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Edinburgh Travel Journal: Day 6

I am publishing my travel journal from our trip to Edinburgh which  took place June 1-8, 2015. I am posting my journal entry and pictures from each day in chronological order.

It’s ART DAY! Wherever we go, Wendy and I love to take in a little art and culture. Taylor is studying Arts and Event Management, so its only natural that we devote at least a little time to see what artistic treasures Edinburgh had for us.

It was Saturday morning and Wendy and I grabbed the bus to Taylor’s flat. It was about a 20 minute bus ride from the top of Victoria Street to her stop on Pilton and she was there to meet us. Taylor has a hike of several blocks from the bus stop to her apartment building on Pilton Farm Crescent. She lived in the student residences of Queen Margaret University during the school year but moved to this three bedroom flat at the end of the semester where she lives with some lovely young ladies. We had a chance to see the place and meet one of her flat mates. It was a nice flat on the fourth floor with lots of light and Taylor has a gorgeous view of the area and the North Sea out her bedroom window.

We hiked another mile or so to a bus stop and grabbed a bus towards the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art. There are actually two museums across the street from one another. We started at Two but there was only one gallery open with a collection of surrealist art. We enjoyed the exhibit but it didn’t take long to get through it. We then walked across the street to museum One which had an exhibition of Roy Lichtenstein along with their permanent collection, largely of contemporary Scottish artists. We enjoyed the museum and, afterwards, we grabbed a taxi to the City Art Centre which offered four more floors of Scottish artists, though the gallery on each floor was rather small and it didn’t take too long to get through it.

Our souls refreshed and our minds inspired, we began the short hike back to the hotel. All week long we had been passing a unique little eatery on Victoria Street called Oink. They roast an entire hog each day, stick it in the window for passers by to see, and then serve pork sandwiches until it’s all gone. The shop could close early or late depending on the hunger of Edinburgh. It looked and smelled so good all week that I was determined to try it before we left. So, I grabbed a pork sandwich (absolutely delicious!) and Taylor stopped at Hula for a snack bar before we journeyed on to our hotel room for a bite and a bit of rest.

We walked to The Jazz Bar after our rest. It’s a small, basement bar where Taylor spent many evenings this past year. When I asked Taylor how often she’d been to the Jazz Bar she laughed and dismissively admitted, “Oh, more times than I can count.” I was shocked to find the venue packed at 3:00 in the afternoon, and the average age of the crowd was older than I expected, but then again the talented trio playing was of a similar age. We eventually got a table and spent over three hours talking and drinking as we listened to the music. It was a wonderful way to spend the afternoon.

The jazz trio gave way to a solo pianist and the crowd remained large though there was a constant coming and going. There were a lot of people avidly listening to the jazz, and I was surprised to see a number of people there by themselves sitting transfixed by the music. At one point, Taylor, Wendy and I were in a wonderful  and intense conversation that clearly annoyed an elderly old Scot sitting and a nearby table (I tend to be a loud talker, sorry). He turned while I was talking and chewed me out in his thick Scottish accent basically telling me to shut up and listen to the music. We all kind of laughed and chose to speak in quieter tones, but we were all a bit taken aback. “It’s a bar, not a concert hall,” Wendy grumbled.

It was about 6:30 by the time we left and we walked to Pizza Express. We had eaten there a couple of nights before and both Wendy and I loved it. Earlier in the week Taylor told us that two of her friends from high school were flying into Edinburgh for a week of sightseeing in Scotland, and wanted to see her. We were excited at the opportunity to visit with both Jon De Haan and Gabe Spencer. Jon had been a regular visitor to our home back when they were in high school and Taylor had gone to prom with Gabe one year. The lads had flown in earlier that day and agreed to meet us at Pizza Express for dinner. They were a bit jet lagged but arrived on time and we had a wonderful meal together, catching up on their lives since leaving Pella.

One of the items on my Scottish bucket list was a whiskey tasting, but I had to admit that I’d not looked forward to experiencing it on my own. I knew that neither Wendy nor Taylor would want to join me. Taylor had scheduled an appointment with Wendy for British high tea on Sunday afternoon and so I thought it fortuitous that Jon and Gabe had arrived just in time to save me from a lonely afternoon of Scotch sampling. I had simply uttered, “So, I was thinking about doing a whiskey tasting tomorrow…” when the lads cut in with an enthusiastic “Yes!” in unison. The date was set.

We figured the kids would want some time to themselves after dinner. Taylor cajoled a passer-by to take a group photo outside the restaurant and then they headed for The Queen’s Arms Pub. Wendy and I headed back to the hotel where we relaxed with a movie, did a little reading, and drifted off to sleep.

Edinburgh Travel Journal: Days 1-2
Edinburgh Travel Journal: Day 3
Edinburgh Travel Journal: Day 4
Edinburgh Travel Journal: Day 5
Edinburgh Travel Journal: Day 6
Edinburgh Travel Journal: Day 7

Edinburgh Travel Journal: Day 5

I am publishing my travel journal from our trip to Edinburgh which  took place June 1-8, 2015. I am posting my journal entry and pictures from each day in chronological order.

The weather on this Friday morning was predicted to be better than usual, so we chose it to hike up Arthur’s Seat. Arthur’s Seat is a prominent hill in Holyrood (translated “Holy Cross” park that was a fortress in ancient times. The summit provides a breathtaking 360 degree view of Edinburgh, the North Sea and the surrounding region.

Taylor arrived at our hotel about 8:30. We hiked a few blocks to Elephant House, a coffee shop now famous for being the place J.K. Rowling sat and wrote Harry Potter. Taylor told us we had to visit the loo while we were there. The bathrooms were scrawled with Harry Potter graffiti (I regret now that I did not take a picture).  We grabbed the bus to Holyrood park. When Wendy saw what we were climbing she had a small heart attack. From the east there is a   smooth incline to the summit, but on the west, the direction from which we approached, there is a long, winding stone stair. It took us about 30-35 minutes to make the climb with a few brief stops to catch breath and look around. The summit was very windy and a bit chilly, but the view was incredible and we took plenty of time for photos and to enjoy the view.

We descended along the eastern slope and found ourselves in the picturesque, ancient village of Dudingston with a gorgeous little church that has been there since the 1200s. There is a pub here, the Sheep’s Heid that claims to be the oldest establishment in Scotland, dating from the 1300s. We had intended to pop in for a pint but they didn’t open until 11:30 and we didn’t feel like sitting around for an hour.

Taylor checked the bus schedule and figured in the 20 minutes we would wait for the next bus we could hike most of the way back. We trekked back towards the city on a road that wound around the bottom of Arthur’s Seat. It was a good couple of miles before we got to the buss top back to the hotel. Wendy’s Up Band said that we walked 9.2 miles that day!

At the hotel we freshened up and headed back out for a bite of lunch. Along the way we learned about the small triangle shopped city block that houses strip clubs known to locals as the “pubic triangle.” Taylor also took us into one of her favorite little used book stores. It was a hole in the wall labyrinth with books shelved from floor to tall ceiling. We really enjoyed looking around and could have spent a lot more time there if we weren’t so hungry. Taylor took us to the Red Squirrel, a nice little pub a mile or so from the hotel. We had traditional pub fare served on thick, cutting board type planks, and enjoyed our on-going conversation.

After lunch we walked to St. John’s Church, an old Scottish Episcopal church that felt more like a Catholic cathedral. Taylor said that she would often come to this church for quiet, prayer and meditation. There is a cafe in the lower level that emptied out into a beautiful garden and cemetery. She said that she was at the cafe this past year when she got my message that Grandpa Dean was diagnosed with cancer and she immediately walked up to the sanctuary to light a candle for him and to pray. I’m glad she was there when she heard the news. We walked around the gorgeous sanctuary and enjoyed a nice chat with an older woman who was one of the volunteer guides. We then took a stroll through the ancient cemetery.

Taylor had an appointment with her advisor that afternoon, so we gave Taylor a hug and she headed back to her flat. Wendy and I strolled back to Grassmarket via King’s Stable Row which winds around the base of Edinburgh Castle. We spent a few quiet hours in the hotel watching the French Open and relaxing.

We headed to the Royal Mile in the late afternoon to do souvenier shopping. The sun came out while we were doing so and it became a lovely afternoon. It took a while to gather everything and then we headed back to Grassmarket, strolling down the long row of pubs and restaurants to get a feel for where we’d like to eat that evening. Taylor was having dinner with her flatmates so Wendy and I were on our own. We went to Maggie Dickinson’s Pub, named for a famous (or infamous) survivor of public execution,  and got a table in the back where we could eat and watch Andy Murray and Novak Djokovich in the French Open semi-final. Wendy ordered fish n chips and got an absolutely huge filet. I had a burger and, of course, a pint.

It was Friday evening and you could tell that the weekend crowd had begun. The pubs were brimming with people from all over. There were a number of large groups of very loud young men who had already had too much to drink. Taylor told us that Edinburgh is a favorite destination for bachelor and bachelorette parties and we saw a number of these. The bride or groom to be are generally dressed up in silly costumes so they are easy to spot.

We wandered down to the White Hart Inn Pub after dinner to have another pint and watch what was left of the tennis match, which got called for rain. We then headed back to the hotel and got to bed early.

Edinburgh Travel Journal: Days 1-2
Edinburgh Travel Journal: Day 3
Edinburgh Travel Journal: Day 4
Edinburgh Travel Journal: Day 5
Edinburgh Travel Journal: Day 6
Edinburgh Travel Journal: Day 7

Edinburgh Travel Journal: Day 4

This week I am publishing my travel journal from our trip to Edinburgh which  took place this past week, June 1-8, 2015. I am posting my journal entry and pictures from each day in chronological order.

While Wendy slept I found my way to Starbucks on the Royal Mile to journal and have some coffee. I stopped by the La Barantine patisserie on Victoria Street to grab Wendy a chocolate croissant on my way back to the hotel. Upon my return Taylor texted to ask if I wanted to have coffee with her. We met me back at the patisserie for a cup of tea while Wendy got ready and we enjoyed a little father-daughter time together. It was nice to just sit and chat. We’re blessed to have enjoyed Skype and FaceTime calls this year, but there’s nothing like talking in person (especially when you’re in a quaint French patisserie in Scotland)!

Today was the day Taylor and planned a little adventure for us outside of Edinburgh. It was cloudy with light rain as we headed to the Waverly transport station to get tickets to Stirling, a medeival town and hour’s train ride west of Edinburgh. Stirling was an important gateway town to the highlands marked with a castle atop its prominent castle hill. It was about a 45 minute train ride and it was still raining when we arrived. We immediately walked to the bus station that was next to the train station and grabbed a bus for a 20 minute ride outside Stirling to the small town of Doune, home to Doune Castle where Monty Python and the Holy Grail was filmed.

The Stirling bus station reminded me a lot of the Greyhound station in Des Moines growing up. Unlike the major metropolitan transport stations we’d gotten used to, there was no doubt that we were in small town Scotland. There was a tiny corner news stand and very little cafe. The station was filled with locals. There was one gentleman who was mostly deaf (you could tell by the huge hearing aid behind each ear) who was conversing in his thick Scottish accent with such ear splitting volume that I think you’d soon join him in deafness if you stood to near for too long.

The bus to Doune was not going to arrive for about 20 minutes so we took our leave of our loud Scottish friend in the terminal and waited by the stop, under the awning. The bus ride to Doune was another 30 minutes and I think both Wendy and I were wondering, “where in the world are we going?” Taylor had never actually been to Doune Castle, so we were kind of flying blind. When we got off the bus Taylor asked the driver about where to get to the castle. An older local gentleman who was departing the bus gave us instructions though I’m not exactly sure what he said given his thick Scottish brogue. Nevertheless, he pointed down the street and mentioned something about signs.

We walked in the rain through the picturesque little town, following the somewhat cryptic signs pointing us towards the castle. We found ourselves at a small gate that opened onto a field. We were laughing so hard at this point because we didn’t have the slightest idea where we were going and the idea that we would have to walk through an unmarked field continued to fuel our fears that we would end up completely lost in an on-going downpour (with only one umbrella). To make matters worse, there were two paths in the field with no markings as to which of the two led to the castle! We chose the left path which turned out to be the correct path which led to another gate though the path continued past it and we weren’t sure if the gate led out of the field toward the castle of if we should continue on through the field. We could kind of see the castle through the trees, so made our way out the gate and down a steep embankment to the road which led to the castle.

It was cold and rainy as we made our way up to the castle. Seemed apropos for some reason. We paid for tickets and our audio tour. The small personal players with headphones included narration by Terry Gilliam of Monty Python. It was actually quite entertaining and he described where different scenes were filmed. We did a lot of laughing and when the audio players cut to some of our favorite parts of the movie I’m sure that the three of us were quite a site laughing and mouthing along with the timeless lines.

The castle was a lot of fun and we enjoyed the relative freedom you had to explore. I was surprised by how big it was and how much of the castle was open to explore. This included long winding stone staircases that led up to the battlements. We agreed that they would never have had so much of the castle open to tourists in the States for fear of a turned ankle and a lawsuit. The castle, despite the difficulty in getting to it (and perhaps, in part, because of it), ended up being one of our favorite experiences of the trip. By the time we finished our audio walking tour the sun was trying to come out and the rain finally subsided, allowing us to walk around the exterior of the castle and enjoy the breathtaking view of the Scottish countryside.

“My dad introduced Monty Python and the Holy Grail to Madison and I at a very young age and it has been quoted in our household for years. Therefore, its no surprise that I particularly loved the day trip we took to Doune Castle just outside of Stirling where most of Monty Python and the Holy Grail was filmed. The audio tour was equally historic and hilarious. Plus, it completely made my day that they had coconut halves available so you could gallop around and re-enact scenes.” – Taylor (from her blog: Love, Taylor)

We retraced our steps back to town and Taylor said she was hungry. We just happened, however, to catch our bus coming up to the bus stop and so ran to grab it while we could and headed back to Stirling. Upon arrival we hiked up the quaint medeival streets towards the castle, stopping at Holy Rude (derived from an old word meaning “cross”) church. The church has been there since the early middle ages and the roof is made of hewn oak timbers held by oak pins. The stained glass windows were gorgeous.

We enjoyed a stroll through the ancient graveyard and made our way to a “high place” with a commanding view of the surrounding region. It was so beautiful. We then started making our way back down the hill. There was an art center we were going to visit, but time was slipping by, Taylor was hungry, and a quick view of the art center’s website revealed that it wasn’t something we were really interested in seeing. So, Taylor stopped by the shopping mall to grab a quick bite to eat on the train, we used the loo, and caught the 4:07 back to Edinburgh.

We hiked back to the hotel room for a little breather and enjoyed a glass of wine in the room as we watched Serena Williams play in the French Open for a bit. We then made our way up to the top of Victoria Street to Pizza Express for dinner. Despite the name sounding like a fast food joint, Pizza Express is kind of an upscale pizza place where Taylor could get gluten free pizza. We were all hungry from our day’s adventure and enjoyed a leisurely meal together. We each ordered a pizza along with a bottle of wine and an appetizer of “dough balls.” We treated ourselves to a yummy dessert to cap off our adventurous day.

It has been enjoyable to catch up with Taylor. It’s been such a transitional year for all of us. For Taylor, it’s been a year of post-divorce searching, grad school, and blazing a new path in life with all the excitement, anxiety, and fear that goes with it. For Wendy and me it has been a stressful year of building, work challenges, and new directions. So, amidst the sightseeing we have really enjoyed just catching up and talking about our respective life journeys.

By the time we were finished with dinner we were all beat. We made plans for climbing Aurthur’s Seat on Friday morning. Taylor hugged us good night and caught the bus back to her flat while Wendy and I walked back to our hotel. I wrote a few postcards, but it wasn’t long before we were both sound asleep.

Edinburgh Travel Journal: Days 1-2
Edinburgh Travel Journal: Day 3
Edinburgh Travel Journal: Day 4
Edinburgh Travel Journal: Day 5
Edinburgh Travel Journal: Day 6
Edinburgh Travel Journal: Day 7

Chapter-a-Day Numbers 33

Wings Traveling Journal Spread
Image by Else10 via Flickr

These are the camping sites in the journey of the People of Israel after they left Egypt, deployed militarily under the command of Moses and Aaron. Under God’s instruction Moses kept a log of every time they moved, camp by camp. Numbers 33:1-2 (MSG)

We were at the lake with family this past weekend. My daughters, now in their twenties, brought up memories from family vacations many years ago. “Do you remember when…?” I was asked with fill-in-the-blank events and moments from their childhood. It’s always interesting to see which memories are still quickly available to me in my brains RAM, which memories have be relegated to a partition which is difficult to access, and which memories have seemingly been written over with more recent data.

Since shortly after I was in college I began keeping a travel journal whenever I went on a trip. Life is a long journey, and I know that some things will be forgotten or written over in my brain. My journals help me remember specific times and places. They will someday allow my children and granchildren to relive where I was, what I experienced and what I felt at a specific place and time.

In today’s chapter we find Moses keeping a travel journal at a time in history that record keeping was not that easy. They didn’t pass an office supply store every few miles and the raw materials for keeping such records was an arduous task in itself. Yet here we are, thousands of years later reading about their journey and learning from it.

Today, I’m thankful for lessons learned in time and the ability to record them for the benefit and amusement of future generations.

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