The Odyssey begins.....
Trip Start Aug 22, 2011
18Trip End Sep 29, 2011
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To begin with, I should provide the same introductory comments as in last year's Blog. My intended audience is somewhat diverse, so some parts may not be of interest to everyone. However, I'll do my best to keep it current, but it will probably take a few days until I get back into practice at Blogging.
I had intended to post updates here at least every day or two, but that may be a challenge. Until I can settle into somewhat of a "daily routine", it will probably be difficult to update the entries on a daily basis.
The last few days of preparing for departure were steady, but thankfully not hectic
Check-in and security at Kelowna was routine and didn’t take long at all. The flight to Calgary departed on time, and was uneventful except for some significant turbulence as we approached Calgary. At one point, the aircraft dropped "like a rock" for a distance of at least a few hundred metres (my estimate). The aircraft was a DH-3, so a bit smaller. I was seated beside a woman from Lugano (travelling with her Son) and we had a nice chat during the flight, but she was somewhat upset about the turbulence.
My first impression on boarding the Air Canada 777 for the flight to London was "this is one BIG aircraft! I can’t recall if I’ve flown in these previously? I had to walk up and down the aisles a few times just to have a look. The wing span seemed to stretch the length of a football field! The seating arrangement was 3-3-3 and seating space seemed to be a bit more generous than on other aircraft I’ve used. There was a young lady from Prague in the window seat, I was on the aisle and thankfully the centre seat was empty. I spoke with the young lady a bit at the start of the flight, but we both got busy watching movies so we didn’t talk for any length of time
Flights to Europe at times seem to have become somewhat ordinary, and yet at times a bit surreal. All that’s necessary is for me to show up at the appointed time and place, board the conveyance, have a hot meal, watch a couple of movies, have a snooze and when I wake up I’m 7000 kM from home in a different country.
I generally try to avoid Heathrow due to it’s size and use Gatwick whenever possible, but in this case a trip through Heathrow was necessary. The first thing I noticed upon arrival was that there’s an enormous amount of construction taking place. It’s difficult in some places to even discern the buildings as anything that resemble an airport. There are numerous partially finished structures, construction equipment and concrete barriers to delineate the twisting and narrow one lane roads between Terminals..
The walk to Passport control seemed to cover a long and circuitous route, down narrow deserted hallways, around corners, up and down Escalators and through numerous doorways. Thankfully the route was clearly marked with purple lettering and symbols
The circuitous route eventually led to a secured glass door at street level. Within a few minutes, a Shuttle appeared and the ride from Terminal 3 to Terminal 1 took about 10-minutes. At this point, I estimated that about 50 minutes had elapsed since I disembarked from the flight.
When I reached the security screening point, there were two long queues forming so there was a bit of a wait
When I finally got through the security check and into Terminal 1, I was amazed at the number of shops and restaurants. It was like a shopping mall! There were a good selection of luxury goods (Rolex watches), but also travel stores. I also noticed a Vending machine in a quiet corner which dispensed SIM cards. It was still a considerable time before my flight to Edinburgh, and the Gate number wasn’t even displayed at this point. I used the time to get some breakfast which was just what I needed, as by that time I was starting to feel some effects of jet lag. Nothing like a good English fry-up and some Coffee to give me some energy!
There was a short delay on departure of the BMI flight to Edinburgh, due to some kind of a “runway problem” with another aircraft. The Pilot’s estimate of 25 minutes turned out to be accurate. The only snacks and beverages were available at extra cost, so I didn’t bother (this is one occasion I appreciated even the “free” bag of Pretzels and small glass of Apple juice on Air Canada flights)
As this was my first time in Edinburgh, I wasn’t too familiar with the transportation options from the Airport, but knew there was a Bus. I quickly located the ticket booth for the AirLink (double decker) Bus. The fare was £3.50 and the ride took about 30 minutes to Waverley Station. From there I used a Taxi for the short trip to the Hotel. I had forgotten how “roomy” and comfortable the interiors of the classic British Taxi’s are. I noticed that the vehicles all have a plexiglass shield between the front and back seats, and conversations with the driver are via Intercom. I wondered whether there’s been a problem with robberies of Taxi drivers? I don’t remember the shields being in place on previous visits to the U.K.
Based on the information in the Guidebook, I chose to stay in Hotel Ceilidh-Donia, which is about a 10-minute Bus ride from the Royal Mile. Although it would have been more convenient to stay “close to the action”, my costs for accommodations would have been considerably higher. In August and during the Edinburgh Festival, Fringe Festival and Military Tattoo, room rates increase substantially. The Hotel is located in a quiet residential area, and there appears to be many Guest Houses and small Hotels in this area
I found that the information in the Guidebook was not completely up-to-date, and this Hotel no longer operates a full-service restaurant so getting dinner was a bit of a concern. The Hotel staff provided a Map showing the dining establishments and Pubs in the area. As I was leaving for dinner, I noticed two people sitting in the Lounge having a glass of wine, so I sat down for a chat. They were from New Zealand, and they kindly offered me a glass of Shiraz so I ended up sitting down for a visit (which turned out to be a long visit). By the time I was ready to leave for dinner the time was approaching 21:00.
The few restaurants in this area seemed to be quite “spread out”, so some walking was involved. I’m not used to walking a kilometre or more for dinner, but it was a nice evening and thankfully not raining. After checking the streets that supposedly had the highest concentration of restaurants, I was having a hard time finding anywhere that was open
I’m looking forward to my first full day of touring tomorrow.
11 Aug. 24 - Wednesday
After much anticipation and months of planning, my first visit to Edinburgh has finally arrived. I slept until about 07:30 and didn’t need the alarm to wake up. There were a few people in the breakfast room, and some of the other guests staying here are from Norway, Finland, Germany, San Francisco, New York City, Chilliwack (B.C.) and also the couple I met in the Lounge from New Zealand.
After breakfast I got my gear together and went to the Bus stop for the ride downtown. My first stop was Waverley Station as I wanted to pick up my tickets for the East Coast Rail trip to London on Sunday. The website had indicated that I could pick these up in person or use the automated ticket Kiosk
After that I went back to Waverley Bridge and bought a Royal Edinburgh Pass from one of the tour Bus services. The Guidebook was correct that the cost was £37 (fortunately I remembered to ask for the Senior rate or the cost would have been £42). I boarded the Red Bus for the trip to the Castle.
When I arrived at Edinburgh Castle, I wasn’t quite sure where everything was located, but just followed the crowd (that’s one of the disadvantages of not having a Guidebook at hand while touring). The entrance to the Castle passes through the Esplanade where the Tattoo is held, as there are Bleachers on both sides and at one end. The Museum of the Royal Scottish Regiments was somewhat “compact” but interesting. I knew there was a larger military Museum, but only found that on my way to the exit. I stopped for lunch at the Red Coat Café and ran into some people from the U.S. that had been on the BMI flight yesterday (their girls were wearing Princeton Lacrosse Jerseys so they were easy to recognize). I eventually found the larger War Museum and spent an hour or more having a look (the displays were well done)
When I left the Castle, I got a much better view of the area where the Tattoo will be held (it’s smaller than it looks on the videos). Some of the Bleachers are new this year, replacing models that were 30 years old. I didn’t have my tickets with me, so couldn’t check out my exact seating location, but I had a general idea. It turns out that I’ll be seated higher than I thought, but hopefully will still have a good view.
By this time it had started raining, so I was glad that I had tucked my Umbrella into a pocket of my Travel Vest. As I exited the Castle, I noticed a Tattoo merchandise shop on the right side, so I figured I might as well buy my souvenirs now, rather than deal with crowds during the Tattoo performance. The 2011 CD is now available but the DVD of the 2011 Tattoo (filmed by BBC) but will have to be pre-ordered in person or on-line, and it and it will be shipped in October.
Given the weather, some indoor activity seemed to be in order, so I headed for the famous Sandy Bell’s Pub for a Guinness (or two) and waited for the rain to quit
The rain subsided to some extent, so I walked around the corner and found a Bus stop for the Red Bus. I had thought about walking the Royal Mile, but the weather was miserable, the crowds were thick, I was tired and my back hurt.
For dinner tonight, I was going to try Positano, one of the local Italian restaurants, but they said they were too busy and couldn’t accommodate me (although there were several empty tables, with no cutlery or plates on them). When I’m touring around, I don’t always know what time I’ll be having supper so it’s not really possible to make reservations. I probably won’t return there. While I was standing outside the restaurant checking the map and pondering my alternatives, fate intervened. I had a short chat with two couples that were standing in front of the restaurant, and it turned out they were from Vancouver (one was wearing a Canadian flag). They highly recommended the French restaurant in their Hotel (Cassis in the Hotel Salisbury) which was just around the corner, so I decided to give that a try. My dining experience tonight was considerably better than the previous night, and I enjoyed Beef Bourginoun on a layer of potatoes and vegetables, with an appetizer of Mushrooms sautéed in garlic butter (and of course some Vin Rouge)
It was an easy walk back to the Hotel, which was probably a good activity after a large meal. I had hoped to visit the Royal Yacht Brittania this afternoon, but didn’t make it. I’ll visit tomorrow as my Royal Edinburgh Pass expires after tomorrow.
11 Aug. 25 - Thursday
Although I’m still having some slight problems with jet lag, I’m starting to get more up to my usual “touring speed”. I decided to visit the Royal Yacht Britannia today, which is permanently moored at the Ocean terminal a short distance from the Edinburgh city centre.
I took the Bus downtown and went to Waverley Bridge to find the Majestic Tour Bus for the trip to the Royal Yacht Brittania (the Bus is bright lime green, so not hard to find!). The tour agent mentioned that entrance to the yacht is accessed through a shopping mall, so that was good to know
After lunch I returned to Brittania and was pleasantly surprised to find the crowd had considerably thinned out. The tour is well organized, starting on the top deck and working downwards through the ship, with the route clearly marked. The bridge area was not overly large, but well organized. The Admiral / Commodore had a small room in that area, and the chart room was right behind the bridge. The wheelhouse is one level down with commands shouted from the bridge through a voice tube (very old fashioned, but effective).
As the tour progresses downward, it covers quarters and Wardrooms for higher ranking Officers and some rooms for the Royal Family. All of the Wardrooms are fitted with compact but well provisioned Bars. The enlisted staff and Royal Marines quarters are lower in the ship, and of course as on most Navy ships the size of the quarters is directly proportional to rank
The large aft area of the ship has a beautiful teak deck, and it was in this area that many state functions were held with world leaders, including Nelson Mandela, Boris Yeltsin, Bill Clinton and others. The Queens sitting room is adjacent to that, facing towards the stern and complete with a well stocked Bar. A small collapsible swimming pool could be assembled there if any of the Royal family wanted a short “dip”. The crew apparently had to have all work completed by 08:00, in order not to disturb the Queen. They wore padded shoes to remain quiet. On board ship, the crew often went without their hats, as without headgear they were technically considered to be “out of uniform”, so this spared the Royal family from having to accept salutes numerous times during the day.
The bedrooms for the Queen and Prince Philip each contain one single bed as well as a small desk and night table. The “matrimonial suite” is directly across the corridor from their rooms, and is the only suite with a double bed (this was reportedly placed there when Charles married Diana)
One interesting feature is the Royal Garage, which houses a Rolls Royce Phantom. The space is very tight and the car had to be loaded onto the side of the ship with a Crane, placed on a set of rails mounted on the deck and then “slid” sideways into the garage on a wheeled dolley. The space is so tight that in some cases (depending on the type of vehicle used) the bumpers had to be removed before the car would fit into the garage.
The next level down has the Queen’s office and towards the stern, the large state dining room which is still used for corporate events. It apparently takes three hours to set the table, and when the Royal family dined there, the plates and cutlery were all measured with a ruler to ensure they were placed precisely where they should be. Behind that is the palatial Ballroom which consists of a smaller entry room with the larger room behind it. There’s also a Bar there and drinks would be served by Stewards.
The decks below that contain the Galleys, cutlery and silverware storage (silverware had to be polished daily), medical clinic (complete with surgery) and more quarters and Wardrooms for senior NCO’s
I had a brief look around the Mall before leaving the area, and it seemed much the same as Malls at home. Cell phone shops seemd to be overly abundant. I didn’t have long to wait for the Majestic Tours Bus back to town, and when I arrived at Waverley Station, I bought a Burger as I didn’t want to take time going for dinner in case it delayed my departure to the Tattoo. I used a Taxi back to the Hotel as I still hadn’t found the Bus station for the return direction from the city centre.
I had originally intended to take the Bus and then walk to the Tattoo, but it was about 20:00 by this time so I opted for a Taxi. The driver got me to within about a block from the Tattoo entrance (Police had many of the streets blocked off)
The theme of the Tattoo this year is “nautical”, so there were “sound effects” of Foghorns and Seagulls playing over the sound system. The performance started right on time, and it was fantastic! I’ll provide a brief summary, without getting into a lot of boring detail. The Tattoo includes regular performers every year from the Scottish and British Regiments, but there are also different guest military bands every year. The guests this year included a band from Garmen Partenkirchen (Bavaria), Brazilian Marines, Dutch military and Celtic dancers from Northern Ireland.
As I had anticipated, the entrance of the massed Pipes & Drums through the Castle ramparts through smoke was very impressive. Other performances included a comedic routine by the Dutch, who had instruments bolted to old fashioned bicycles or instruments attached to their person via a harness. They managed to play and ride in formation at the same time, which is an impressive accomplishment (they were dressed in WW-I uniforms and Helmets)
Of course the Massed Band of the Royal Marines was the highlight for me, and I was not disappointed! Their precision and musical skills were incredible! For those that want to see one of their performances, You Tube has a video of the Royal Marines band playing the theme from “Rocky”, which was performed for the Queen and Royal family (they can be seen at the end of the video). I’ve also posted a few short videos of the Tattoo on the Blog. The Tattoo performance lasted just short of two hours, ending at about 23:00. By the end it was starting to get a bit chilly in the stands, but thankfully it didn’t rain (I was glad I had brought a coat). I waited for the crowds to dissipate, and then headed down the hill and made my way back to the Hotel.
11 Aug. 26 - Friday
I had breakfast at the usual time this morning, but decided to get a later start so that I could catch up on Internet and E-mail. This seemed like a good time to make my first Blog entry, which was a priority for me today. The weather was quite miserable this morning, with heavy rain and thunderstorms. I figured it wouldn’t be a good idea to be out in a thunderstorm with an Umbrella, so decided to wait for awhile and hope for conditions to improve.
There was only one stop on my touring schedule today, a visit to Holyrood Palace, the Queen’s official residence in Scotland. I had planned to walk to the Palace, but still didn’t have a clear idea which direction the Royal Mile was, so reverted to a Taxi as usual. My Royal Edinburgh Pass was still valid, so entry was very quick. The tour is well laid out, with signs clearly indicating the route to follow. I didn’t discover until listening to the Audioguide, that photos are NOT allowed inside the Palace, which is quite a disappointment! The tour was interesting, and the furnishings and décor were suitably ornate, as might be imagined. One of the large gallery rooms was the same room where Sean Connery was knighted. Another historic room upstairs in one of the bedrooms, is where a previous Queen’s private secretary (an Italian) was dragged out by the Queen’s husband and in a fit of jealousy, and stabbed 56 times. When I exited the Palace, I discovered it was right across the street from the distinctive Scottish Parliament.
I decided to walk up the Royal Mile, enjoying the sights of the people and the colourful stores. The people and the entertainment activity increased as I got closer to the Castle, and there were some interesting street performers. One of the “statue” performers was handing a small object to a child, and it made for some good photos. There was also a lively band playing what sounded like Greek music (I got a video).
I decided it was time for my afternoon break, so headed for the historic Greyfriar’s Bobby Pub (it’s not far from Sandy Bell’s). I ordered a pint of Guinness and sat down at the only table with an empty chair. There were two girls sitting there so I had a visit with them. It turned out they were Servers from the Pub, and had just got off work. One of the girls was from Zimbabwe, so it was interesting to talk to her (sounds like conditions haven’t improved much there). We were eventually joined by the Cook, who had also just got off work. They apparently close the kitchen at 19:00 on Friday’s, as it’s too busy and crowded to serve hot food. I was looking forward to Fish & Chips with mushy Peas, but will have that on another occasion.
I asked the girls the history of the Pub, and it turned out to be quite interesting (although there’s some question as to whether it’s entirely accurate). The story is that a man named John Gray, who worked as a Watchman for the Edinburgh Police, used to drink at the Pub every day and brought his wee Dog “Bobby” (a Skye Terrier) with him every day. When he passed away from tuberculosis, he was buried in the graveyard behind the Pub. The dog had nowhere to go, but stayed in the area, sleeping on his master's grave for up to 14-hours every day. He reportedly found some refuge in nearby homes or in the Pub. He would apparently stay at his master’s grave every day, only coming inside for food or water. Someone eventually complained that there was a rule that dogs without a “master” or a license should be destroyed, so Sir William Chambers (who happened to be an official with the SPCA) adopted the dog and paid his license. This made him the responsibility of the Council. Eventually the dog passed away, and was buried close to his master. There’s a statue of the dog on the street outside the Pub. The old Church behind the Pub is reportedly haunted.
Eventually the girls left, and were replaced by three ladies from Albequrque, New Mexico. One of them was carrying an older Canon film Camera and I was teasing her a bit about still being in the “dark ages”. We had a nice chat.
After my afternoon refreshment, I headed a short distance down the street to the Vittoria Italian restaurant. It was VERY busy, but they said I would only have a 10 minute wait (others were being told to come back in an hour – sometimes there’s an advantage to being a solo traveller). I was eventually seated in the downstairs dining room (they have two floors of dining rooms, as well as a wine tasting area on a lower floor). My dining choice tonight was a distinctive and colourful house salad, followed by Spaghetti Carbonara, wine and an Amareto Gelato with coffee for dessert. It was an excellent meal and well worth the short wait! Several of the serving staff were from Italy, so I used the opportunity to brush-up on my Italian skills in preparation for being in Italy in a few weeks (they didn’t seem to mind).
It was after 22:00 by the time I finished dinner, and I figured it was about time to head back to the Hotel. I walked back to the street leading up to the Castle (the Tattoo was just ending). There were a large number of Police officers waiting for the Tattoo crowd, so they provided directions on how to get back to Waverley station. Surprisingly, it only took a few minutes to get there and the route was quite straightforward. Now that I know the way, it will be easy. I easily found the Bus stop for the Buses returning towards the Hotel (success at last!). Tomorrow will be my last day in Edinburgh.
11 Aug. 27 - Saturday
Today is my last day in Edinburgh, and I don’t have a lot of touring planned. This will be a good opportunity for a “housekeeping” day, which will include charging Camera batteries and other gadgets, catching up on E-mails and internet work, getting some laundry done and getting my Backpacks somewhat loaded for the trip tomorrow. In the afternoon, I hope to visit the Scottish National Museum.
By the time the chores were completed, it was after 13:00 and not only was I starting to get hungry but my interest in visiting the National Museum was waning. On the walk back from the Laundromat, I passed a Pub offering Fish & Chips with homemade Beer Batter and Mushy Peas. I decided this would be a perfect opportunity, and probably my last chance to enjoy such a fine local delicacy so I stopped and ordered lunch, and of course a pint of Guinness. It was a fantastic and very enjoyable meal, but it really filled me up. I never did make it to the National Museum, so I suppose that will have to wait for the next visit.
Staying outside of the city centre has been a bit of a “mixed” experience. The Hotel is very comfortable and the proprietors and staff have been wonderful. I doubt that I could have found a better Hotel to stay, and the Bus ride to Waverley station is only about 10-minutes which isn’t too bad. The Hotel converted to a “Metro Hotel” some time ago, so now only serve breakfast and it’s sometimes a bit of an effort to find something to eat in the area, especially later in the evening when even the Pubs have closed their food service. The main benefit is the fact that cost of the room is considerably less than accommodations in the main part of town, which are horrendously expensive during the Festival and Tattoo.