Scotland is under-appreciated.
Last June, I was was with a group of 12 people who visited Scotland by way of Cultural Encounters, a travel agency in Ann Arbor, MI, owned by Suzan Alexander.
I can’t write about the whole trip in one blog entry. Nobody would read that much at one sitting. So this is
On Wednesday, June 11, ten of us, including Suzan and her husband, Mike, flew from Detroit to Edinburgh.
I love airports. I love flying. But alas, on this occasion I was seated directly in front of an 18-month-old CHILD FROM HELL who cried and whined and kicked the back of my seat, nonstop, for eight hours. What could I do? Stand up and stomp angrily off the plane? All the seats were filled. Who in their right mind would agree to exchange with me?
I endured. Kept stiff upper lip. Took sleep aid, but did NOT sleep. Considered sneaking sleep aid into CHILD FROM HELL’S sippy cup. But did not, of course.
We were greeted in Edinburgh by Vinny, our knowledgeable tour guide for the whole trip; Jim, our affable bus driver; and Richard, a tall, blonde, ruggedly handsome Scotsman who was looking extraordinarily appealing -- in spite of my aforementioned sleep deprivation -- in a sweater and a gorgeous knee-length kilt.
I have a newly developed appreciation for men in kilts.
We loaded our rumpled, weary selves onto the bus and checked into the Waldorf Astoria, a.k.a. The Caledonian, a former Victorian railway hotel at the west end of Princes Street. After lunch, we went on a bus tour of Edinburgh with commentary by Richard the kilted one. I kept dozing off, head rolled back, mouth agape. Damn. I missed a lot.
I think we drove past Edinburgh Castle and the Palace of Holyroodhouse. But I’m not sure. We went through the neighborhood where Muriel Sparks’ classic novel (and eventual play and movie), “The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie” took place, and, I think, we passed other interesting sites.
By the way, seat belts are required for bus passengers in Scotland. A good idea, I’d say.
Dinner with the group at the hotel; then an 11-hour deep, refreshing sleep. No sleep aid necessary.
Our hotel room was luxurious -- wallpaper decorated with thistles, the national flower of Scotland; a six-arm brass chandelier over our beds; a towel-warmer in the cavernous bathroom; a bumbershoot in the closet in case we encountered inclement weather; and a friendly doorman decked out in a kilt (ahhh) and top hat. The hotel included a restaurant, a bar, a spa, an elegant lobby, wi-fi, and so on. This was a good time to be pampered, as we were all so freaking tired.
The next day we toured the Palace of Holyroodhouse, the official residence of Queen Elizabeth when she visits Scotland. Holyroodhouse was once the home of Mary, Queen of Scots. Mary’s alleged lover, David Rizzio, was murdered in 1566 in one of the upper rooms. We saw the exact spot where the dastardly deed was done – by her jealous husband, Lord Darnley, no less.
I’m starting to really REALLY love seeing men in kilts and knee socks.
The Holyroodhouse audio guide was well thought-out. Each room had a number and visitors could press the number and get information about the room.
We also toured the National Museum of Scotland and had lunch in its Tower restaurant overlooking Edinburgh’s charming chimney-potted roofs. Lots of chimney pots. Rows and rows of them. One for each fireplace in each apartment. They all belched smoke and soot in the old days, of course, polluting the city big time. Today, they’re picturesque.
In the afternoon we drove north and east to the waterfront district of Leith for a tour of the Royal Yacht Britannia. The ship is a visual trip back to the 1950s and 60s and every inch is polished and shined and in perfect working order, including a spotless engine room. The ship has its own laundry room, sick bay, captain’s quarters, crew’s quarters, crew’s dining room, storage room for the sterling silver, another for the china, bedrooms for the Queen and the Prince, anterooms galore and a formal dining room that can serve a sit-down dinner to more than 50 well-dressed, well-mannered people.
In the evening we walked to a restaurant in Edinburgh. On the way, we passed a young man with a bagpipe (in a kilt, of course) standing on the sidewalk, piping high schoolers into their senior prom. The boys were in kilts and the girls wore slinky prom gowns.
Coming next: Our visit to Rosslyn Chapel, famous for its part in Dan Brown’s Da Vinci Code, then to Melrose Abbey and Abbotsford House, the home of Sir Walter Scott, which was crammed floor to ceiling, wall to wall with his odd collection of knickknacks and tchotchkes.