Link to photos
Yet another trip filled with adventure. This all started when a friend of our said they were deciding to something different for a wedding.... get married in Scotland. And the first question everybody asks is, "Are they from Scotland?" Well, the groom's family name is Scottish in origin, but that is as close as it gets. Mostly, it was just a fun thing to do. And it turned out great! It was also one last good trip for us alone before our baby boy was born.
The trip getting there was typical. Most of the wedding party met in Pittsburg. 7 out of 9 that would be at the wedding. Bride, Groom, Groom's Parents, Groom's Brother, and Debbie and Brian. The Bride's childhood best friend and husband would be joining us later. We hung out in the bar and drank while waiting for our delayed plane. Well, most of us had a beer... Debbie was pregnant, so she did not partake. Finally the plane left (with 30 or so teenagers). It was a nice Airbus A330 with Video on Demand at each seat. We sat in a section that only had two seats next to a window, so the trip was relatively comfortable. We had fun looking out at the sunset and the Newfoundland coast (Which Debbie swore for the longest time that I was imagining in my buzzed state. Then we saw a light or two on the coast.) Arriving in England put us into a confused state that involved trying to figure out the public transportation (Gatwick Express) in a tired jet lagged stupor.
We got there, dropped our bags off at the hotel which looked a bit more run down that the web pictures showed. Then proceed to try to stay awake until 7pm or so, because it is supposed to be better for getting rid of jet lag. We managed to luck into seeing a special changing of the guard at the palace including happy birthday played for Prince William (I think). Standing for an hour was getting very tiring especially for Debbie who was pregnant. So we then got some tickets for a bus tour (The Big Bus Tour We highly recommend this.) This in general was great and we rode it the next day as well. We managed to see the Westminster Abbey which was quite beautiful. One thing I thought was a bit different was all the memorials. It was not for priests and peacemakers. It was for kings, knights, great warriors, poets, musicians, and playwrights. The only problem with the bus tour is that everybody but me fell asleep during some part of the tour.. At least I don't remember falling asleep.Then we got back to the hotel and found out it was a dump. We then proceeded to argue with them and moved to a different hotel. Do not book at the Easton. The Stanley House was a reasonable hotel. In general, hotels in London are expense. We stayed near Victoria Train Station and there was quite a selection of hotels around. Be careful about cheap ones and the way they look on a web site.It is interesting that most hotels through England and Scotland do full breakfasts included. This is usually link sausage, baked beans, ham, and a fried egg. In Scotland we got the option of pouridge which I liked quite a bit; kinda like oatmeal.Through our trip in London we saw some of the standard tourist sites: St. Paul's, lots of pubs, fish and chips, a boat trip on the Thames river. We took the tube a couple of times and saw Soho and some pedestrian streets. Including a fresh vegatable market area and the edge of a sex shop area.
Then it was off to Scotland....
We hopped the train to Edinburgh. Debbie and I had BritRail flexipasses since we were making some extra stops, but most of them bought the regular tickets in London. The standard tickets were cheaper to buy in London. We took the fast train, and it still took most of the day. We got a couple of taxis to our hotel, Dene Guest House, and it was very nice. Nicest one yet, and people were getting friendlier.
That night we found a very cool Italian restaurant. There are a couple close together, and we tried Cafe Napali. Very good. And we had a different kind of experience. We got what appeared to be the owner as a waiter. Very insistent and annoying at first. Debbie said very true Italian. Then Debbie tried to order her typical Gnochi, and they had run out. The owner becomes nicer and whips up something special for Debbie. Very good. Then time for desert. Tiramisu was pretty good, but they did not have Debbie's choice again. They made something special again and it was a huge ice cream sundae sort. Very good. It made for a fun evening.
Then off to Pubs of course. The beer is great there (very smooth and not too hoppy), and it is a fun atmosphere. A bit smoky though. Most of the London pubs closed early, around 9pm I think. But in Scotland they stay open later. We found All Bar One which was closer to American type, but nice. Then we found The Dome which was very cool. It was built in what used to be a old bank. Very nice inside and had what we needed. Lots of beer and Scotch Whiskey (but of course only called "whiskey" in Scotland). Whiskey was a little cheaper, but the shots were a little smaller, 50mL I think. By the way everything is very carefully measured in both Scotland and England. No generous pours.
From the top of the hill at George Street the view was great. You could see out to the bay and towards Edinburgh castle the other direction. Edinburgh is a very pretty city. They have done everything to match very well in style. The old town area meshes up with the oldest buildings approaching the castle and the new section fits in style well also. Reminded me of how Epcot portrayed England, but this was real! We went to the park below the Edinburgh Castle and it was very beautiful. Nice angle on the castle. Also, try to get a view of the castle from that direction at night. Very beautiful.
So two nights before the wedding we had a bachelor party (Stag night they call it there) and bachelorette part (Hen night). We had a fun time drinking beer, smoking cigars and wondering the town in a stupor. We tried haggis and steak pie. I knew what was in haggis, but I guess the other guys did not. Afterwards they asked, and they were not so happy. By the way, it tastes much better than I thought. Kinda like very peppery ground sausage. Although, I don't think I could eat a whole plate of it. I think it is sheep's meat, liver, and heart (lungs sometimes). It is stuffed in the stomach, but you do not eat that and we did not see that part. We spent a fair amount of time on Rose street which had quite a few bars. We also searched for a steak that the groom's father desperately wanted. As far as we could tell the best steak in Edinburgh was at a TGIFriday's (just like they have in the US). We refused to go there, so we did not end up with a good steak there. After Rose street closed down we found some other bar on George street where Bryan was accosted by a local drunk. Quite amusing to watch, and she soon enough got ushered out of the bar. That place closed down and then we ended up at some basement bar that was so smokey that I could not stand it. But it was a happening place because it was one of the few places open. Finally it was time to go home. By the way the women went to the Dome for a nice meal and wine. I think they might have been more hung over than us in the morning which was kinda funny.
Next, it was time for the wedding…
All the guys wore kilts which we got from thekiltstore.com.uk. That all went well. It was a little strange for us, but it was perfectly normal for them. We saw other people wearing them around on occasion. It looked like they used them instead of tuxedos. And on the subject of what you wear underneath.... the official response is that it up to the guy and it is customary to not ask.
So then off to the way cool castle. They were married at the Dalhousie castle which is 12 miles from the edge of Edinburgh. It was originally built in the 13th century and has been added onto through the ages. It is very nice. We all stayed there the night before the wedding in standard rooms which were very nice. The bride and groom stayed in a "theme" room the next night. Very nice. They had a great library with a hidden bar room which all enjoyed. Later we found out that it was one of the most haunted castles in Scotland. It was even on a Discovery Channel special. The interesting ghosts described were: a dog that died by jumping off the roof and a woman who was starved to death in the dungeon. By the way you can still go look a the dungeon which converted to a wine cellar. We also ate in another section of the dungeon which was converted into a restaurant. It was the best meal we had in Scotland and England with different kinds of food. I had roasted pigeon and it was very good. Nobody at the table will look at pigeon the same way again. Debbie tried Black Pudding for breakfast. She actually liked it a fair amount, but I thought was just ok.
The wedding ceremony was wonderful. It took place inside the chapel of the castle and was a very special experience including a bagpipe and everybody who came. Words cannot describe it sufficiently.
Other hotels we stayed at: Beresford hotel and Piries hotel in Edinburgh. Somehow we managed to get some of the better rooms in the house. Debbie said she did not want stairs because she was pregnant and we seemed to keep getting huge suites. We stayed at the hawthorn lodge in Inverness which was reasonable, but not as big a room. We tried the River Cafe in Inverness which was pretty good for a reasonable price.
After the wedding we all took our separate paths, but occasionally seeing each other. We almost saw each other in Inverness. We saw each others signatures in the welcome book at the Blair castle. And then we did run into the newlywed couple in Edinburgh.
We had a number of highlights in the highlands.
We drove a car. Quite interesting. The roads are very narrow and the speed limit is around 60mph with 18 wheelers on the road. Since the road was so narrow, they would come onto your side as well. And there was very little to squeeze over to. Of course, driving on the wrong side and sitting on the wrong side of the car made my perspective all messed up. We saw some great countryside, but we did end up with a flat tire due to hitting a curb. Then it was the fun adventure of finding a place to get it fixed which in our case meant getting a new tire. We saw Glen Coe in a very heavy mist and wind. We walked a few feet and retreated back to the car.
After that long day, we decided to take a van tour to Isle of Sky. This definately let both Debbie and I enjoy the ride more. We went on some very tiny roads. Debbie actually looked at one and thought it was a bike path (and it was a two way road). They would have pulloffs occasionally for traffic to get by each other. Somehow the drivers timed it so they did not have to slow down at all. Once again it is hard to describe the beauty of the area. It looked similar to a large high tundra area in the rockies, but we were next to the ocean. It was a good trip, but we should have done more than a day trip.
Another thing that was interesting was how light it was. It got dark very late at night and would get light at maybe 3-4am in Inverness.
On our trip we also got a chance to visit our friends Leslie and Stuart in Wigan, England. This was nice and we got a chance to see some non-tourist areas. They lived in a brand new house which seemed surprising. An average sized house, but very nicely built. Nice finishes and full brick outside. We got to meet there baby which was great too. Times had changed since we last saw them. We first met them on their honeymoon in Cancun and we just gotten engaged. Now they had a kid, we were married, and expecting a kid of our own soon.
Then... off to Paris through the Chunnel.
We were in Paris 3 nights and 4 days. The chunnel ticket was about the same price there vs ahead of time. The train ride was about 3 hours from London to Paris with 20 minutes in the Chunnel. The train seemed to go about 70mph in England and about 140mph in France. Very fast. We used the Metro to get there which was easy, but very hot and a little difficult with luggage and stairs. We stayed at Hotel L'Odeon near the L'Odeon Theatre. It was a good location at a reasonable price. Nothing too special. A view onto a nice street area, not fancy, but clean, and no air conditioning. We found it through www.parishotels.com. The nearby Luxembourg gardens were nice and we wished we had spent more time there. We could walk to Notre Dame and quite a few restaurants. We wish we had tried more restaurants in the nearby pedestrian streets. We did try some cafes and boulangeries. Quite nice, but could be very expensive. Stick with simple things and it is ok. Coffee and croissant was a good price. A large Coke with no refills at a cafe near Notre Dame was 45 francs (around $6.50). A sandwich was around $10. Wine during the day was cheap, but expensive at night.
France was very pretty, expecially all the cathedrals, Notre Dame, Saint Chapelle, and Sacre Cours. We also went to the top of the Eiffel Tower. We did another open bus tour (Paris L'Open Tour: We highly recommend it.) With a limited time, we at least saw most of the sites over two days from the top of a two story bus. MontMartre (where Sacre Cours was) was one of our favorites. Nice park, artists in a square, nice cafes. Our other favorite was a night cruise of the Seine. We found one located at a little island next to the Eiffel Tower. It was a cheaper buffet style which was the level that worked very well for us, and it was around $25 a piece. Most are $100+ a piece and very fancy. We sat at a table with 8 new lawyers. One of them spoke a little English and I spoke a tiny bit of french so we understood well enough. They included us in their fun and singing, so it ended up being a great time. We also saw the Eiffel Tower and the little Statue of Liberty at night then which was incredible.
So how was talking with the French? We found them mostly nice, but different. Waiters were kind of pushy for orders, but I think that is the way they are there. Most people spoke a little bit of English, but not very many spoke fluent English (the hotel manager did and a few others). Luckily I remembered some French, which helped on occasion. I had a fun time talking with a guy at a gallery where we bought a painting. I told him (in French) that it was hard speaking french because I learned it 12 years ago. And he understood. Sometimes my French was so bad that it just made things confusing. I still think it is best if you know a little French.
Wow! that was a lot of stuff to see. 2 1/2 weeks was not enough. 3 or 4 weeks would have been good. We wish we had more time in Paris, more time in Isle of Sky, saw other areas of France, north Scotland and some of the outer Scotland isles. We did have a couple of days to relax, but we could have used more. Especially since Debbie was pregnant.