Friday, October 09, 2015

3 Days in Edinburgh

`Our next stop after York was Edinburgh.  I chose an airbnb place within walking distance of the train station and I had drawn a map, but it was full dark when we got there and right away we were struck by the difference in scale with York.  

York had those narrow twisting streets - not everywhere but largely.  And it was flat.   Ediburgh is not flat.  At all.  
And the streets are very wide.  Turns out they were designed so that a horse drawn wagon could make a U-turn.  I guess that takes a lot of space because it felt like the street itself was half a block wide.  And the buildings in our neighborhood were 4 stories and rather monolithic.  We were in the New City, so called.  New in the sense of being only 150 years old or so.  I don't actually have any photos here of New City.  It just didn't impress me after York.

It was tough pulling our suitcases along these huge streets in the dark, having that fearful suspicion with each turn that we might be going the wrong way.  I was kicking myself for not hiring a taxi, as we were really beat by the time we found our building, which at least was down a very long hill.   And then there were four stories to climb with out suitcases.  Oh.  My.  God.

Our hostess was waiting with the door open and showed us around.  The apartment was gorgeous, with old wooden and slate floors, 12 foot ceilings and huge windows.  The bathroom was really posh (a British word I've adopted) with an enormous tub and seperate glass walled shower.  

The next day we clambered down the stairs to set off for the Royal Mile and Edinburgh Castle.  For some absurd reason we ignored the bus stop which was right in front of our place and trudged up the very long hill.  Bad move.  4 pounds each would buy us an all day bus pass (which we bought the next day), but by the time we made it to the freaking castle our legs were so tired!  Funny how they put castles way up on top of hills, right?

Edinburgh Castle was very grand indeed, but neither of us had any desire to explore it.  Which is good as it was really expensive!  Instead we started off down the Royal Mile taking 2 or 3 hundred photos a minute.  About half way down we found a guided walking tour and learned a bit about Edinburgh.
This is Edinburgh University, in case you were wondering.
This is St. Giles church.  It wasn't originally.  It was meant to be dedicated to the king's wife, who got sainted at some point.  But there was this story of Giles the hermit, who loved animals so much, when he saw the king shooting at a doe, he stuck his hand out to block the arrow.  The arrow shot Giles through the hand (there's a carving depicting all this above the main door).  The king was mighty impressed, got the dude sainted and hey presto!  He ends up with the big cathedral in Edinburgh.
This is the view from the entrance to the castle.  The photo doesn't really capture the magical feeling we had there.  This was taken on our last night.  
There some really gorgeous pubs in Edinburgh.  Almost made me wish I drank beer.
Here's another one.  This was Deacon Brodies Tavern.  The sign shows him with two personas: prosperous business man and robber.  He led a double life and was, perhaps the inspiration for Doctor Jeckle and Mr. Hyde.  Robert Louis Stevenson was a local hero, apparently.   Another inspiration might have been Edinburgh itself (according to our guide).  Once the New City was set up the old city quickly degenerated into a filthy, disease-riden slum.
Behind India is Arthur's Seat.  It's the highest point around and overlooking Edinburgh.  It was a massive challenge for India.  Both our legs were sore, but hers had been massively cramping up.  I didn't think we were going to make it but then somehow she mastered herself and the whole rest of the trip there were no more problems walking. 
Almost to the top.
Okay, this is the top.  You can castle below.
This was the high point of our trip.  Literally.  Not subjectively.  

One thing that was really shocking in Edinburgh was the littering.  Even up here, at Arthur's Seat, which has to be a relatively holy site.  I don't know if it's the Scots or the tourists or what.  We saw virtually no littering in Chester or the Cotwolds, but we did see some grown men and 20 something young women leaving their rubbish on the trains.  It was really they thought their mommy would come along and pick up after them.

I guess they never had that crying indian public service ad.

We had a good time in Edinburgh and loved our apartment (despite the stairs).  But our next stop was Chester and that turned out to be our fave.

Wednesday, October 07, 2015

Twice Near Tears

I almost cried twice today.  The first time was this afternoon at Stonehenge.  
Or more acurately, NOT at Stonehenge.  We did see it.  For about 12 seconds as we zipped by on the freeway.  And we saw the visitor center, somewhat.  That's where I almost lost it.

Wait.  Let me back up.

We had today all planned out.  We packed last night and were up at 7am sharp, had breakfast and were out in the car ready to roll right at 8am for our journey to mystical Stonehenge.  Google told us it would be about 2 hours, so I gave us 3.  I bought advanced tickets for 11am.

As soon as I started the car our day changed a bit.  There was a warning light about tire pressure.  I got out and looked and sure enough, the front right tire was flat.  Not only flat, there was a chunk out of the sideway (probably from when I hit the curb on one of those lovely Cotswold country roads - in fact India and I both knew exactly when it happened, I swerved a bit when an oncoming van seemed about to collide with us.  I guess it was a good decision to swerve, but here we were).

Now this is where I made my big mistake.  Seeing that chunk out of the sidewall I felt defeated and went in to call the rental car service.  Wrong.  What I should have done was try and pump the damn thing up, which is what I did two hours later. We could have been on our merry way and merely had to stop once in a while to pump it back up - the car came with a nice pump (though no spare).

Instead we waited for two and a half hours for the repair guy (who was quite nice) and then another half hour for the repair.  So when we were once again ready to hit the road it was exactly 11am.

I think I left out the part about needing to return the car in Bath at 3pm and our train at 3:43. What to do?  

Here I made the second big mistake.  I said hey, lets see if we can get halfway in one hour.  If not, we'll turn west for Bath.  But if we can we can still have a few minutes at Stonehenge anyway (I was probably thinking about the 29 pounds I'd spent on the damn tickets - and buying them was another mistake.  We could have bought them there for only a slight extra charge).

Well, we made it halfway to Swinton in under an hour and I was much encouraged.  We were actually on something of a freeway at that stage going 80 miles an hour!  Wow!  So we carried on and it took a full hour and an 15 minutes to reach Stonehenge (which included getting lost twice and my having to go into a pub and ask directions).  And pounding the steering wheel.  Google sent us off on a crazy goose chase.

So there it was on the right as we tore down the highway at 70 miles an hour.  It was late but at least we could stop and take a quick look.  Frustrating, but oh well.  At least we could take a photo or two (or 25).  

But it was not to be.  Turns out the visitor center is a LONG way away and you have to take a bus from the center out to the site.  By the time we parked it was 1:30pm and we really needed to be on the way to Bath.  This is where the tears came.  Tears of pure frustration.  We couldn't even SEE Stonehenge from the goddam visitor center.  And our onward route wouldn't take us past it again ont e road.  India hadn't even taken any photos as we went past.

But at least we saw it with our own eyes.  Not for long, but the image is engraved on my memory.

The trip to Bath went really well.  We tore along the highways and there were actually highway signs directing us (for once) so we got there with time to spare.  But that's where we hit another wall.  Turns out Bath is famous for bad traffic and traffic jams.  And the streets are crazy and suddenly our map was worthless and we were lost.  By the time I stopped and went into a little store to ask directions, we were far far away from the rental car place.

We got there right at the edge of our 'grace period' but that was half an hour later than I planned and we ended up missing our train (which was prepaid with tickets good for only that time).  Our taxi driver, when I told him the 3:43pm time said "Well, that's a challenge, isn't it? - but you never know".  

A little later he did know.  He turned to me and said "you're screwed".  His advice was to just get on the next train and hope they didn't check our tickets.  Or if they did, pretend we'd made a mistake and hope they didn't nail us for the 85 quid (each) penalty.  Or hide in the bathroom the whole way.

He was a nice taxi driver, but we didn't take his advice.  There were three ticket agents at the turnstiles where you insert your ticket.  The first of them saw me scanning the digital board of train times and asked if everything was okay.  I told him we'd had a puncture and just missed our train - was there anything for it.  I expected we'd just have to buy new tickets, at the 'day of' price which could be very expensive.  

He consulted the second ticket agent, a younger guy with a big mop of dark hair who looked like a cross between a young Paul McCartney and Harry Potter.  He made a lot of very cute faces, trying to see if there was any way to cheat us through and finally called on the third, older, ticket agent - explaining our situation and was there any way he could give us a pass.  After a few moments he nodded and pulled out an official looking book and began writing.  Paul McCartney gave us a big smile and this is where I almost started to cry again - just from their kindness.  Something about officials using their discretion to be decent human beings.  

So the next train was only half an hour later - and only 15 minutes from when we were handed our passes, and now we're roaring along toward London.  Glad to be alive and glad that someone else is doing the driving.  

love and hugs,

PS. Stonehenge looked beautiful.  There was a big wide mown grass path in a great circle around it and people were walking it.  The grassy path was set into the greater grassy plain.  It was lovely and clearly much better that folks can't go in among the stones.  I imagine it would be much easier to take nice photos.  They've done a good job there.

Tuesday, October 06, 2015

Our Visit to York

Well, we're deep into our trip and I've been a terrible correspondent.  I guess that's a good dental recovery period, no dysentary.  Just a lot of movement and decision making taking up the extra moments.  

Our first stop after the Matrix conference was York and we loved it.  The town is dominated by York Minster, which really gives Winchester Abbey a run for the money.  
We took about a thousand photos as it kept changing in the different light.
York was a really important Roman (and Viking) city, so it's history goes back 2000 years.  One of the ceasars died here and another one elected (not sure if that's the proper word).  I had no idea!  
Long after the Romans fell, the Vikings took it over and this was their capital for the British Isles.  
In the oldest part of town a lot of the streets are very close and wander about.  This one is called The Shambles.  Forget Diagon Alley from Harry Potter, this is the real deal.  Of course all of the shops are for the tourists, but it has so much character! 

I especially love the Tudors, with their black exposed wood.  The really old ones are kind of slumpy with age.  We rode on one of those red double decker tour buses.  They have guides who do a running narrative of the town and we learned a LOT about York.  Turns out they have these in all the towns we visited.  We rode one in Edinburgh, but not in Chester or Cardiff.
We were going to visit a ruined abbey way out in the countryside near the little town of Helmsley.  We made it to Helmsley, but were too tired out for the 7 mile walk!  Lucky for us there are ruined abbeys all over the place.  This one is actually in York itself.  
As much as I love ruins, I was sad to learn that it was King Henry VIII who had them all destroyed in his battle with the Catholic Church.  Our guides said the motive was financial.  These were all very wealthy enterprises and he basically plundered them - even melting down the lead from the stained glass windows.
This is about as far as we got on our walk in Helmsley.  We decided to hell with the abbey and the pretty English countryside (we've got pretty countryside back home) - let's go tour that ruined castle!  So that's what we did.
But on the way back we had to pass though an entire herd of horses!  It was a little spooky.  Once though the style, we fed a couple with nice long grass they couldn't reach.
We learned a lot about the English civil war, where Oliver Cromwell led the Parlimentarians and kicked the shit out of the Royalist strongholds.  A lot of sad dammage from all that mess, including Helmsley Castle which was blown up after it was taken.
Still kind of cool to be in an actual castle.  
The town of Helmsley itself was quite charming and here we encountered our first church graveyard - but not the last!  I actually soaked my boots yesterday crossing a sheep field to get to a really old one in Chipping Campden, but that's getting ahead of the story....
This is another view of Helmsley.  Everything is so freaking OLD here, and made of lovely stone.
And they are still at it.  At the York Minster our guide pointed out the new replacement carvings for the book of Genesis around the main entrance.  Here's Adam and Eve....
The old carvings were damaged not by King Henry or Cromwell, but by soot from the Victorian powerhouses upwind from York.  A lot of the buildings were pretty sooty.  I guess powerwashing them causes too much damage to the stone.
Speaking of Victorians....
Our guides called buildings like this "Victorian vandalism" in that they stand out from the much older buildings with their red bricks and ornamentation.  I LOVE them!  
Here's a side by side - one of the old river custom houses next to a beautiful building now housing a pizza restaurant.

Well, it's stopped raining here in the Cotswolds and time for us to get out and see pretty little villages.  Next post will be Edinburgh, Scotland.
Edinburgh Castle

Love and hugs,