Category Archives: Photography

Pictures of the LEGO store

Since I was asked…

The store with the Pick-A-Brick wall at the back

Just some of the LEGO sets available

Some of the giant LEGO sculptures on top of the store

Another view. I meant to get better pictures later but forgot 😦



Dabblin’ around Dublin

This morning, we did something that we haven’t done all trip: we slept in and didn’t wake up to an alarm! (We did set an alarm, just in case we slept in crazy late, but we woke up before it went off.) We had a fairly leisurely morning (Pamela bought the hotel breakfast; I made tea in our room and ate a box of cereal that I stole from a previous hotel), and headed out.

We wanted to take the hop-on-hop-off bus tour of Dublin (run by the same company as the one we did in Cardiff). Pamela had a map and identified the nearest stop, which we walked to (passing about three of th buses along the way), only to find out that the stop was “closed”! So we went to stop #1, where a bus was parked, and bought our tickets…and were then told that that stop was closed too, and we had to walk a couple blocks to a pick-up point.

See, there’s some sort of event going on in town today – something to do with Formula One race cars – and they’ve closed a few roads in city centre to accommodate it. So the whole route for the bus tour was thrown into disarray. Our bus driver described it as the “mystery tour”, promising that we’d hit almost all of the stops but we’d do them in the wrong order and come at them from different angles (for instance, our first stop was stop 10). She was amusingly cynical about the whole thing, and kind of fun to listen to. (All our guides today had a good sense of humour.)

Some Dublin architecture. I believe this style is known as Georgian.

One of the stops that was closed was the one we wanted: the Trinity College stop. But there’s another one nearby, so we got off there; Trinity College was the one thing that we wanted to see today. We were planning on going to the Old Library to see the Book Of Kells, and we knew that that would cost €9. When we entered the College though (via the Arts Building), we saw a booth offering 30-minute walking tours of campus, including admission to the library, for €10. That seemed like a good deal, so we took it.

And that turned out to be a really good choice. Our tour guide was a fourth-year theatre student named Mark with a great sense of humour. He walked us around the various squares (Parliamant Square, aka Front Square, Library Square, and New Square), commented on the creativity in naming (Library Square is by the Library!), offered editorial opinions on the architecture, gave us information about the school itself (number of students, the process for becoming a Scholar or Fellow, etc.), and told us stories.

Mark, our awesome tour guide

Best story of the tour: In the 1700s, some drunk law students decided to annoy their professor by throwing pebbles at his window in the middle of the night. He responded with gunshots. The students went and got their guns and shot back. The professor ended up being killed, the students were expelled and went to court, they successfully argued their way to an acquittal, were re-admitted to the college, and graduated.

Then we went to the library and saw the Book Of Kells, which is an old (9th-century) illuminated manuscript of the four gospels. There was a whole exhibit about how books like that were made, what the symbolism in some of the illustrations meant, and so forth. It all led up to the room where you could see the book itself, plus two other less-famous books of similar age and content. Plus there was the Long Room of the Old Library, which was a beautiful room to walk through and had displays of interesting manuscripts, like Luther’s translation of the Old Testament and a page from one of the original Gutenberg Bibles. It was all a little nerdy, really…I loved it.

The Old Library at Trinity College

We finished off at the gift shop (I almost bought a harp but didn’t), and then got lunch at Costa Coffee…a chain we have become fans of, as something relatively constant wherever we’ve traveled.

We then caught the next bus for the bus tour, which was led by a very dry-witted driver. When we got back to our hotel, we got off…but because the road closures made the routes weird, I’m not convinced we actually saw everything. And for half the drive, a group of loud cackling British women were sitting in the back and making it very hard to hear what the driver was talking about. Oh well…with the cool weather we weren’t riding in the open top anyway, so we couldn’t see very well.

Dublin (and presumably the rest of the country) has come down with a serious case of politics.

That said, while the weather was cool and gray and damp, we were happy to have it, because the forecast was for “heavy rain”. That never materialized, and it never really got worse than a light drizzle at any point. And yet this still managed to be one of the worst days for weather we’ve had this trip (the other was in St. Andrews), which shows how lucky we’ve been.

After dropping some stuff off at our hotel, we took a final wander through the neighbourhood of O’Connell street. On one street, we saw way more 2nd-hand mobile phone shops than should really exist in a two-block stretch, as well as all sorts of ethnic food stores and restaurants. Pamela said it reminded her of parts of Manhattan, and I’d have to agree. Anyway, we wandered around, took some photos, and went back to the hotel.

Pamela didn’t buy this hat 😦

Once there, we sorted out everything for tomorrow: figured out who owes who what, made sure we knew what was in our bags and what we have to declare at customs, collected all our receipts, and so on. We both had extra space in our bags on the way out, but they’re a little fuller now!

We also discussed the weird time warp that this trip has been. It feels like we were in Liverpool a few weeks ago, and Cardiff feels like a trip we took last fall or something. It certainly seems like way more than two weeks since we’ve been in Winnipeg. Two weeks turns out to be an awfully long trip, especially when the days are as full as ours have been. We’ve had a great time – it’s almost hard to realize that unless we stop and look back on it – but we’re definitely ready to come home!

And of course that’s what we’re doing tomorrow. With flights from Dublin to Frankfurt to Toronto to Winnipeg, it’s going to be one last busy day to cap off a very busy trip.

We’re looking forward to seeing all of you again!

Look how pretty Trinity College is!


To the Emerald Isle!

We had our probably-final contact with Contiki this morning. First, in the form of the wake-up call that was set for all the Contiki people in the hotel. We didn’t need it because we were leaving later, so…that was a little annoying. And second, when we went down for breakfast, we bumped into three other people from our tour who had also ended their tour in Scotland, and were all going separate ways.

So we had our breakfast, called a cab, and headed off the the airport (after we learned that Glasgow has two airports, and figured out which one we needed). We were planning to be at the airport 90 minutes before our flight; the airline recommended being there a whopping 2.5 hours early, but that seemed excessive. As it turned out, our morning went quickly and the cab ride was fast, so we ended up a little over 2 hours early anyway…and check-ins for our flight weren’t even open yet! So I have no idea why the airline recommends checking in half an hour before it’s even possible…

The check-in area of the airport was pretty dingy, but check-in and security was very efficient, and once we were past security, the airport was like most European airports and had all sorts of shopping and restaurants. So we wandered through the shops and eventually made our way to our gate. We still ended up having about another 45 minutes to kill, and unfortunately there was no free wifi in the airport (boo!)

Oh well…then it was off to Dublin! Our flight had a crew of about six or eight high-spirited football fans in the back (just behind us), making enough noise and having enough fun for about thirty people. We think they were Irish, but aren’t sure. If the flight was much longer they probably would have been annoying β€” as it was they were annoying a lot of other people already β€” but as it was, I just found them amusing.

O’Connell Street (I think) in Dublin. You can see “The Spire” in the background, which is so tall it’s silly.

We got our luggage (it all made it!), went through customs and immigration (almost a non-event; I love the EU, it’s so easy to travel around), and caught a cab to the hotel. After a few minutes settling in, we decided to go to the Guinness Storehouse. First we had to figure out how to get there! After a little sleuthing, I figured we could take the tram. It was a few blocks down some main streets to get to the tram station (we stopped for a late lunch at the Kingfisher pub), then a fairly cheap tram ride, and a few more blocks walking through some weird industrial area (we only got lost once).

I’m at the big Guinness place! Check out me being a tourist!

The Guinness Storehouse itself is an impressively big exhibition. It’s really kind of a museum. It talks about the ingredients that go into Guinness (there’s a huge “sandbox” full of barley that you can run through your fingers), and of course how the beer is made, but there are also exhibits about the ancillary trades: barrel-making, transportation (Guinness had its own ships made to transport beer; one was sunk by a torpedo in the First World War), and advertising. There’s also a tasting room (Pamela and I both had our mini-Guinness), a place where you can learn to pour “the perfect Guinness” (long line; we passed), and a bar up top where you can get a free Guinness (insanely busy; we left). And of course there’s the gift shop, which is impressive.

Pamela in the Guinness Storehouse

It’s been a weird day with the traveling and everything, so we’re probably going to have a quiet evening. We’re planning on just eating at the hotel restaurant for dinner, and I doubt we’ll go out tonight (it’s already 7:30, and we haven’t eaten yet). Then we have a fairly slow-paced day planned for Sunday – our last day of vacation! (Hard to believe!)

Oh, one other thing: on the walk back to the hotel, just a block or two from the hotel, we passed what looked like every fireman in the city of Dublin. We had stumbled across the starting area for a parade celebrating the Dublin Fire Brigade’s 150th anniversary! So that was kind of cool. And very surreal to wander into the middle of!

Dublin’s Finest?


A few missed photos from Glasgow

There were a few things we saw in Glasgow last night while looking for wifi, which resulted in me not having the photos for the blog post. But some of them are too good not to share, so here goes:

This is the band that I bought a CD from.

This is the busker that Pamela has a crush on.

This is probably not a TARDIS.

But we got a huge kick out of it anyway.


Last day in Scotland!

Breakfast this morning was basically the same as every British breakfast we’ve had – hot food, cold toast, croissants, tea, juice, cereal – and then it was off to Stirling!

There are two major things to do in Stirling. The first is to visit Stirling Castle, and the second is to visit the William Wallace monument. Pamela and I opted to do neither. (But if you’re curious: the reason for the monument is that this was the site of the Battle Of Stirling Bridge, where William Wallace led the Scottish resistance to their first real victory over the English.)

Stirling Castle

But we skipped these, because we weren’t super-excited about doing another castle (especially one with an entry fee that was over Β£15), and paying for a cab ride to and from the William Wallace memorial also didn’t really seem worth it. Instead, we explored the “Top of the Town cemeteries”.

We actually spent quite a while wandering around a couple of the cemeteries near Stirling Castle. The stones, in general, weren’t as old as we had expected: we did see one clearly dated in the 1500s, and a couple with numbers that might have represented dates in the 1600s, but the vast majority were from around 1850 and later.

Angel on a headstone

Two interesting things that we noticed about these stones: first, there were a surprising number of people born in the late 1700s who lived into their 70s and 80s, and second, a lot of the stones were memorial stones for entire families. They’d start off with one or two names on them and the rest left blank, and then more and more people were added as time went on. It’s not clear if all these people were actually interred there or not; we suspect not.

A typical multi-person memorial

Once we were done with that, we got lunch at a pub that actually felt oddly North-American, and then started the walk back up to the castle. The bus was waiting for us at the castle, which is on top of the hill, and the road to get there is very steep, so we wanted to leave plenty of time so that we didn’t have to hurry back.

Along the way, we passed the Church Of The Holy Rude (where “rude”, often spelled “rood”, is an old word for the cross of the crucifixion). I wanted to take a look inside; Pamela wasn’t that interested and had seen a souvenir shop near the bus that she wanted to check out. So we split up and I investigated the church.

The Church Of The Holy Rude

It was pretty nice! All big stone pillars and stained glass windows. The people there gave me a little map and some information about the church so that while I wandered around I knew what I was looking at. The church was built in stages, with annexes and towers added on over the years, and based on some of the construction they think the original plans called for another tower that was never built. But the best story is that at one point (during the Reformation, I think), two ministers had a disagreement and the congregation was divided, some supporting each minister, and they “resolved” it by actually building a wall across the church and turning it into two separate churches, with one minister preaching in each half! (The wall’s gone now; a later minister managed to re-unite the two halves.)

Inside the Church Of The Holy Rude

Also, king James VI was coronated in that church (as an infant). They’re very proud of that, and there’s a stone marking the location.

We’ve got more great weather today: it’s warm, but not too hot or humid, and it’s partly cloudy, so we’re getting a lot of sun. We keep hearing how lucky we are. It’s a good thing we have good weather, though, because everyone’s getting tired, and if it was grey and rainy it might be getting really bad. I keep hearing people talk about how they miss their beds or their homes or whatever…and most of them still have the whole Ireland leg of the trip to do yet! Pamela and I have been on vacation for 12 days now, and are getting ready to go home…and we’re not the only ones. The mood on the bus is getting a bit punchy, with people randomly singing or saying ridiculous things; we’ve spent too much time on the coach, I think, and it’s kind of like cabin fever.

I’m definitely tired. I got plenty of sleep last night, but the trip and being sick are catching up to me. I fell asleep on the bus this afternoon and slept right through our entrance into Glasgow, including at least half of Roxy telling us about the city and what there is to do around here. (Short version: surprisingly little.) We did stop very quickly at Glasgow Cathedral for some photos, before Muffin dropped us off at the hotel.

Glasgow Cathedral

Our hotel room doesn’t appear to have wi-fi, so Pamela and I are wrote our blog posts, and then went out to wander the city and look for wi-fi somewhere. There’s surprisingly little to do around here…there’s a big street full of shopping, but it’s not interesting shopping: it’s all pound shops (i.e. dollar stores) and shoes and clothes and whatnot…a great shopping strip for locals, but nothing really that you’d do while on vacation. We passed several buskers, including a guy about dad’s age singing “Walking On Sunshine” while playing guitar, a mid-20s woman speaking and rapping about social injustice, and a band of guys in kilts playing bagpipes and drums (I was amused enough to buy their CD).

We also found the best busker ever: an energetic ginger fellow playing and singing anything you could think of on an amplified acoustic guitar. (I think the first thing we heard him sing was “The Bear Necessities” from The Jungle Book, and at one point he sang a medley with “Blitzkrieg Bop” spliced into the middle of “Footloose”. He was great.)

We ended the day at a local pub for our last night with the tour group…we were told not to wear yellow or green tops, though, or we might find ourselves unwittingly taking sides in the local soccer rivalry. And then tomorrow morning it’s onto the plane to Dublin!

(We ended up not finding any wifi, so I bought some time from the hotel hotspot. This probably means that Pamela won’t post anything tonight. And given that I paid for it, it’s disappointingly bad.)


The Isle of Skye

Well, last night we got some of the best sleep we have all trip. The hotel is weird and probably not deserving of the three stars it claims to have, but the beds were comfortable and we were in them early…around 10:00 or so. With that solid night’s sleep behind us, we both woke up feeling a lot better than we did last night!

On the topic of the hotel…this morning, we couldn’t get our email or anything. This is because apparently the hotel hasn’t been paying their Internet bill! If you tried to do anything online, you just got a page for British Telecom saying “Service suspended; your payment is overdue”. Very amusing, but also annoying. Certainly doesn’t reflect well on the hotel!

This hotel has an overdue internet bill

I took a short wander outside before breakfast this morning; it was quite misty, but I took a few pictures. Breakfast was very average…though apparently there was a medical emergency and somebody came looking for anyone with medical training! We currently have three nurses and possibly a doctor in our group; one of the nurses went to help out. Pamela and I missed the whole thing, though we heard about it after, and saw the ambulance. The story we got is that an old lady who was at the hotel had a stroke; we doubt that’s true because the ambulance was in no hurry to take anyone anywhere.

The deep, calm waters of Loch Ness

Nessie leaving Loch Ness. Doesn’t the terrain look exactly like the Whiteshell?

Then we started this morning with a cruise on Loch Ness. It was a little drizzly and misty, so while it was very pretty, nobody really wanted to be outside on top of the boat. It was a nice relaxing cruise, but the weather wasn’t great for photos. The scenery in the area was very similar to the Whiteshell! Though we did see a beautiful old castle on the shore (Urquhart Castle), which you wouldn’t get in the Whiteshell. We didn’t see Nessie, so that was disappointing.

Urquhart Castle

The shores of Loch Ness in the morning rain and mist

Now yesterday I said we had taken a longer drive than necessary, but I was wrong; I had misunderstood our guide. That bit was today: we did a scenic drive through the highlands. Specifically, we went for a drive on the Isle of Skye, which is just off the west coast of Scotland (you can get there on a bridge). There were no “attractions”, per se, on the island; it’s just a pretty drive. Lots of lochs, Gaelic signs, long-haired highland coos (aka cows), mountains, and windy roads. We made a couple of stops for photos, with lunch in the town of Portree.

A river that apparently has the water of youth in it. You need to wash your face in it for seven seconds.


Like I said, it was a nice drive, and Roxy played all Celtic music on the coach instead of the club/dance/techno tunes that she normally does, so that was a nice touch. Unfortunately, she also insisted on giving us a couple of her history lessons along the way. I honestly don’t think there’s a single person on this bus that cares. Several of us do enjoy history, but it’s a bit much, and while she tries hard, she’s not the best storyteller. We’ve even got a history major on the bus, and he’s said he’s had enough. Oh well…

The weather really cleared up as the day went on: by the afternoon we had bright sunshine and big expanses of blue sky. But it wasn’t hot, like it was earlier in the trip. Really, it was gorgeous. Hard to believe that we’re almost as far north as Churchill, MB!

A stream in the highlands

This tall rock has a name that I forget

We also stopped at Eilean Donan castle. (Roxy pronounces this “illan donnan”; I don’t totally trust her in these matters but it sounds plausible.) There’s some weird story associated with this about a baby boy whose very first drink was drank out of the skull of a raven. It gave him the power to understand and speak to birds, but there’s some questionable parenting involved.

Eilean Donan

Our last stop for the day was by Ben Nevis (sp?). This is the highest peak in Scotland…though it’s not particularly high by, say, Rocky Mountain standards. Roxy says she’s never seen the top, and was getting optimistic with the nice weather we were having, but by the time we got there, it was cloudy again, and the peak was not quite visible. Oh well.

Ben Nevis, its peak in the clouds

For the night, we’re in a town called Fort William. It’s a “young” city, at least relative to the others we’ve been in, since this has only been around since the 15th century. It really gives you a sense of how old everything is here when a 500-year-old city is young. We’re a little ways away from the town pubs and restaurants, so most people opted for the coach ride into town for dinner, but a few of us just ate in the hotel bar. A great choice, actually…Pamela and I had a Cajun chicken breast dinner that actually was real food, not deep-fried, and felt like it might be prolonging our lives instead of shortening them.

The Scottish Highlands

Tomorrow’s an early morning again: up at 6:30, on the bus at 7:45, so we’re hoping to get to bed nice and early again. And tomorrow night we’ll be in Glasgow for our last night with the tour group before we’re on our own again, so we might actually head out to the pubs with everyone for goodbyes. We both want to, but it depends how we’re feeling.


A lazy day

We didn’t have to leave the hotel until 9:00 AM today. 9:00! Can you imagine? That means we could sleep until 7:30!

Seriously, it’s been a while since we’ve slept in like this. Combined with an early night last night, it was fantastic…and we could have slept more. But we got up, showered, did not have to pack our bags, had breakfast, and met the group on time for departure to Edinburgh Castle. Roxy was not her usual perky self this morning; she was out drinking last night with some of the others and seemed to be feeling the after effects πŸ™‚

Our bus driver also had the day off (EU regulations demand it), so we were all given day passes for the Edinburgh transit system (well, one of them; there are at least two), and Roxy took us to Edinburgh Castle. She gave us our entry tickets and left us to our own devices.

Approaching Edinburgh Castle

Pamela and I wandered through the castle, which was very cool, because unlike Cardiff Castle, it’s not just an outer wall – it’s full of buildings and streets inside like it would have been originally, so it feels a lot more real…you can get a sense of how it might have operated. There’s been a fort on Castle Hill since at least 600 AD. (Quote from the information sign: “Three hundred heroes rode to their doom after a year drinking in a hall on the castle rock” β€” doesn’t that just sound Scottish somehow?) I gather that the current castle setup was started by someone named King David I in the 12th century, but the only building that remains from that period is one church. The castle’s been invaded several times so most of the buildings have been knocked down and rebuilt over the centuries.

Buildings in Edinburgh Castle

Also in the castle, we wandered into an impressive-looking building called the War Memorial. It was built after the First World War, and has of course been turned into a memorial for the Second World War and later wars as well. On the inside, it was absolutely stunning. It’s like a church inside: all stone arched ceilings and stained glass windows and engravings and such. I didn’t expect anything at all like it, and was quite blown away. Unfortunately, because photography is prohibited inside, I can’t show you what it looks like. But I can relay the engraving that was in the room dedicated to the unknown soldiers, which really struck me:

Others also there are who perished unknown
Their sacrifice is not forgotten
And their names though lost to us are written in the books of God

The Scottish War Memorial

Next we went to the tower that held the old Scottish crown, scepter, and sword, plus the Stone Of Scone, aka the Stone Of Destiny. There are whole big complicated stories about these: they’ve been lost, stolen, recovered, broken, repaired, hidden, found, modified, and so forth over the ages. The most modern bit is about the Stone Of Scone. This is just a rectangular chunk of rock from a place called Scone. Historically, all Scottish kings were crowned on it. Back in the 13th century, King Edward I stole it from Scotland, and it was only just returned in 1996! (There’s a lot more to the story; look it up if you’re interested.)

Edinburgh Castle’s “main street”

A snail I found in the flowers

By then, I was getting hungry and Pamela was getting bored, so we skipped the rest of the castle and headed out. We were looking for a place to eat, and actually ended up in a Pizza Hut; we’re still feeling unwell and we just wanted some familiar food that we knew would fill us up. It did the trick, and then we went wandering the Royal Mile β€” a stretch of road full of various shops β€” and did some souvenir shopping.

Edinburgh, we’ve decided, is an extremely pretty city. It’s just really beautiful to look at in most of the older part of the city. Part of this is because it’s a very hilly city…which also makes it kind of tiring to wander around. So we certainly took our time. It was really nice to not be in a hurry for once. We had the option of getting back to the hotel for a free dinner at 7:00, but other than that we had nothing on the schedule.

A lot of people rub this toe.

So after shopping, we ended up at an unusual place called the Camera Obscura. This is a tourist attraction centered around…well, optical things, is the best way I can describe it. There are optical illusions and holograms and stereoscopic photos and a maze made of mirrors and all sorts of stuff. One highlight, for me, was this hallway that you walk down that’s basically a catwalk through a big round tube. The room is dark and the inside of the tube is covered in coloured lights, and it’s rotating as you walk along, and it’s absolutely disorienting. It’s a very weird feeling, and you need to grab onto the rails because you’re convinced that you’re tipping over.

Pamela’s very bad day

The reason for the name “Camera Obscura” is because of what’s on the top floor: a dark room with a white table in the middle, with an image of Edinburgh projected onto it from a mirror and three lenses on the room of the building. This gives a live image of what’s going on outside, in quite clear detail: you can easily recognize people walking on the streets below. An employee controls the “camera” and points it in different directions around the city, so you get a bit of a city tour thrown into the mix.

And then you can also go out onto observation balconies on the top floor and look over the city. There are binoculars and telescopes up there too. Overall, it was a surprisingly neat thing to do for almost two hours, and a nice break from the cultural and historical stuff that we’ve been immersed in for the last week.

Edinburgh, viewed from the top of the Camera Obscura building

We headed back to the hotel then and spent some time just reorganizing our bags and going through receipts and things, making sure we had records of what we were bringing back to Canada and how much money we owed each other and whatnot. Then we headed down to the hotel dinner to check out the menu, decided we didn’t feel like nibbling at another weird British meal that we were only half-interested in anyway because we weren’t feeling great, and agreed to walk across the street to a conveniently located KFC. Along the way we met another member of the group who had reached exactly the same conclusion :-). So we ate, went to the pharmacy and bought ourselves some drugs, went to the grocery store for snacks (yogurt and chocolate milk), and returned back for a relaxing evening.

So really, today was a vacation from our vacation! We both needed it, and we’re feeling better now than we did yesterday at this time, so that’s promising. It’s an early morning tomorrow, back on the road and going to Loch Ness! (I think.)


Border Hopping

Today, we crossed the England/Scotland border three times!

Our first border crossing was on the drive from Shap, England to Gretna Green, Scotland. Greta Green grew out of a tiny nowhere town that was a blacksmith and not much else, back around 1750. Here’s why:

The English, in an attempt to stop young couples from eloping and getting secret marriages, put some laws in place: to get married without your parents’ consent, you had to be 21, and the marriage had to be in a church during daylight. But Scotland didn’t adopt these laws, so people would run across the border to get married, and Gretna Green was the closest town to the border (about a half-mile). You needed a witness to the wedding: someone of profession, like a blacksmith. But you didn’t need a priest! So the blacksmiths in Gretna Green started doing marriages. This turned into a lively trade, with more blacksmiths coming to profit from it, and that’s what put the town on the map.

One of the wedding rooms at Gretna Green

So we staged a fake wedding with the couple that “won” the blind date game last night. It had “cheesy tourist attraction” written all over it, but it was kinda fun anyway. Afterwards we did a little souvenir shopping; there are a lot of shops, and Roxy claims that the prices here are fairly good.

After that amusing bit of nonsense, we popped back into England and headed to Hadrian’s Wall. This wall marked the northern border of the Roman empire, and the site we visited was Housesteads Roman Fort: the remains of a fort built along the wall. There’s not a lot to see, since most of what’s left is only a foot or two high, but I’m a sucker for old ruins so I enjoyed it. Plus you’re allowed to climb all over it if you want, so you can walk on bits of the wall and so forth. There’s a museum too, but I didn’t even bother going into it. We didn’t have an enormous amount of time, and I was enjoying wandering the ruins and taking pictures.

Hadrian’s Wall

Remains of a 19th-century well by the fort

After buying a quick snack (including “sea salt and cider vinegar crisps”, how British!), it was back onto the bus and back into Scotland! We stopped at the Scottish border crossing for the obligatory tourist photos. There was a bagpiper there too (playing, of course, “Scotland The Brave”). I briefly played with the idea of buying Dad one of the CDs he was selling, but for some reason Pamela didn’t think he’d enjoy it. (But I’m quite pleased to finally learn that “Scotland The Brave” is the name of that song that you always hear pipers playing.)

We made it to Scotland!

We stopped for a quick lunch at a service stop in a town called Jedburgh. There’s a restaurant, a coffee shop, and a few gift shops all together. It’s clearly a popular place for coach tours to stop for lunch. Nothing exciting to report here, though. We then headed on to Edinburgh. (I don’t quite have the proper pronunciation figured out, but it’s something like “Edinburra” or “Edinburrh”, if that makes sense.)

In Edinburgh, our tour manager Roxy went to meet the new people who are joining our tour. See, this trip we’re on is a “modular” tour…apparently the only one that Contiki does. It goes to England, Scotland, and Ireland, but they sell five different tour packages: all three countries, England and Scotland, Scotland and Ireland (I think), Scotland only, or Ireland only. They’re all on the same bus, so people join and leave at different points. Pamela and I are doing the “England And Scotland” trip, which means we’ll be leaving the group in Glasgow. (We are going to Ireland, but we’re doing that on our own, not with Contiki.)

That’s a lot of text to have to deal with. Here are some sheep to look at instead.

The new members of our group came out to our Scottish dinner event. We went to a restaurant (the Murrayfield Hotel and Lodge) where they served us a traditional Scottish dinner. (Appetizers: soup and haggis; entrΓ©e: chicken balmoral; dessert: sticky toffee pudding.) Yes, we both tried the haggis, and it was surprisingly edible. Very spicy, and oddly reminiscent of meatloaf. But we’re not likely to order it again.

(Actually, I didn’t finish any of my courses, including dessert. We’re both a little sick right now and I don’t have much of an appetite.)

After the meal, a bagpiper came out for an hour or so. He played the pipes, told jokes and stories, and generally entertained us. He was very popular. Apparently, this fellow (Andy) was the late Queen Mother’s favourite piper. He was a little crude, but always with a twinkle in his eye so he never came across as offensive. Very Scottish, really. I really enjoyed him and would have loved it if we had a longer show.

Andy the piper

Then the bus dropped most of the group off for a night on the town, and took the rest of us back to the hotel. Eventually. It seems like half the roads in the city of Edinburgh are under construction right now, so every time our driver though he knew how to get to the hotel, he ran into a “road closed” or “no right turns” sign or whatever. We definitely drove in circles a lot. He was impressively good-humoured about it.

And tonight in Edinburgh is our first two-night stay…with a later wake-up time tomorrow morning! I’m looking forward to that! What with us not feeling well, a bit of a slower pace for a day or two will be welcome. We’ve got a nice hotel, too. It’s a Holiday Inn, and we have double beds instead of twins for the first time on the trip. The room is a decent size, and we decided to pay for the in-room wifi. So it’s not a bad place to spend two nights.

We’re going to Edinburgh Castle in the morning; after that we don’t have any plans. We’ll see how we feel. We’re both pretty tired and Edinburgh is very hilly so we don’t expect to have the energy to do a whole lot. But who knows?


Heading North

I’m looking at my notes for today, and wow, were we busy! Good thing I took some notes along the way, because this morning already feels like a day or two ago!

(On a side note, tour manager Roxy has suggested that everyone on this tour should try “wi-fi rehab” and not worry about getting online every day, but…that’s not gonna happen!)

So we started with an English breakfast at 6:45 this morning. The phrase “continental breakfast” comes from the British, to distinguish the simple, cold breakfasts common on the European continent from the English breakfasts that they’re used to. Breakfast had…I don’t even remember everything. Sausage and potatoes and eggs and ham and bacon and baked beans and fried mushrooms and probably more, PLUS toast and cold cereal and croissants and coffee and tea and juice and yoghurt… It was an impressive spread. We’ve been told to expect this most mornings.

But because it was early morning and I’m used to a simple breakfast, that’s what I had. Croissants and tea and orange juice. Three of each, actually.

You know what? I don’t even remember what this is. Pretty though, ain’t it? (It’s in York, I can tell you that.)

Then on the bus at 7:30! We got a bit of a geography lesson on the drive: Roxy explained the meanings (and historical relevance) of the terms Britain, Great Britain, The United Kingdom, and England, as well as how Scotland, Wales, Ireland, and Northern Ireland fit into the picture…plus how the politics are structured now with how the various countries are governed by both independent parliaments, a shared parliament, and a shared monarch.

So now I’m smarter. (Short version: Great Britain is England, Wales, and Scotland; The UK is Great Britain plus Northern Ireland.)

And then we went to Liverpool!

Of course, the thing to do in Liverpool is Beatles tourism, and we certainly did that! We had a local tour guide come on the bus and she gave us the “Magical Mystery Tour”: she told Muffin where to drive us, and she pointed out all the sights: where the various members of the band went to school, grew up, met, what bus route they took, where some of the locations mentioned in the songs were, and so on. (So we saw Penny Lane and where Strawberry Fields was, but for some reason not Abbey Lane.) She also told us a bit about the history of the band, and how it grew from the Quarrymen into the Beatles.

Guess what song the guide played as we drove along this street?

While in town, our tour guide Jackie also told us the story behind the fairly distinctive Liverpudlian accent. It’s because of the history of the city: a huge number of Irish people moved there during the Irish potato famine. So the Liverpool accent has a significant Irish component to it: there were so many Irish people that it influenced the accent of the entire city.

She also pointed out a couple non-Beatles landmarks, like the former offices of the White Star shipping company, and the balconies where the owners stood to announce to the public that the Titanic had sunk.

Entrance to The Cavern Club

Afterwards, we had some free time. We walked down to The Cavern Club, which calls itself “the most famous club in the world”. It’s most well-known for being the place where The Beatles first performed and made a name for itself, but loads of other bands performed there as well and their names are written all over the walls. Some of the names I saw and remember are the Rolling Stones, Eric Clapton, Elton John, Queen…loads more, many of whom are quite well-known, but my memory fails me. I ordered a drink while we were there (just a coke) because it seemed like the thing to do.

The stage where the Beatles first performed.

Inside the Cavern Club. It’s smaller than it used to be.

Then, we just wandered around the local shopping streets while making our way back to Albert Docks, the waterfront district where our coach would be meeting us. We grabbed some lunch (I did a very British thing and got a box of takeaway chips), and sat on a bench by the harbour (I think) and waited for the bus. Pamela had something from a coffee chain we’ve seen everywhere we’ve been called Costa seems to be the British equivalent of Second Cup. I went in after I was done my chips and got an iced chocolate drink, and then wasn’t allowed to take it on the bus! (No dairy products allowed, because if they spill they’re a huge mess to clean up). I should have known better, so I just had to chug it πŸ™‚

The harbour at Albert Docks

It was a very nice wait for the bus though, because today was another gorgeous day! Not a cloud in the sky; blue from horizon to horizon. Everywhere we go we’re hearing how lucky we are with the weather! It reminds me of when I was in Alaska and kept hearing the same thing.

Anyway, that was Liverpool! A neat city, kind of funky, with a different feel than the other cities we’ve been in. There’s definitely a music/pub scene going on, and there are apparently a huge number of students theat come to atudy at the two universities…not because the universities are amazing, but because of the night life.

Oh, we also saw a very big brick church. It was huge and impressive and imposing…not particularly ornate, but there was a lot of it. Our local guide described it as the largest cathedral in England (remember this for later). Also, trivia: it was designed at the age of 21 by the same guy that designed the iconic red British telephone box, and there’s one of those telephone boxes inside the church.

And that was only HALF the day!

We then drove to the city of York. It’s a very old city, with lots of history: the Angles lived there, the the Vikings took over, then the Romans invaded, then the Romans left, then the Normans invaded, and so on. Everyone left their mark. So it’s got a very old city wall, and lots of very old stone buildings, and yet again it’s completely different than any other city we’ve been to so far. York feels quite medieval…a lot of the city hasn’t changed much in a few hundred years, and it shows. It’s surprising to me how different these cities are in architecture and design and atmosphere, and it always seems to relate to their history.

Driving from Liverpool to York

Roxy started by taking the entire group on a walking tour of York, but about halfway along, Pamela and I abandoned the group in an area called The Shambles, which is where all the butchers used to be. It’s all twisting roads and tiny hidden alleyways, and it’s filled with shops, including a surprising number of sweet shops (that’s “candy stores” if you don’t speak British). We wandered around for quite some time, exploring the alleys and doing some shopping and just relaxing. It was quite nice: we didn’t have any goals and we weren’t trying to cram in any tours, so for probably the first time on the Contiki tour we didn’t feel rushed.

Just one of the windy shopping streets in The Shambles

One of the lanes that the locals use to avoid the crowds.

We didn’t wander totally aimlessly, though. Every once in a while, we saw a tall impressive stone building in the distance, and we assumed (correctly) that it was the Yorkminster (a cathedral), and we meandered in its general direction.

When we finally got a clear view of the Yorkminster, we were impressed by its size. Then we stepped out of the alleyway and could really see it, and were astonished. And then, just as we were taking all that in, the bells started playing! We admired the building, tried in vain to photograph it, and listened to the carillon for probably 20 minutes.

A feeble attempt to photograph the long side of the Yorkminster. See those tiny people at the bottom?

Another view, from around the corner.

Later, we learned two pieces of trivia about the Yorkminster. First, it took about 300 years to build. Sounds ridiculous, but having seen it, I believe it (and others on our tour say it’s even more impressive on the inside). And second it’s…the largest cathedral in England. That makes two cities in one day each with the largest cathedral. There must be some technicality here that I missed out on…is one a cathedral and one a church? Is there more than one way to measure size? No idea.

When we were done there, we started to make our way back to the meeting point for our group…the same place we started our walk. This was when I was really glad to have my GPS. Because I knew from the GPS where we were and where we needed to be, we didn’t need to try to retrace our path. Instead, we could walk back to the meeting point down an entirely different set of streets and alleys. We found our groups and went to a pub for a local pub dinner…something that was included in our tour package. This turned out to be vegetable soup, pork roast, Yorkshire pudding (naturally), potatoes (mashed and…roasted? not sure), boiled vegetables, and some sort of chocolate cake with clotted cream.

And our day still wasn’t done! The final item on the schedule was a ghost walk. See, York is reputed to be the most haunted city in the world. So we had a local guide take us around the city and tell us some of the stories of the alleged hauntings. He did a really good job: he wasn’t over-dramatic and wasn’t trying to scare people, just told stories of what people had seen and what the background was (i.e. “The description of this ghost matches so-and-so, who had this story and died here in this way…”)

This lane got its name from one of the ghost stories. Then the city changed it. Then the locals got cranky and they put a new sign up with both names. Our guide says that everybody uses the old name.

(Side note that I don’t know where to fit in: York has an enormous number of pubs. And it’s always been that way…old manuscripts apparently claim that a man could spend a year inside the walls of York and have a drink in a different pub every night. That works out to a pub every 2-3 doorways in some areas of the city. There aren’t that many now, but there are still a lot. There’s a big pub culture…apparently not heavy drinking, but going to the pub is definitely the thing to do in the evening.)

Finally, it was back to the bus and time to go to our hotel. We’re in a small town called Wetherby (pronounced “weatherbee”). This town is right on the old route from London to Edinburgh and used to e a stopover point for people making that journey, so its very appropriate that we’re staying here! It was a late arrival…we didn’t get to the hotel until around 10:00…but it’s a later start tomorrow morning too, so that balances out!



There’s nothing like a prairie sunset.

Taken on the drive home tonight, at the corner of Grassie and Lagimodiere.