the monastery is on the lower center -- so check out the view we had for the entire week! (And, no, we did not see the Loch Ness monster!)

We had a lot of mini-adventures while we used Fort Augustus as our base camp for a week!  We spent one day driving to the Isle of Skye (and we stopped at Eilean Donan -- I posted a bunch of those pictures of Facebook so I won't post them here.  Eilean Donan is the MOST photographed castle in Scotland so Google for pictures if you have never seen it before!  Spectacular!)

We did a hike on Skye and here is the view as we walked up a very big hill to get to ...

... this!  This rock formation is called the Old Man of Storr.  What this picture doesn't show you is that it was super windy and pretty chilly (about the only time in our entire trip that I actually felt cold).  Jim and I were able to stay on Skye for just a few hours but I would definitely like to spend a week or more on Skye in a future trip.  This looks like the perfect place for folks who love outdoor adventures!

We spent another day up near Inverness and went to the Culloden Battlefield.  This was basically the end of Prince Bonnie Charlie, who lost this battle (as well as the lives of 5,000 Highland clansmen) in 1746 as he fought the British for his right to rule the empire.  Culloden was probably the coolest museum I have ever been to -- there was even a small room in which you stood in the center and a small section of the battle played out around you (the four walls all were screens).   
Charles Stuart <br>
So here is what I learned in a brief nut shell:  Prince Bonnie Charlie (the cute looking guy in the picture above) was born in Rome after his grandfather -- King James II -- was kicked out of England due to some royal fighting.  Charlie wanted the throne back so he secretly got into Scotland and raised his Standard (flag) in a place called Glenfinnan.  (I should mention that this location is south of Culloden by about two+ hours so we went to Glenfinnan and Culloden on two different days! -- but it was cool to visit two sites that represented the beginning and the end of a military adventure).  There is, of course, a lot more to these two sites and what they represented but I left Scotland knowing much more about the events surrounding Prince Bonnie Charlie and being annoyed at him for being yet one more rich guy who ended up not being accountable for his actions/ needs/ wants.
The picture above shows Jim with the Prince Bonnie Charlie memorial behind him.  By the way, Glenfinnan is also well known today because it was a location for the shooting of the Harry Potter films.  Recognize the bridge below?  (imagine a steam train on it!).

Anyhoo, it all  ended for Mr. Prince when he got to the moors of Culloden and his Highland clan army was pretty much slaughtered by the British.  He, of course, was chilling out in the back and escaped.  Idiot.  Side note:  Jim and I were both surprised by how often we heard allusion to a possible Scottish independence on the BBC.  Interesting that two hundred or so years later that this still a relevant topic.

The two pictures above are from a castle that we drove to because Jim knew someone at work who had a connection to the place via family.  This place was utterly beautiful.  On the drive there, we encountered hardly any traffic so we were somewhat surprised when -- just as we were nearing the castle -- we got stuck in a mini traffic jam when some guy was having trouble reversing his car (to let us through) on a one track road.  The parking lot had a bout a dozen cars but there were only a few folks walking around the ruins of this castle.  I have no idea where all those parked folks were but I was happy that they weren't at the ruins.  We basically had this spot all to ourselves.

Wasn't this place gorgeous?  This is a perfect example of the pictures not doing any justice to the actual place itself.  

I may end up finding more pictures from our trip to Fort Augustus to post later but after celebrating Jim's 50th birthday at a cute little restaurant overlooking Loch Ness, we left the next day to return the rental car in Glasgow and then hopped on a train to Edinburgh.  One of the first places that we visited was Edinburgh Castle, a place I had wanted to visit on a previous trip but I couldn't go in because the entry fee was too expensive for my student budget.  Here was the view overlooking Edinburgh from the castle walls:
Doesn't Jim look thoughful and pensive?

At one point, I leaned over and took a picture of the dog cenetary at the castle when ... presto!  I ran into Jan Zuke (and her husband Mark), a colleague from SWIC.  How crazy is that?!  And you have to understand that the castle was super crowded!

So the four of us decided to go to the tea room at the castle and had a nice little break together, sharing our travel stories!  We had a fun time!

Mark wanted to see the 1 PM cannon shot and so we braved the crowds and managed to see the whole procession pretty well!

One of our other Edinburgh adventures was checking out some museums including this one, the Museum of People.  I liked the weird wax figures like the one below -- I think it was supposed to be some 1980's Sex Pistols wannabe!
Jim and I spent one (hot) afternoon checking out Arthur's Seat (the huge hill that overlooks the city of Edinburgh).  We had a rough start because of the lack of correct signs but we finally made it to the top with everyone else.
The view, as you can see below, was simply breathtaking!
Next time I promise to talk about my favorite place that we visited -- Stirling Castle.  Here is a little teaser, though!  Check out the ceilings of this place -- so neat!

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