Sunday, September 25, 2011

Scotland Here We Come

After a good night's sleep, we returned Jaz's apartment to it's pre-invasion glory, packed up our mostly dry clothes, and complimented Rich on his very stylish and according to him, very inexpensive (cheap?) Bangladesh/Indian bought ensemble. The pants turn into shorts, the shirt looks very comfortable and the color matching purse (oops - European carryall that is just the cat's meow) finishes the whole look off with STYLE. We could hardly wait to get him out in public. Lu smiles, and kisses him and tells him he looks wonderful (which he does). We are really going to miss them.

Sunday - September 25, 2011 - Edinburgh, Scotland

We awoke to a cloudy day, perfect weather for traveling. Our task was to get from Bermondsey to Gatwick airport in time for a 2:30 departure on Easyjet. Our plan was to take the Underground across the city, and grab the Easyjet bus for the hour long ride (which seemed excessive, but as I've said for some reason it really does take longer to get anywhere in this city). We didn't want to take any chances (Easyjet is quick to tell you that they WILL leave without you). Rich and Lu accompanied us to the West Brompton Underground stop and as Kat and I passed through the turnstile, we blew them some kisses and flipped them our unexpired Oyster cards. Thanks for the memories.

And thanks to the nice people in the IBIS hotel (the departure point for the Easyjet bus) we were able to print bus boarding passes scant minutes before its departure. We had booked on-line and who knew you needed a paper ticket. That was a close call. An hour and a half later we were safely ensconced in the waiting lounge with coffee, muffins and a two hour wait. It gave us time to reflect on the past 10 days and our plan for the remainder of the trip. Five days in New England with the kiddies doing grandparent stuff, 5 exciting days in the London metropolis with Rich and Lu and 10 days spread before us to explore a part of the world we had only read about. It was like three trips in one.

It is a short hour and some minute trip from Gatwick to the nicely laid out and laid back Edinburgh airport. And for the record, for some reason I have trouble pronouncing the name Edinburgh properly. It's not Edinboro, or Edinburg, but something like Edin-burah which I have problems wrapping my mouth around, much to the delight, it seems, of Kathy. We retrieved our bags, processed through the very efficient car rental counter, and were standing in front of our very new, very large (4 door - two more than needed) Vauxhall chariot in record time. Quickly analyzing the small spaces and smaller driving lanes in the parking lot we realized that bigger was not always better. Add to this a standard transmission, wrong side driving requirements and anti-clockwise round-a-bouts we knew there would be challenges ahead. Maneuvering our way out of the airport we headed toward the city and within 10 minutes berthed the beast in the tiny parking lot (I'm being generous) behind the Corstorphine Lodge Hotel, our residence for the evening.

Equidistant from the airport to the west and the city to the east our hotel is old and well maintained with generously sized rooms, 12 foot ceilings and en-suite baths. We unpacked and with directions from the inn-keeper walked to the nearest bus stop, any thoughts of driving into the city remaining just that. The trick with the bus system is that it requires that riders provide exact change (£1.30 each) for the trip. However, they will accept more but not less. What a racket. We chatted-up one of our fellow bus waiters who gave us some tips on what to see and do for the evening, recommending we stay away from the Royal Mile as it's too touristy (we explained that we were tourists - he said it didn't make a difference) and for a nice dinner to stay south of said major road and eat in the Grassmarket district, down the slope from the castle. It's impossible to get lost (we'll see about that) as the thin city is on a wide hill and the streets run on an east/west axis. The main street is anchored on each end by a big old castle. He'd give us "the eye" when it was time to get off the bus.

With this mental map firmly imprinted on my brain I watched for the signal and we disembarked right on Princes St. a short distance from the big, obvious (it's right in the middle of the street and needs a good cleaning), Sir Walter Scott memorial. On this early Sunday evening the city seemed small and manageable, with lots of people out and about. Not having eaten yet we headed directly for the Grassmarket area. This area is famous for the gallows that once stood in the square (directly across from the "Last Drop Tavern", and is named for the depot that lodged horses and cows. Located just south of Edinburgh castle you have to negotiate a steep little street that is every skateboarders dream. It is a cool area with a good choice of restaurants. We decided on Maison Bleue, a cozy little French eatery on Victoria Street. Kat had steak, I had the stuffed peppers (you don't see those every day), salads and a Cale 80 (4.1%) beer that I really enjoyed. It was the perfect dinner for our busy little travel day.

The night was still young and with a good dinner in our bellies, we did a little exploring. There are plenty of little back alleys with a surprise around every turn. Above us stood the magnificent Edinburgh castle perched on it's rock base. It is massive, particularly from this angle. All that was left was to negotiate the climb back to Princes St. and find the right bus back to the hotel. It was just sprinkling when we started the walk and had turned into quite a merry little downpour by the time we made it from our bus stop to the hotel door (on the other side of which were our umbrellas). No matter. We hung our clothes on the wardrobe and settled into our comfy bed. Our first day in Scotland - a solid B+.

PS ... We want to dedicate this section of our blog to Norm and Ruth. Norm is a Scotland lover who was so enthusiastic about our upcoming trip we were predisposed to enjoy the country more than we otherwise would have been. It's always great to experience another country having heard about it from an advocate. That is what I hope the kids and grandkids get from this blog. And what a pleasure to be able to relive some of it with you upon our return. So here's to you two; thanks.

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