Loch Lomond, Inverness and Edinburgh
16.08.2010 - 20.08.2010 16 °C
You lucky folks get a second entry today since it's the last day of the cruise I have to use up all my Internet minutes. Okay, I'm also procrastinating going upstairs to pack...it went by too fast!
We spent five days sailing around Scotland from Glasgow (Greenock) through the Outer Herbrides to Inverness (Invergordon) and above the Orkney Islands to Edinburgh (South Queensferry). The cities in the parentheses are where the ship was either moored or docked. We couldn't go directly to the main cities either because their waters weren't deep enough or the ship was too high to go under the bridges.
I decided to skip Glasgow altogether since nothing in the city really interested me. It's a city known for its architechture and museums, but I wanted to something more so I decided on a cycle and canoe trip at Loch Lomond. It was a beautiful day - not much sun, but when we arrived the mist was still on the water, the clouds were low on the peak of Ben Lomond and the breeze was cool and gentle. The tour company was Can You? Experience Loch Lomond and our guides took us on a gentle canoe paddle accross the shallow part of the lake. Our canoe guide Graeme told us that up until last Friday Scotland had been cold and wet; it sounds like we're bringing good weather with us everywhere - the Belfast and Edinburgh guides said the same thing! The canoeing was fun, and I can now proudly hold my head up as a Canadian...to my shame I hadn't canoed before! The biking trip was more challenging, but since we were always stopping to take pictures of the breathtaking scenery we didn't really work up a sweat.
Following the tour, I had a lunch of McLaughlin beer with Haggis, neeps and tatties (turnips and potatoes) in a whisky cream sauce....it was good! I don't know what all the fuss is about, but I guess people are put off by the was it was traditionally cooked (in a sheep's stomach). Nowadays it's cooked in synthetic casings, and I heard you have to go into rural Scotland to get the real deal. My culinary adventure over, I had twenty minutes to power shop in the outlet mall; two purses later I boarded the bus to go back to the ship!
After a day at sea, we sailed into Invergordon and I decided to take some time off from organized shore excursions and went into Inverness on my own. The bus took us in at 9 am and I had almost 6 hours to explore the capital of the Highlands. It's a nice city to visit, and had I more time, I probably would have walked to the Ness Islands, taken a cruise of Loch Ness or gone on a dolphin sightseeing tour. Alas, in the 6 hours I had I walked the River Ness and toured the castle's grounds (the interior is off limits to visitors since it is now used as a courthouse) and did a little (a lot) of shopping. I bought a tartan rug (blanket) at the Highland House of Fraser with the Glasgow clan colours; my great-great-grandmother was Scottish, but since we don't know anything about her or which clan she was from, I just went with the colours I liked the most. The Glasgow tartan has bright green, blue and fushia on a background of dark green. That purchase done, I bought some scotch at The Whisky Shop, some woolens and sweets in Judith Glue (a store that specializes in Orkney Island products) before going to the Mustard Seed restaurant for lunch. It's a good restaurant, comes highly recommended both online and by the locals. You won't find it to be Scottish, like have tartan decorations or haggis on the menu, but it does serve delicious food made of fresh local ingredients and a good lunch special for under 6£. I had a glass of the house white, but I think it also serves Scot beers. I ended the day in the Victorian Market, a unique covered shopping area with a wide variety of shops, and then to Leaky's bookshop, a used bookstore that has two floors of wooden shelves and books overflowing everywhere. There's a café on the second level, a beautiful spiral staircase and a wonderful musty smell that book lovers can recognize anywhere! I loved Inverness...I hope I get to see more of the Highlands someday! (Tip: the public bathrooms near the castle were voted best "loo" three of the last four years!).
I wish I could say that I thoroughly enjoyed my time in Edinburgh, but we were there in the middle of the EIF, the international festival that runs through August that also encompasses the Fringe Festival, the Book Festival and street performers galore. The population of the city was doubled and the streets were choked. It was just nuts - like Canada Day on the Hill, only the streets are twice as narrow! Normally I would have enjoyed the festival, but I was there to see the city and I couldn't do all I wanted. I couldn't go into Royal Mile Whiskys, the Scotch Whisky Distillery Center, and the view from the Castle was obscured by the bleachers for the Tattoo. Not to complain too much, I did have a nice tour of the castle, saw the Grassmarket area and took a time out at Greyfriars Kirk to see Greyfriar Bobby's statue. The Fringe Fest takes over half of the Royal Mile, but about halfway down the crowds thin out and I could start relaxing a little. I had a lovely lunch in a close café (café in a walled courtyard), had some whisky fudge and walked down to Arthur's Seat. On the way back up the hill I decided to detour around the craziness of the festival and headed to New Town for some shopping; the look of this section of the city is more Georgian and the street layout is neater. A dress and a coat later, I went to meet the coach to take us back to the ship.
My tip to travelers is that if you want to see the city, you're better off going in June or July, because the festivals take over the city in August. However, if you want to see the Edinburgh Military Tattoo, it only performs for three weeks in August, so you may not have a choice. It is quite a show to see, with piper and drum bands from around the world. This year the guest military bands are The Citadel from South Carolina, New Zeland, the Australian Irish pipers and highland dancers, Nepal's Black Guard and Jordan. I know I'm forgetting one or two countries, but Google or YouTube the Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo and you'll see what it's about. The music, the coordination, the athleticism, not to mention fit army men!
I think I've used up all my minutes. I probably won't make another entry until I get back to Canada, unless I find an Internet café in London tomorrow. Till next time, aurevoir de la France!