Monday, 8 October 2007

Destination Edinburgh Day 3

Blast from past!
After the fun filled day capturing Nessie, I was all set to explore rest of Edinburgh. Ok I was a little low on energy as capturing a monster is no child's play. So after a quick breakfast at the Inn I decided I would take the Hop on Hop off bus instead of walking.

I walked up to its bus stop close to the Inn and caught the bus. The bus took us too holyrood which is the official residence of the British Monarchy in Scotland. I wasn't really interested in exploring the palace. Close to the palace is the hill where you can trek up to the highest point of Edinburgh. I didn't want to do that either. So I caught the bus back and just went on a full loop without getting out anywhere.

On reaching the royal mile which is nothing but a road which has the Edinburgh palace on one end and the official residence on the other end, I got out of the bus. I did some window shopping till I came across a sign in big letters saying that they offer haunted tours. Now fighting monsters, I am totally ok with but monsters with no legs, gives me the heebbie jeebies.  After much contemplation and encouragement between me, myself and Mamta, I signed up for the tour.

We were a group of 10 with a guide leading the way. Here is an interesting fact about the city. Some parts of the old city of Edinburgh is built on top of the much older city of Edinburgh. The older buildings act as a foundation for the old buildings. So once you go down the old buildings of the old city, you are in the older buildings of the older city. Did all this make sense? It didn't make sense to me either. Do you think I was paying attention when the guide in his weird costume was telling us all this. No ways! I was just saying my prayers. "God! Let me not see any ghost. I will not capture another Nessie in my life"

So we go down the building and and get into a narrow dark alleyway with 2-3 storey buildings on either side. We are at the infamous Mary King's close.The lifestyle of locals was one of the causes for outbreak of plague. Well let me just say that the Scots did not have a drainage system and a bucket was their toilet and the alleyway the drainage system. Now you know why the princess garden is so lush. All the alleyways lead to the gardens. Unfortunately the plague and how the affected were quarantined is a gory story made entertaining by our dressed for the occasion guide and the occasional visits by “the people of the past", some screaming, some zipping by, some touching us for the added effect. I tried my best to just look down and continue the tour. Yes, yours truly was not in her bravest mode at that junction.

We were then taken into a small room which further led into smaller rooms till we lost sight of the exit. And voila there was a coffin with a tiny flickering light next to it. We were made to sit around it and the guide started to tell us all about the doctor who treated all the plague victims, the gory way they let the plague victim die and how the bodies were disposed. I knew something was bound to happen at this point of time. So I did the best thing I could in that situation. I just closed my eyes. Unfortunately I could not close my ears. Now that would be too obvious. I might be a chicken in my heart but I don't want that on display for others. As expected I was the only one who did not flitch when a ghostly creature in white went floating by. I was the brave one!!.

After the nerve racking 10 minutes by the coffin, we went further into this maze of rooms to a shrine of a girl. Now supposedly this girl Annie is still around and a psychic spotted her in 1992. People offer toys  and trinkets for her as the psychic did many years ago. Well a quick peep into the room and I was all set to leave the place. I was really very glad to come out into the open after 30 minutes in the dungeons of the older city without hearing the girl cry. On our way out, we were informed that they have a late night grave yard tour. Well I was like “Really!!! I so want to go but I have a train to catch late in the afternoon".  I wasn't lying. I would have gone on the grave yard tour! But shucks!! The train!!! It will not wait for me, right?

Now lesser said about Britain railway system the better. Ok I know they were upgrading their lines and modernizing the system in 2007. But can they at least inform the passengers in advance. On reaching the Edinburgh station, I was informed that my train is canceled and I have to catch another train which of course was at the other end of the station. Why is it never the one standing on the other side of the same platform? This train would take me to an intermediate station from where I had to take another connecting train to my original second destination.

If you remember I had taken 3 trains to get to Edinburgh and I was planning to do the same on the way back. But with this additional train, the number of trains got increased to 4. Unfortunately the train took us into the interiors of Scotland unlike the one along the coast on the way in. But as a consolation it was through the scenic countryside. After catching the second train which arrived just after about 1 minute after I landed at the platform, I settled down to enjoy the rest of my journey. Within a short time, I was informed my originally second but now the third connecting train was canceled too. I had to take a bus.  So here I was at this small little station with one room building acting as lobby, waiting and everything else. It was about 8.00 in the evening and about 5-6 of us had got out at that station. Giving us company at this station were few more people. After standing in a line at the inquiry, I was informed that my bus was at 11.00 in the night. Thus started the great luckily uneventful wait of 3 hours with nothing to do and a group of strangers for company. The number dwindled down to just couple of us by the time my bus turned up at 11.00. After couple of hours on the bus, I reached Norwich at 2.00 in the middle of night.  So much for traveling in a new country on my own. Can it get any better than this?

Did I mention that I had a 3 hour ride on train to London next ...oh wait the same morning at 6.00am. What do you think I dreamt about for few hours in Norwich...well trains and more trains!!!

Location Edinburgh, Scotland
Date: October 2007

Tip: Always expect the unexpected
First: Pay your respect to Greyfriars Bobby
Must do:  Haunted tour
The travel connection: Blast from the past

Friday, 5 October 2007

Destination Highlands Day 2

 Blast from past!

 After a wonderful day in Edinburgh, I was all set to catch a bus early next morning at 6.30am. I had already explored the city in the evening and located its local bus stand so that i don't get lost in the morning. As it was a long day, i crashed to bed immediately only to be waken up in the middle of the night. A couple next door, most probably drunk  were fighting at the top of their voice. My first night in a new country, i am all by myself and all that noise irritated me enough to want to call the reception. I wanted to shout out " get a room" and then i realized they were already in a room..well they were in the room and the corridor of the hotel. Luckily the fight died down as quickly as it started. I certainly had a very eventful first day and night to my holiday.

So i walked down to the bus stand the next morning and joined a group of diverse people on board. Of course an Indian couple and their parents were a part of the group. I bet anywhere you go in the world , you will come across Indians.Our guide was a flamboyant Scot in his traditional attire and a very thick Scottish accent. I found it very difficult to follow his accent.

We were informed that we are on the way to Highlands of Scotlands. As i did not have the time to read up on this place, i had signed up for this tour just on recommendation by my brother. Our first stopover would be stirling, followed by Glencoe , then Lochness and finally Inverness. We had to cover more than 450kms in a single day. But as we started the ride, the distance was the last thing on my mind as i was immediately grabbed by the scenic landscape and quaint little towns we passed by. I had my faithful camera giving me company and i knew the time would fly.

 The scot after the initial introduction gave us audio guides and left us on our own. Luckily the Audio guide was not in scottish accent and it talked about the violent history of two clans of the highlands of Scotland and more blah blah blah. I didn't really pay attention to what was being said as i was too immersed in the natural beauty outside the bus window and had my wonderful companion with me. Unfortunately the weather was not co operating with us that day but i still have just one word to describe it all- Amazing!!!

The winding roads took us  through purple-speckled mountain ranges, tall forests, rolling hills and along lake sides. The Highlands was lush with brown grasses as it was fall , but I could also see a number of shrubs. Most commonly purple heather, a type of perennial shrub,sweeps the area, from mountain tops to roadsides giving it a purple , well a purplish brown hue.

The desolate landscape teamed with gloomy weather immediately took me back in time to Baskervilles. I could only imagine the hound appearing out of nowhere and jumping at me. The eerie feeling just made me more excited and i was truly hoping that hound takes me into a world of adventure and mystery. It was then i realized how much England and its surrounding countries were a part of my growing up years through books. Have any of you felt the same about any other place.

The stopover at Glencoe was exhilarating after a long ride. A glen is a valley, typically one that is long and deep and this one was breathtaking. With a refreshed vigor after fueling up with sandwiches, we set out to Lochness. Loch is a Scottish term for a lake and this one has its infamous inhabitant Nessie. The previous night i had already dreamed of capturing Nessie with my companion sony and being featured in Nat Geo. Ahh..dreams!!!. Wonderful aren't they. But before i could capture the monster, i had to go through the ruins of the Urquhart castle on the banks of Lochness and fight for my Scottish claymore and be honored by a knight. What happened in the next two hours has been sealed away in chest wrapped in a kilt and will never be revealed.

Here are some interesting fact that i learnt through the day. You must have wondered why i mentioned the couple. Well  at one point i got to know they were from Bangalore. Small world right?. The interesting part was they just could not comprehend i was traveling on my own. Small world but a long way from becoming largely open minded. The kilt with tartan pattern is unique to the clan it is associated with and i had always thought it was just one pattern. I still have so much to learn! It is a feeling of home when one comes across an Indian restaurant in an isolated place like Inverness and  eat the cheap horrible tasting Indian food. And last but not least there is nothing more adventurous than capturing a monster. Didn't you read about it in NatGeo. Gosh! where have you been and what have you been doing. If you don't believe me, see the evidence below.

Location: Highlands,Scotland
Date of travel: October  2007

Tip: Do the scotch and hop!
Must do: Return back for a road trip!
First: Capture a monster!
The travel connection : Be a part of Mythology

Wednesday, 3 October 2007

Destination Edinburgh Day 1

Blast from past!
After dropping off my backpack at the inn, I grabbed my map and camera and decided to walk up to the Edinburgh castle. I started walking down the winding roads and after some distance, I came across some stairs between buildings. After a bit of wait and looking around, I decided it was safe enough to take these stairs between  the roads at different levels and save on walking long distances. You may ask how I knew where the stairs led to. My friend, I am a smart traveler and a smart traveler just knows! So the stairs are something that is not mentioned in guide books or rather in the ones that I had read. I was thrilled to have discovered it! Ok, I know, something too small to be thrilled about but honestly I was glad I came across these stairs

Let me remind you, I was in the old city of Edinburgh packed with really, I mean really old, don't ask how old buildings along winding roads and the connecting narrow stairs between buildings. It was a very special feeling walking down the old city and talking a stroll through the history of the castle. Though it seemed interesting at that point of time, I unfortunately don't remember much of what I saw or got to know about the castle and history to write about it here.

All I can recall at this point of time is visiting some chapel, a few halls of the palace....oh sorry “the castle"...architect after all....can't make such mistakes, seeing but not hearing the "famous" cannon,checking out some crown jewels, the museum and of course the wonderful views of the Edinburgh new city
After a quick late lunch at the cafe on the castle grounds, I decided to walk up to the new city. The best way to explore a new country is to take its public transport or walk around. I always try to do that and I strongly recommend the same to you.

While getting to the new city, I passed by the princess garden at the foothills of the castle. One of the reasons why the gardens are so lush is because it was formerly a loch where the sewage of the old town got drained into. I got to know many such interested tit bits when I took the very informative haunted tour. Did I just put information and haunting together?..Yes!!. Edinburgh is the best place to go crazy with fear and learn at the same time. But let me get to that later. Where was I? Ah...the princess garden, certainly not the central park but still lively and happening with lots of monuments, handsome scots with their bagpipes and more monuments. But can one forget that the place was once a pile of s***. Hmm...I guess one can and enjoy its present form. When I look back now, I wonder why they decided to call it “princess" garden and not prince garden. Don't you think a prince and the place relate to each other more than the other way around!!!

The new city is like any other city in Europe with its trendy stores along High street and Princess Street. After a bit of window shopping and dinner at a fast food chain, hey!!!...let me remind you I am backpacking here....all I can afford are those two activities.  Can I comment on the night life of Edinburgh, I guess not as I was back in my inn by 9.00 pm ready to crash after miles of walking? I also had a bus to catch at 6.00 am next morning. So no night life for me but I am not complaining. I thought it was a good start to one of the most memorable holidays!!

Location: Edinburgh Scotland
 Date of travel: October 2007

Tip: Take the connecting stairs instead of winding roads while exploring!
Must do: Walk around the old and new city!
First: Make an attempt to understand the Scottish accent!
The Travel connection: Discover something that is not mentioned in the guide books!

Monday, 1 October 2007

Destination Scotland

Blast from past!
After my recent trip to Scotland of east, I just could not help but go back in time and remember one of the most exciting trips I have had so far. It was to Scotland of west. Well to be more precise, it was to Edinburgh and Highlands. But before I embarked on my journey to Scotland, I had to fly into London from New York and then take a 4 hour bus ride to Norwich.After the transatlantic flight and a night's break at Norwich,I  took an very early morning train to Peterborough. A long journey to reach the destination but yes this was the start to one of the amazing cross country rides on a train!

Let me pause here and tell you that even though i have taken transcontinental, transatlantic flights on my own before, this was my first holiday as a single female traveler. As I was planning to move back to India, I wanted to visit my family in England and travel to a few places around it. Most would think holidaying alone is not a good cup of tea. For me it was like an adventure that I had set off on with no one but me to pamper and please! I would not do something like this in India but after being on my own in US, I was confident that I could have a wonderful and safe journey in other parts of the world by being sensible and taking few precautions.

Now getting back to the trains which are far better than the ones in India and here I was into about half hour of the ride and the ticket collector approached me and asked for the tickets.I just gave him the tickets, he looked at them and said that they were not the tickets. Half hour into my first holiday on my own and already  was in a panic mode!. As the tickets were not bought by me and was handed to me late night , i had not looked at them. The big guy in uniform informed me that what I had are the booking receipts and I had to pick up the tickets at the station. I was kicking myself in my head for not looking at them when it was handed over to me. In meantime the ticket collector asked me if I had the return tickets too. I said yes and handed over a bunch of paper slips I had with me. As I had 3 trains to take each way, I had a lot of tickets. He patiently went through all of them and then picked up the correct ticket from the bunch and explained to me the ticket and the receipt are two different things. what a relief! I learnt my first lesson about traveling in a different country as something like this never happened to me in US and I have taken the Amtrak often. I don't recall amtrak booking receipts looking exactly the same as the tickets Well, Don't assume things to work the same in every country.

The train from Norwich took me to Peterborough . Then i switched a train to Edinburgh through New castle. The train ride brought back one of my sweetest memories of my childhood. It was all the time i spent reading Enid Blyton and always wondering about England.I could not believe I was in the same country side as all her characters...Fatty from five findouters, George from famous five and list can go on.The adventures, the mysteries, the fun , the many memories and here i was reliving them. To top it off was the incredible sights i was feasting on. The ride from New castle to Edinburgh is along the coast and my god, I could do it over and over again. I am sure sights will be different during the different seasons.

On reaching Edinburgh, I walked up to my hotel " Premier Inn" lauriston place. When I had checked the directions on Google map, the hotel seems to be at a walkable distance but what I didn't discount was that Edinburgh is on hills and the walk uphill can be exhausting! As i just had a small backpack , I managed to make it to the Inn in good time. A quick check in and I was all set to start my exploration of Edinburgh!

 Location: Scotland
Date of travel: October  2007

Tip: Avoid the air travel and do the Land!
Must do: Visit Scotland!
First: Pure panic for a few minutes in a new country!
The Travel Connection: Travel by the British railways

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