Scotland (continued)

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Since we had spent so much time doing the audio tour of the war museum, we had to rush through the other buildings of the castle. One of these was the Queen's Apartment. There wasn't much to see. There is just an empty room where Mary, Queen Of Scots gave birth to her son, James VI. Another exhibit we rushed through was the Prisoner Of War building. Although this is a recreation of the prison, the original wooden doors are on display. They contain several hundred years worth of carved writing/graffiti from prisoners.

We had learned a fair amount of Scottish history at Edinburgh Castle. I just wish we had budgeted our time better.

We Leos stick together

audio tour in moderation next time

The Royal Mile

The Royal Mile (High Street) is the street that was used by Scottish royalty to travel between their residences at Edinburgh Castle and Holyroodhouse Palace centuries ago. It is now a hub of tourism. Along with the centuries-old buildings that line this street are souvenir shops, old pubs, tour agencies, and restaurants. This area is alive with sightseeing buses, crowds of tourists, and even a bagpiper dressed in traditional Scottish garb.

strolling the Royal Mile

Royal Mile - touristy but full of history

We went in and out of the numerous souvenir shops. Some of the common items being sold were wool clothing, plaid scarves, Loch Ness Monster dolls, whisky (Scottish national drink), haggis (Scottish delicacy of lamb or pork organs wrapped in its stomach tissue and cooked), toffee, bagpipe and drum music, and kilts. With the exception of the pubs and restaurants, the businesses close at 6 pm.

evening on the Royal Mile

We visited the Royal Mile during the last weekend in October so by 6 pm, not only were the souvenir shops and stores closed but it was also dark. With all the old medieval buildings that line the Royal Mile, the street seems to transform itself into a scene out of a witch tale in the evening. Naturally, this is the time that various tour companies get dressed up in ghoulish costumes and conduct ghost tours. Traci and I did not do any of these tours but we saw groups of people following their guides up and down the street. Unfortunately, groups of tourists walking the dark streets and listening to ghost stories become tempting prey for pickpockets. I saw a group of four giggling teenagers pretending to inadvertently bump into people and then attempt to take their wallet. I even saw one of the guys stick his hand into an unsuspecting lady's pocketbook but he came up empty-handed. Despite this, we always felt safe walking in Edinburgh. However, even in a place as friendly as Scotland, there are still a few people who wouldn't mind ruining your vacation.

Looking For The Loch Ness Monster

Saturday was the day we embarked on the Loch Ness and the Highlands Tour offered by Scottish Tours. We had booked the tour online before we arrived in Scotland so that all we had to do was show up at the Edinburgh Bus Station at 8 a.m., show our confirmation printout and be ready for a full day of sightseeing - and what a full 11-hour day it was. This tour left Edinburgh and took us on a 360-mile loop through Scotland's beautiful Midland Valley and Highlands. The tour stopped at scenic and historic sites before returning us to Edinburgh.

Our tour guide for this journey was Tom, a jolly native of Edinburgh dressed in a kilt and matching tie. By the way, Traci and I did see a few men wearing kilts during our stay in Scotland. The kilts seem to be formal attire. We saw some of the men at a wedding reception in our hotel wearing kilts along with a necktie and blazer. Just as it is common to see tuxedo rental places here in the States, kilt hire stores were a common sight for us as we roamed the city. I have to admit, the kilt and blazer hookup is a very stylish look. No, don't expect me to start wearing a kilt. I'll leave that to the Scottish and Irish.

Anyway, back to the tour. Tom has over thirty years of experience as a tour guide. This guy could tell you the history of every town, bridge, mountain, farm, and lake we saw during this trip. He pointed out some landmarks such as the football (soccer) stadium and historic schools as we headed out of Edinburgh. We then entered the beautiful farm country of the Midland Valley. These green fields were dotted with farm houses, cottages, sheep and cattle, including the shaggy-haired Highland cow. As we rode in and out of rain showers, we were eventually treated to the sight of a bright rainbow that really magnified the beauty of this land.

We made our first stop around 11:30 a.m. in the little town of Callander for refreshments and bathroom break. There were only a handful of shops open. The rest of the shops on the main street were closed. It doesn't look like much goes on in this sleepy town. This point was driven home by the sight of a lady crossing the street in her pajamas. Despite the lack of activity, the town is well equipped for getting business from tour buses. There is a big parking lot and public restrooms that cost 20 pence (approx. 36 cents) to use. We didn't use them, though. The restrooms in the pastry shop were free.

As we left Callander and headed into the Highlands, I felt like we were riding through a painting. We began to see lochs (lakes), glens (valleys), and mountains (bens). The fall foliage of late October added splashes of color. These scenes briefly gave way to the desolate land and peat bogs of Rannoch Moor before revealing colorful glens, bens, and misty lochs once again.

Mist rolls through the Highlands

There are many B&B's and campgrounds throughout the Highlands. Although, the Highlands are popular with tourists today, this region has a very brutal history. Tom told us about the clans such as the Campbells and MacDonalds that occupied these lands. They often fought gruesome wars centuries ago that lead to the massacre of thousands of men, women, children, and animals. continue...


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