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Friday, June 12, 2009

UK Trip, days 5-7

Day 5 - This was mostly a driving day. We headed out to Heathrow fairly early to pick up the rental car. After lengthy negotiations, Andrew manages to secure an upgraded car (Saab Aero) for some extra bucks. The extra bucks buy us more legroom and, more importantly, a GPS. We were off to Scotland! The GPS paid for itself by getting out of the area surrounding the airport with no wrong turns. With the amount of round-abouts in the UK, I'm sure we would have gotten completely lost without the GPS. Thankfully, Andrew has lots of experience with round-abouts from growing up in Australia. We got to Edinburgh at about 6.30pm, though it took us an extra 30 min to find our "guest house" as the GPS did not take us all the way there. After a bit of griping at each other we decided to stop at a pizza joint & ask for directions, because if anyone knows the neighbourhood, it'll be a pizza delivery guy. Anyway, we finally arrived, too late to do any sightseeing in Edinburgh itself. We had a little dinner and then headed up to chill out in the room. Well, it wasn't actually chilly, as it never really got too cool in Scotland when we were there, which hampered our sleeping efforts. Also, our room happened to be above the hotel bar, so if we opened the windows too much we got a room full of smoke & noisy patrons. Awesome.

Day 6 - Had a hot breakfast, including haggis (we went all the way to Scotland, we had to say we'd tried haggis). We only tried a little bit each, but it stayed with us for quite a while. It wasn't awful, it just had an odd taste & texture. Then it was off to Inverness, by way of Fort William. You could really tell when you'd reached the Highlands, the mountains were just spectacular. I've never really been around mountains like that before so it was quite a treat. Sure, they're not the highest mountains in the world, but they just go on forever. I took lots of pictures from the car, and they actually turned out - all hail the sports setting! All over the place there was this small yellow shrub that I can't identify & it's driving me nuts. Anyhoo, we stopped in Fort William for lunch and a little shopping. We bought my dad a quaich & a little bottle of scotch (which he doesn't really drink, and won't be able to drink for a while - until he recovers) from the local distillery (Ben Nevis - which is also the name of the nearby mountain, the highest peak in the UK). We also scored a nodding/bobble-head Nessie for the car! We do love our odd bobble-heads. We still miss Louis, the bobble-head lobster that was stolen with the first Jetta. Sigh. Moving on, we got back on the road to Inverness, passing by Loch Ness in the process. No monsters were spotted. That is one big loch. Part of the reason I wanted to go up to Inverness is because of the Outlander series of books by Diana Gabaldon, so it was great to see the scenery in that area. It's going to add a new element to the books, which I plan to re-read (again) in anticipation of the new book, which will hopefully be out this fall. We passed a small herd of hairy Highland cattle on the way into Inverness - so cool! They are just about the cutest cows you'll ever see (but then I kind of have a thing for horses & cows & sheep etc). We finally reached Inverness about 5pm. We checked into the B&B/guesthouse & headed out for dinner. Then it was back to the guesthouse for a little TV, then sleep. Well, we tried to sleep. The bed was VERY firm, and of course it was pretty warm with the window closed, so we opened it to let in some breeze (and traffic noise, and bird noise). Of course, no one thought to mention that because Inverness is so far north, the sun doesn't set in the late spring/summer. So it's like dusk from 11pm-6am. That didn't bother me so much, but it did get to Andrew. My issues were with the hard bed & the thin pillows - too thin for just 1, too thick for 2. Gah!

Day 7 - Had a good breakfast (a nice mix of cold & hot foods), then headed out to the Culloden Battlefield Interpretive Centre, which is near to Inverness. Again, it was awesome to be somewhere I'd read so much about in Diana's books (even though they are fiction, they have elements of actual historical events). It was sad and a little chilling to see the artifacts of the battle - all the musket balls & broken swords, as well as mementos & items that actually belonged to Bonnie Prince Charlie. One highlight of the centre is the 360 degree theatre, which shows a film based on the battle (no narration, just the battle). As you're standing in the middle of the room you hear the wind around you & see the grass & the heather moving with the wind. Then you start hearing bagpipes & the sounds of marching. Slowly the men come into view - the English army or the Highlanders, depending on which direction you are facing. They get closer & closer, facing each other. Then the English cannons start firing, and the muskets (with bayonets), and the Highlanders start yelling & advancing with their swords & shields. They never stood a chance. Like I said, it was chilling. Then the figures fade away and you hear the wind again. By this time you've reached the place where you exit the building onto the battlefield itself. Obviously it's just a field now. You get an audiophone & you walk the path. The audiophone activates at certain places on the path and you hear an account of the battle, often based on writings of people who were there. You pass by the Well of the Dead, where one of the big chieftains fell, the stones placed where the members of each clan were buried, and the big stone cairn commemorating the battle, which was put there over 100 years later (the battle was April 16, 1746). By that time it was almost 11am, so we hit the road to Skye, which was the other thing we had been planning to do that day. Turns out we should have allowed a whole day for Skye to do everything we wanted to do, but we didn't know that at the time. The GPS took us the long way around, through multiple one lane roads, but we finally made it. One of our destinations was Duncan House, which is an artisan studio about 30min inland from Broadford. It was well worth the trip, the Celtic knot jewelry there is made by the artisan on site. I bought a silver ring with thistles & Celtic knots (it's hard to describe) as my "souvenir of our trip" from the artisan himself. It was very cool. Then we went & had some lunch & headed up to Portree, to shop at Skye Batiks. We had also intended to visit Talisker Distillery but as it was already 3.45pm we thought it was too late, as it would take about 45 mins to get there & it closes at 5pm. So we headed back to Inverness the quick way. On the way we rounded the bend and all of a sudden in front of us was a castle (Eileen Donan), right on the shores of a loch! It was stunning. Another un-eventful evening, except for the finale of Britain's got Talent, and a Top Gear episode that we hadn't seen yet (but that happened to also be the first episode we saw when we got home).

We're in the home stretch now. Only 2.5 more days to go!

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