Tuesday, June 11, 2019

Scotland - Some Final Thoughts...

Scotland was an amazing trip.

I guess I expected it to be a lot like Ireland and, in some ways, I suppose it was. The people were friendly, the beer was good, and there was a lot of rain. 

But it was also very different.

For some reason, I never considered using mass transit in Ireland, yet it was pretty much the first thing we did in Scotland.

Edinburgh seemed much more "local" than, say, Dublin, and certainly Rome, which is to say there were more tourists in those two cities. Don't get me wrong; Edinburgh certainly had its fair share of tourists. But, in comparison, far less.

Not to slight anyone in Dublin or Rome, but we found the people in Edinburgh to be ridiculously friendly, so much to the point that we were even invited out to go bar hopping around the city to catch a bunch of local musicians playing about. It was such a good time, and it felt like we'd known these people for years when, in fact, it had been only a few hours. We were welcomed into their inner circles like old friends.



When all was said and done, I think we'd hit the "sweet spot" with regards to how long the trip was. One more day would've been too long and one day less would've been not enough. We had pretty much seen everything we wanted to, and even had some down time to rest up.

It was time to go home, and we were ready.




It'll be interesting to see where we go next...


Edinburgh Castle - The Last Day...

With a visit to Edinburgh Castle, our final day in Scotland was a relatively busy one.

We took an Uber to the "Royal Mile", which is a large shopping district not far from the castle. We turned up hill and started walking towards this monolith of stone and brick which looms over the city of Edinburgh. Seriously, there's nowhere in the city you can go an not see this castle.

As we walked along, we noticed a gathering of people on the sidewalk, stopping to get their picture taken with an owl. A really big owl. For a donation you could don this massive leather glove and the owless (I dunno'; what do you call a woman with an owl?) would set the owl onto the glove and your loved ones could snap away. Jessy went first, and then it was my turn. As big as this animal was, I was surprised at how light it was:


Me and the owl. I named him Carl...

Scope out the talons on this monster (photo by Jessy Parr)...

After our owl encounter, we walked towards the castle.

Sitting atop what is known as Castle Rock, Edinburgh Castle dates back to the 12th century and the reign of David I. It was a royal residence until the year 1633. Since then, its role has been primarily  military in nature.


A portion of Edinburgh Castle...

The castle and the grounds are both enormous and expansive. You could easily spend an entire day here and not see everything. Aside from just the architecture of the building seen from the outside, the sites inside the buildings are equally impressive.

Two of the more noteworthy exhibits, sadly, did not permit photography (hence, I shall steal official photos from the web and attribute them appropriately). The first exhibit were the Crown Jewels of Scotland. The crown dates from the year 1540, the sword from 1507 and the sceptre from 1494.


The Crown Jewels of Scotland (photo sourced from the web)...

There were no less than six guards in the "Crown Room" where the jewels are displayed, and they were very, very cognizant of anyone who walked into the room holding a camera. Unlike the Sistine Chapel in Rome, I wasn't going to chance taking pictures here. I got away with it in Rome. I had zero confidence I would get away with it here.

The second display which was off photographic limits was the interior of the Scottish National War Memorial. The insistence here is that the reverence of the place precludes photography and, as much as it pains me to admit, it does.






This sculpture of a unicorn, at the entrance to the memorial, was completed by Phillis Bone in 1927...

The oldest building in Edinburgh Castle and, in fact, one of the oldest intact buildings in all of Edinburgh, is St. Margaret's Chapel. It was built in her honor during the reign of her son, David I (1124-1153). It's still used today for services, weddings and baptisms and, for a small donation of £2 you can get a booklet which tells you everything you may ever want to know about the chapel.


The chapel is very small, holding no more than about 20 people...

As you would expect, the views from Edinburgh Castle are sweeping and absolutely stunning. You can see anything and everything in the city from here.


Looking from Edinburgh Castle towards the Firth of Forth...

Edinburgh, and Calton Hill in the background, as seen from Edinburgh Castle. Waverley Station is on the right...

St. Cuthbert's (L) and St. John's (R) as seen from Edinburgh Castle...

If you visit Edinburgh Castle, wear comfortable shoes (well, that's true for anywhere, I suppose) and be mindful of where you are at any given time. At one point, I gave Jessy a heart attack when I almost went backwards over a wall, thinking the wall was higher than it actually was as I leaned back towards it. I just kept going backwards and managed to keep myself from falling. I'm glad that didn't happen. That would've hurt.

We were both getting a bit tired, so we decided we would grab some dinner along the Royal Mile before heading back to the hotel. We opted for Deacon Brodie's Tavern. William "Deacon" Brodie was a respectable businessman and tradesman during the day, but turned to burglary, to fund his gambling, at night.


Deacon Brodie's, along the Royal Mile in Edinburgh...

Our appetizer was mashed potatoes, mashed turnips and, you guessed it, haggis...

This was the Steak & Nicholson's Pale Ale Pie, and it was ridiculous...

And it was reduced to table scraps...

After dinner, as we walked down the Royal Mile to buy trinkets and souvenirs, it began to dawn on us that our trip was coming to a close. The Uber ride back to our hotel would be our last in Scotland, and we'd taken a lot of them. But it was a great trip, and one which I don't think I would mind taking again sometime. The sad reality is that, on a trip like this, there's so much to see and rarely enough time to see it all.

But that's what makes this whole traveling thing so much fun...

Thursday, June 6, 2019

Rosslyn Chapel - Day 5

We opted to spend Sunday in our hotel. The weather was, well, "Scottish", and neither of us were really too eager to venture out into it. It wasn't raining a little bit. It was raining a lot. Besides, we'd been going nonstop since we landed and were both feeling as though we needed a day to rest, so Sunday was that day.

And then came Monday.

In February, Jessy and I were discussing this trip and I told her I absolutely wanted to visit Rosslyn Chapel.


The mythical Rosslyn Chapel...


A quick perusal of their website though brought me to a paragraph which stated:

Please note that there is no photography or video allowed inside Rosslyn Chapel, 
as this can distract and inconvenience other visitors. 


Yup, I was bummed. This is the one place in all of Scotland I had hoped to photographed, and my hopes and dreams were seemingly dashed on a chilly February night in Florida when I read that.

As I knew I'd be writing about our visit to Scotland, and would be including our visit to the Chapel, I figured there would be no harm in reaching out and requesting special permission to photograph inside the Chapel.

Well, a couple of days went by with no reply. A couple days more... still nothing. A week and a half had elapsed when I accepted that they probably get a dozen requests a day like this, and as such my e-mail was probably sitting in a recycle bin somewhere.

Then I get an e-mail from the Director of the Rosslyn Chapel Trust, Mr. Ian Gardner:


Dear Steve,

I would be delighted to welcome you here in May and the best way to get some photos inside the Chapel would be for you to arrive, one day between Monday and Saturday, before we open to visitors at 9:30am. If you were to come here for 9am would that be convenient?

Kind Regards,


Ian



I was blown away. Not only was I going to be allowed to photograph the interior of the Chapel, I was going to get to do it when it was empty.

Our Uber driver dropped us off and, as we walked towards the visitor center, a gentleman in shirt and tie walked towards us, extended his hand and said "You must be Steve." The gentleman, of course, was Ian Gardner.


Here I am with Ian Gardner, Director of the Rosslyn Chapel Trust... (photo by Jessy Parr)


He walked us into through the visitor center and out into the grounds of the Chapel itself, telling us a bit about the history of the St. Clair family and the Chapel itself. Upon stepping onto the grounds, it really hits you. It's difficult to describe the feeling when you see it in person. Sure, it looks good on paper, but to be... right there... it's an awesome thing.

Dedicated in the year 1450, Rosslyn Chapel (or, more formally, the Collegiate Church of St. Matthew) has a deep well of both religious and mythical significance. It's believed that the original plans called for a much larger building, but building stopped when its founder, William St. Clair, died in 1484. St. Clair is buried within the Chapel.


One of the doors leading into the chapel...

The interior of the chapel is smaller than I expected, but it's still absolutely magnificent in its craftsmanship. In the last year I've been inside countless churches in Europe in the last year, and Rosslyn Chapel ranks right up there with the best of them. The craftsmanship of the stonework is stunning.


Looking towards the altar inside the chapel...

Rosslyn Chapel...

Looking towards the entrance to the chapel from the altar...


One of the more incredible pieces of craftsmanship is known as the Apprentice Pillar:

The Apprentice Pillar...


Legend holds that the master mason in charge flew into a jealous rage when he saw the level of workmanship in the pillar carved by his apprentice. The master mason took his mallet and struck the apprentice on the head, killing him. There's no evidence, however, to support the contention that any such murder took place.


Outside Rosslyn Chapel...


This stained glass window, located in the crypt, is from 1954...

Looking into Rosslyn Chapel from outside...

Tombs in what is known as the Lady Chapel. The tomb in the foreground is Harriet Elizabeth, Countess of Rosslyn, who died at the age of 39 in 1810. She was married to James St Clair-Erskine, 2nd Earl of Rosslyn...

Of course, everyone knows Rosslyn Chapel from the Dan Brown book The Da Vinci Code and the subsequent movie of the same name starring Tom Hanks. Some of the movie's final scenes were filmed in the crypt, or sacristy, of Rosslyn Chapel.


The steep stairs leading into the crypt from the Chapel above...

The crypt...

As historic a place as it is, one of the most popular sites at Rosslyn Chapel has nothing to really do with the Chapel at all. It's William the cat, names after the founder of Rosslyn Chapel. William showed up as a kitten and has taken up residence. He pretty much enjoys free reign of the Chapel and the grounds.


William the Cat. A reincarnation of William St. Clair, perhaps?


And, just in case you don't think a cat can really be that popular, a walk through the Rosslyn Chapel gift shop could certainly convince you otherwise. William is friendly, approachable and, oddly, rather stately.

As much as Rosslyn Chapel is a magnificent site to behold, it's not the only point of interest in the area. Rosslyn Chapel Cemetery is a mere five minute walk or so from the Chapel, and contains graves both relatively recent and very, very old.


A portion of Rosslyn Cemetery...


A gate leading into a part of Rosslyn Cemetery...

After passing Rosslyn Cemetery, it's only another short walk until you get to the ruins of Rosslyn Castle.

This path runs adjacent to Rosslyn Cemetery to the ruins of Rosslyn Castle...


The first castle on this site was built in the 14th century, although the one which stand here in ruins was built slightly later. The St. Clair family, which still owns it today, has owned Rosslyn since the 12th century.


The ruins of the west curtain wall of Rosslyn Castle...

The ruins of Rosslyn Castle...


The exterior of the west curtain wall at Rosslyn Castle...

The ruins of Rosslyn Castle...

Towards the end of "The Da Vinci Code", Professor Robert Langdon (played by Tom Hanks) explains his theory for a potential blood line of Jesus Christ to Sophie Neveu (played by Audrey Tautou). The scene is filmed on this bridge, near the ruins of the original gatehouse of Rosslyn Castle:


Rosslyn Castle ruins...

Despite the fact that much of Rosslyn Castle lies in ruins, some of it still remains. The main portion of the castle was built around 1460. The current house is available to be rent through The Landmark Trust as a vacation rental. Bear in mind, though, the building has no showers, only bathtubs. Also, many of the St. Clair photographs and possessions remain.


The current Rosslyn Castle. The estate has remained in the care of the St. Clair family since the Baroney of Rosslyn was established in the year  1070. This portion of the castle was built in 1622...

The grandeur of Rosslyn Chapel cannot be overstated. Though widely believed to be much smaller than the original plans called for, it is, without question, awe inspiring. And, inasmuch as we enjoyed every day we spent in Scotland, this day would prove to be just a bit more special. Not only were the images I came away with enough to more than satisfy the photographer in me, but, the welcome and accommodation we received from Ian Gardner and his staff were completely unexpected and deeply appreciated.

If you ever find yourself in Scotland, permit me to recommend a visit to this remarkable, mythical place. Plan on staying a few hours because, whether you're a fan of architecture, art, old churches or you just like visiting sites used in movies like me, there's something here for everyone to enjoy...


Tuesday, June 4, 2019

Doune Castle and The Holy Grail - Day 3

When my alarm went off at 5:45am, I wanted to throw it through my hotel window. Then I remembered that today was one of the main reasons we picked Edinburgh as our base.

I called Jessy's room, which was adjacent to mine, and it was clear from the gravely voice on the other end of the phone that she was as enthusiastic as I was to be up at such an early hour. Be that as it may, we got ourselves together, jumped in an Uber, and made our way to the departure point for the motor coach tour we'd booked.

The bus we were on was big. Really big. But, thankfully, it was not crowded in the least. In fact, we probably could've used a large van instead, because there were only nine of us.

Plenty of room!

Our driver and guide, though, didn't seem to mind in the least. In fact, they both seemed to prefer the smaller crowd.

Our tour guide Scott (L) and bus driver Cameron...

Our tour guide, Scott, was outstanding! He was engaging and funny, and kept us all in stitches for pretty much the entire day. I don't know what it is, but everything is just a little bit funnier when you say it with a British accent.

The first stop on our tour was to Loch Lomond. We took a 75 minute guided cruise around the loch but, to be honest, it was difficult to hear the narration. That being said, Jessy and I found our way down to a lower salon which was empty. Everyone else was sitting on hard fiberglass benches topside while we relaxed in relative luxury. It didn't take long for the word to get out, though, and it filled up about halfway through the cruise.


The relatively posh lower salon of The Silver Marlin...

Jessy, vogueing on The Silver Marlin...


As we cruised from the pier, we passed a number of privately owned pleasure craft which, presumably, would be used when it got a bit warmer. I was surprised, though, at the various levels of disrepair they were in, especially compared to how people here in the States tend to maintain their boats. Some were not bad at all, but many more needed serious attention.






Once out onto Loch Lomond, as luck would have it, it started to rain. Ordinarily, this would be a true bummer. But this is Loch Lomond in Scotland. This is the perfect environment to take boring, "ugly" rain photos and turn them into something a bit more dramatic.



Loch Lomond...

When we pulled back into the pier, we boarded our bus for our next stop, the town of Aberfoyle. If for nothing else, Aberfoyle is famous for the faeries that live in the trees.

You heard me.

Faeries.

While I can't lay claim to possessing the requisite knowledge to speak much on the topic of faeries, I can tell you about lunch. The Faerie Tree was a welcome respite from the rain, so we decided to grab a bite to eat.



Now, I don't think it's breaking news that I enjoy a good meal. While my tastes over the last couple of years have sought to include more fish and chicken, the reality is that I still love steak. And, hey, if I'm gonna' have a steak, why not have a filet mignon? And, hey, if I'm gonna' have a filet mignon, why not slice it up and put it on a sandwich because I'm in a hurry??
 

The sliced filet mignon sandwich with cole slaw. You're welcome...

Following lunch, we had to go back over to the Scottish Wool Centre (I don't have a photo, but it's an actual place) to watch the sheep herding dog demonstration. I expected to see this highly rained and vigilant canine corralling the sheep that dotted the immediate landscape, but no. Now, perhaps I should've noticed that they didn't say "sheep herding" but, rather, "sheep herding dog". The dog, in fact, played a major role. The sheep? Not so much. Instead, the dog was herding... wait for it...














Ducks.

Not what I expected, but still fun to watch!

The sheep were left alone, although they did come by and say hello.





When the demonstration was complete, we boarded our coach once again for what was, for me, the primary purpose of booking this tour: Doune Castle. Located in the Stirling district of central Scotland, Doune Castle was originally built in the 13th century, and rebuilt in its current form in the mid 1400's.

Doune Castle...


You've probably seen Doune Castle, even if you've never been to Scotland. It was seen in the a952 movie Ivanhoe with Elizabeth Taylor, as well as in the the television series Outlander and Game Of Thrones.

Perhaps no use of the castle is more famous, however, than in the 1975 movie "Monty Python And The Holy Grail".





In fact, Doune Castle was used for not only the scene above, but different parts of the castle were used to depict different castles.

Various rooms around the castle were featured in the movie. The song and dance routine "Knights of the Round Table" was filmed in the Great Hall, and the servery and kitchen appear as "Castle Anthrax", where Sir Galahad the Chaste is chased by seductive girls.


The Great Hall at Doune Castle...


Part of the kitchen, which served as Castle Anthrax...

The Lord's Hall which, so far as I know, made no appearance in Monty Python And The Holy Grail...

I have to admit, I got a real kick out of walking through the rooms where the movie was filmed. I have no idea how many times I've watched it, but this visit serve to make the next time I watch it even better.

We had a bit of a ride back into Edinburgh and, truth be told, my feet were getting tired. So, we climbed back aboard our swank motor coach and left Doune Castle in the rear view mirror.

If you're wondering if you should do a tour like this, I'd highly recommend it. I don't care what country you're in, the guides will keep you informed not only about the sites you're stopping at, but as well as what you see along the way. We were given a history lesson we wouldn't likely find anywhere else. 


For £42 per person, I thought it was an absolute bargain...

Scotland - Some Final Thoughts...

Scotland was an amazing trip. I guess I expected it to be a lot like Ireland and, in some ways, I suppose it was. The people were frien...