I can’t leave the Scotland section without mentioning the street signs… Aside from the fact that when we went to Skye all the street signs turned to Gaelic, they had a whole slew of other street signs that were quite interesting…
There were the usual ones that we are all familiar with: Beware of deer, or Beware of Elk/Moose or even Bear or Cougar (if you are from Florida:))
But since Scotland has literally gotten rid of any and all potentially dangerous animals in the Country (no bears, no wolves, literally nothing that could eat or be a predator to humans) they had to pad out their street signs a bit to extend beyond the boring ol’ “Beware of Deer” sign…
So they extended to:
“Beware of Sheep” (ok, I get that since there are a ton there)
“Beware of Hairy Coos” (these aren’t as common as sheep, but could still be dangerous if challenged)
“Beware of Squirrels” (??? Really??? Are there that many around that we should be that cautious of them? It would be terrible to hit one but it wouldn’t be quite as dangerous as hitting a sheep or hairy coo…)
“Beware Families” (I get this one is designed to get people to slow down, fair enough!)
But my personal favorite of all of them:
“Beware Old People!!!!” I just had to find one on the internet to include for you!! Totally cracked me up every time!! I love the detail of it too, how the old man has a walking stick and both are hunched over… LOL!!!! Loved it!!!
Goodness, there are lots of things to say here… !! First I will start with what I have been told about Glasgow long before I ever got there from several people in the States: Beware Glasgow!! Seriously I had one friend tell me that Scotland in general was quite dangerous and that I should keep my head down, don’t speak to anyone and I should be fine. Statistically there is some validity in that because apparently Scotland is the #1 producer of heroine. And where there are the super hard drugs, there is a higher volume of potential for danger and violence. But as we all know, danger and violence exist everywhere. So I wasn’t going to let anyone try to scare me out of visiting Scotland!! And honestly I never ran into any violence or danger in Scotland at all! There were a few bar fights and a fight with a convenience store clerk, but I promise I didn’t use any violence in any of those situations!!
When it comes to Glasgow specifically, yes, even the Glaswegians (Weegie’s for short) have fear of certain areas and of certain people… Beware the Bams and Neds!! There was actually a third category of people, but I can’t recall what they were called… If memory serves correctly Bams are more dangerous than Neds. Bams are easily recognizable… They are usually always spotted in two or more, they always have shaved or near shaved heads, and they have at least one if not several scars on their faces from knife fights. These people are best avoided altogether because even my friend from Glasgow says that if you get in a tangle with one of them, there is no way to escape not being stabbed. And it doesn’t take any provocation from the individual either! As I’ve been told by locals (and my friend) you could simply be standing around minding your business. If a Bam spots you though and for whatever reason doesn’t like the look of you, they come over to pick fights with you. Joy!! Again though, while I saw several Bams about, I never saw any violence or was never harassed myself. Bams are also generally younger guys. I guess you could compare them to street thugs with nothing better to do than start trouble… Neds on the other hand are “grown-up” Bams… They are just an older generation who are calmer and less likely to start violence, but are still thugs in their own way. I guess you could say Neds and Bams are like pit vipers… Pit viper babies immediately bite and inject overdoses of venom in any little thing that strikes them as being a threat whereas adult pit vipers pick and choose what is really a threat and only deals out enough venom to subdue the threat… Hmmm…
Moving along… the East End is also known to be dodgy by locals… When I was working in Key West, I had a couple of younger kids visit from Scotland (aside from my friends from Edinburgh whom I met there) who knew Glasgow very well and I asked them to write down places to go or avoid in Glasgow… the East End made that list! Along with other areas including Drumchapel, Priesthill, Nitshill and England, LOL!! Places to go in Glasgow included Byres road for pubs (did that for sure!) and Lochlomond (to be talked about later).
Now that you have a little bit of an interesting introduction to Glasgow, I’m going to back up a tiny bit to getting there… I arrived via train at the rear-crack of the morning (aka 9am) from Oban to Queen’s Station. And I was met just outside the station from my very good friend Anna! Anna is a local born and bred Glaswegian who one day will have a book and or movie made about her life, because seriously she’s traveled over 80 countries and had some of the most amazing/crazy stuff happen to her!! I met Anna while living in Puerto Viejo in Costa Rica. We were neighbors, became good friends, kept in touch and when I was going to Scotland, since she just happened to be there as well, of course I had to go to see her!
Now you know why I went to Glasgow:) Because honestly, if it wasn’t for her being there, I don’t know that I would have had any other reason to go on my own. Glasgow is an industry town. It’s not necessarily very pretty nor is there really a whole lot to do there from the tourist perspective. But since I was lucky enough to have a local perspective (via Anna) I had an absolute grand time there! Of course most the time we were intoxicated, but only had one day of a real hangover!! So all in all, I think we did pretty well;)
In the interest of not rambling on for decades, I’m going to break down the activities once again to links so I don’t drone on too long in a single post:) Oh, and if you are looking for Glasgow pictures… I didn’t really take any:( I’m terrible at taking pictures in places where I’m living more than visiting… And with having a friend there, it felt like the former… But, I did take pictures at Loch Lomond and Lochgoilhead:) So skip to those sections if you are looking for pictures of surrounding areas.
The Eilean Donan Castle is apparently THE MOST PHOTOGRAPHED castle in the WORLD! Quite an impressive accomplishment!! You MUST also check out the Faerie Glen picts!!! By far my FAVORITE!!! 🙂 Slighachan was the site of the midges… Ick!
Ah, the event!!! Yes… So this happened just as we were approaching Quiraing. So on the Isle of Skye, the majority of the roads leading from one picturesque place to another are VERY narrow… I mean to the point that it’s really only one lane wide!! But since there are two ways of traffic, there are several spots along the road (probably every 200 meters or so) where a vehicle can pull over to let the oncoming car pass.
So on our way to Quiraing (thankfully only walking distance away) we came across a traffic jam along the single lane road. The issue ahead of us was a car was head on with a camper (trying to come in our direction). They weren’t able to pass each other because some tourist had parked their camper IN the pull-off zone designated only for vehicles to pass one another!! With the parked camper in the way there was no way for anyone to pass each other on the road, unless they went off-roading…
So our driver got out and helped at least the car to get around the camper trying to come our way. And he helped the camper squeeze as close to the side of the road as possible so that WE could possible squeeze along them to our destination…
As we attempted to pass the left side of our van went off the road and due to the recent wet weather just sunk into the land and that was it… We were stuck!!! A very long story short, we weren’t pulled back out of the rut for almost 3 hours!!! So at first we just had lots of time (YAY!!!) to wander around, which I took full advantage of!! Our guide hitched a ride into town (just down the valley) to try and get someone to get us out of the rut (literally). When no one came for hours, one of the church charity vans from town came and picked us up and took us into town so we could at least get some hot beverage while we waited for our rescue. Of course it was a very frustrating situation for the guide, but he took it in stride as we all did. We ended up not getting back to town until almost 11pm because of it, but we still got to hit all the hot spots on the list, so all was well that ended well!!
And honestly… the more I think about it… The more I think that this unexpected hitch kinda made the trip for me (along with the beauty of Skye of course!!). I do enjoy unplanned events thrown into the mix!! Strange, I know!
The second guided tour I took in Edinburgh was for the Real Mary King’s Close. The tour office was located on the street level just off the Royal Mile, not far from the Castle. But the tour itself went through homes, found not terribly long ago, beneath the current streets and homes….
Of course way back then the homes we walked through were at ground level. But as people started to build more, instead of scraping old places and starting new, they simply lopped off the roofs of the old homes, built a new “ground floor” and simply built new homes or buildings on top of the old ones. But this practice of building homes was forgotten about until some workers of the City came along and rediscovered all the homes (now underground) and turned them into a tourist attraction!
The tour was quite fun but for those who have any claustrophobic tendencies, they may want to skip it… The way down was a bit tight, but once in the rooms I didn’t think it was too bad. But then again, E said she really didn’t enjoy the tour because she felt claustrophobic. So be warned people!!
Anyway, our guide from start to finish played the part of a young man who lived way back when and sadly died at 23 from some horrid plague. He told great stories of how the people lived (Gardy Loo!!) and the various plagues that afflited that age. He was humerous and witty and played his role well! We went through spaces that looked like a single room but were told it was a whole house for several families!! Other areas were for animals and others still for the rich. Each room was recreated to reflect the kind of people that would have lived in each room… But perhaps the most interesting of all the rooms… That of a little girl ghost…
When the spaces along Mary King’s Close were rediscovered, several measures were taken to make sure the spaces would be safe for tourists to travel through. During projects of reinforcement, some workers would describe strange things or sightings of a little girl quite often in one area of the rooms… So one day, a psychic was invited to go through the rooms. She didn’t pick anything up of note… Had no strange feelings or pulls of any sort… She couldn’t find a single odd feeling anywhere… At this point she was in the room most known for sightings but still, nothing.
She was getting ready to leave when all of a sudden she turned around and saw a little girl in the corner of the room. Now, mind you, at this point of the story we are all in the room itself and the “corner” where the girl was spotted standing was RIGHT BESIDE ME!!! Yea, I got a little chill for sure when he pointed only a few inches from me!! Anyway- the little girl was crying so the psychic asked her what was wrong. The little girl said that she was sad because her parents had died and that she was also sad because she could not find her favorite toy to keep her company and comfort her! The psychic was so moved by this that she left the rooms, went shopping for a doll, returned to the room where the young girl was crying and left the doll in there. From then on, none of the workers ever reported any further sightings or disturbances.
Even now, people from all over having heard of and knowing of this story in advance bring the little girl gifts and toys to play with! In the room today there is a stack of hundreds and hundreds of little toys and trinkets! So many are brought in fact that the staff has to sometimes clear toys out to make room for others!! The original is still there though:)
Needless to say, I would recommend this tour for sure! Though it was a little on the pricey side for the one hour, it’s definitely worth the fun!! Oh and sorry for the lack of pictures here… I can’t recall if they weren’t allowed at all, or if I was just too engrossed in the tour to care to take picts…
After the tour of the Royal Mile, our guide took us up to the castle and shared lots of fun facts with us about it… My personal favorite is about the Stone of Destiny…
Ironically enough, before going to Scotland I was visiting with my horse trainer, who is like a second family to me, and she was telling me about a movie she saw called the Stone of Destiny. It took place in Scotland and it is based on the true story about a group of Scottish student nationalists. The Stone, which was where Scottish Kings were traditionally crowned was stolen by King Edward I of England in 1296 and placed under the throne at Westminster Abbey. In the 1950’s the group of Scottish student nationalists succeeded in stealing the Stone back from Westminster Abbey and returning it to it’s righful place: Edinburgh castle!! Quite a fun story to say the least!! So while I had heard about the Stone of Destiny before I ever went to Scotland, I had of course forgotten exactly where the Stone was… So needless to say I was quite tickled when I heard that it was indeed in the Edinburgh Castle!! The Stone, to say the least is quite large and heavy looking and is currently encased in a glass display next to the Crown Jewels. No pictures were allowed to be taken of it sadly, but it was really cool to at least see it!!
In the pictures below you will see a few of the inside of parts of the castle, and one where there is a plaque in honor of Queen Elizabeth… You will also note the date however that it was in 1993… Why is it that there is a plaque in honor of Queen Elizabeth (seemingly the first Queen Elizabeth since there isn’t a II on the plaque) dated 1993?? It is in fact in honor of Queen Elizabeth II, however, since Scotland never recognized Queen Elizabeth I as their queen, to them, Queen Elizabeth is their first Queen, hence no “II” on the plaque…
The one o’clock gun… I already mentioned this bit in the section of Calton Hill, so I won’t drone on it again… However in this section you can see the pictures of the original cannon that was used to mark 1 o’clock, as well as the cannon used today (shoots blanks) to mark 1 o’clock:)
Ugh!! And I’m absolutely going to muck this up… But there was an interesting legend that revolved around St. Margaret… Basically it was a love story… As the tale goes (hoping I recall it right!) St. Margaret (originally from Hungary) was very much in love with her husband and had earned the respect and adoration as a kind Queen from many of the Scottish people. However, there was some fallout with some of the Scottish countrymen over religion… She was of one religion (Protestant???) and they another, and well, you know how those religious disputes tend to end in not so great a light… Anyway, St. Margaret was basically shunned over the religious disputes and it got so bad that she wasn’t able to leave the Castle.
While in the castle she got news that her husband died in battle and was to be buried. Loving her husband as much as she did, she requested that when she died that she be buried along side him. When she did pass away (not long after he died apparently) those still “on her side” wanted to grant her last wish of being buried by her husband, but those against her refused. Her body stayed in the chapel of the castle for three days until some people “for” St. Margaret in the middle of the night, snuck her body out of the chapel and to her husbands gravesite where they buried her. The townspeople “against” St. Margaret heard what had happened and got furious. They went to the gravesite to dig St. Margaret up, but to their astonishment were unable to actually lift her out of the gravesite! Her body had somehow become so heavy they were unable to get her back out! So they had to leave her, despite their best efforts. So as the legend goes, the townspeople were unable to move her body because her love for her husband was too strong, even in death, to allow them to take her away from him. Awww…!!!! 🙂
But seriously people, don’t quote me word-for-word on the above legend as I’m sure some bits aren’t quite correct!! And if any of you happen to hear the legend yourselves, do tell me how it’s supposed to be! Lol!!
While I didn’t take very many guided tours while in Edinburgh (since I was spoiled and fortunate enough to live like a local while being hosted by K&E!!) I did partake in a couple. One of the tours was given by Mercat tours. “Mercat” is the old Edinburgh word for Market. They have a variety of tours available for purchase, including ghost tours, and the one I settled on was “The Secrets of the Royal Mile” which also included a tour of the Edinburgh Castle.
The tour was absolutely splendid!! Our guide (I can’t recall her name though I want to say she was originally from the states… Maybe the Boston area??) was very informative and quite entertaining! She took us all over up and down the Mile, then into the Castle where she told us many stories of the Castle, then left us to explore it at our leisure. Now, again there are quite a few things that I learned about Edinburgh and the Royal Mile during the tour, but I’m conflicted about how much to share about it… So while not giving every little detail away, I will share my favorite bits:)
To start (and this isn’t a huge secret per se as it was pointed out to me by E during our first walk around the Mile) windows… Yes, windows! Looking at the buildings along the Mile, it was quite entertaining to see how many different kinds, types, shapes and sizes of windows were present on a single building!! On one building alone you could find so many varieties of windows that it was almost comedic! And to boot the windows on each floor were not necessarily lined up with one another… The reason for the abundant variety of windows on each building was basically due to how they were built to begin with. You see, if you were poor you lived near the bottom floor, therefore getting a lovely constant scent of the street… More on that later… If you were rich you lived on the top levels where the air was a little fresher and cleaner… Now each building was not built all at one time. They were constructed basically “as needed” one level at a time. If money ran out to complete the construction, well so be it. It wouldn’t be completed! But as money became available again construction would resume. This is why the windows of each level of the buildings were basically different, and why on some buildings there were even differences in the windows within a single level!
Another fun fact: the statues… I’m not sure if this applies to all statues around the world or just specifically in Edinburgh… But anyway, for every statue where there appeared a horse and a human, you could tell something about the human in the statue… If the horse appearing with the human had all 4 feet on the ground, then the human was not a soldier during their life. If the horse had one front leg off the ground then the human with the horse was a soldier but did not die in battle. If the horse had both front legs off the ground (rearing) then the human with the horse was a soldier in life and they did die in battle… After learning that it was quite fun looking around each statue knowing the status of that human during their life!
Speaking of statues… The one built featuring Alexander the Great and his horse has an interesting story behind it… Basically the project was commissioned to a great artist to construct. However, the artist wasn’t paid all the money he was supposed to be paid to do the project. To show his disdain toward being cheated out of his money for the project, he made the whole statue wonderfully with the exception of the horses ears! Instead of giving the horse normal ears, he gave the horse pig ears, lol!! I’d say that was quite a clever way for the artist to show how upset he was at not being paid properly, lol!!
The heart of Edinburgh… You can see it in the pictures below. It is a heart shaped mosaic close to Parliament House. Basically it records the position of the 15th century Old Tolbooth (aka a prison) which was also the site of several executions. The prison has obviously since been demolished, but the heart marks the old entrance to the prison. People to this day spit on the heart to show their dislike of the former prison and the executions that took place there. In fact, just as our guide spoke of it a young man cut his way through our tour to the heart, spat on it and then made his way on down the mile. I seriously thought it was part joke that people spat on it, but it’s obviously quite true to this day!
Gardy Loo!! It’s really beyond me how anyone survived back then past infancy… Between their hygienic (or lack there of) practices and the various plagues that, well, plagued the City, I’ve no idea how anyone survived!! One such example is their toilet habits… Basically in each “house”, since no indoor plumbing existed, they had buckets to do their business into. When the buckets got full they simply emptied them by throwing the contents out onto the streets below… This included on the main streets and into the Closes!!! So literally people were just walking around in piss and shit all day… And what if you were walking in the street or Close when someone went to empty their buckets?? Well, before chucking the contents out the person emptying the bucket would yell out “Gardy Loo” which basically meant “watch out or you will get a ton of shit on your head!!”. If someone was present they would yell back (can’t recall the phrase) for them to hold on while they sought shelter or got out of the way… And that was how it was!! Again, with everyone walking around in human filth all the time, it’s amazing how anyone survived!! Now you may also recall that the poorer people lived on the bottom floors… So they were the ones having to constantly deal with the ongoing scent of human waste and also watch as human wastes were chucked out of windows past their own places during the day… Joy!!!
Oh yea, in addition, because of the design of the old city, what with the Castle being on the peak of an old volcano and everything else sloping into the side valleys or down the Mile, all the waste that was chucked out the window eventually made its way down to the waters in the valley… And where did the people get their drinking water from?? You guessed it… From the same water that human waste was pouring into!! Not to mention they also drowned many a suspected witch in those waters AND any animal wastes or animal corpses, etc were also thrown into the water from which they used as their source of drinking water!!!! Seriously have no idea how anyone survived!!!
That reminds me, I mentioned in an earlier post as well about closes and how each close was named after the activity that took place in the closes. So the FishMarket Close sold fish, the FleshMarket Close sold animal meat, etc. Well another fun bit about how amazing it is that people survived back then: when the meat markets didn’t sell all of their meat, since they didn’t have any means of refrigeration to preserve the meat, they would simply slather on tons and tons of spices (imported from abroad) to hide the scent and fact that the meat was becoming putrid!!! Yuuuummmmyy!!!! NOT!!!
Ok, well while there were many other things about the Mile I could share, I’m going to cap it at those joyously fun stories!! 😉 Enjoy the pictures!
Before getting into this section I will say that when it comes to Zoos in general, I have a love/hate relationship with them… I love them because one is able to see so many different kinds of animals that would otherwise never be possible to see, but I hate them because in a way zoos are exploiting the animals too. I don’t doubt for a second that people who work in zoos absolutely love the animals and want to do right by them, but while it’s great to see a polar bear or chimpanzees, etc., I wonder if we are doing right by them taking them out of their natural habitats… Again, I know that many zoos work hard to recreate the various animals natural habitats and that in some cases in the wild so many of the animals are on the endangered list so perhaps the only way to continue the species is because of zoos, but part of me wishes we didn’t have to interfere so much… If it wasn’t for us destroying the animals natural habitats or hunting them to near extinction then we really wouldn’t have a need for zoos at all… If only it were a perfect world… Perhaps at this point as well the whole debate is moot because so many of the animals nowadays are born in captivity to begin with and could never survive in the wild as they are supposed to… I just wish it wasn’t that way… But wishing doesn’t do any benefit to anyone or any animal… I also realize that in my buying a ticket I’m supporting the efforts of zoos, so I’ve no right to dislike them since I’m supporting them… Basically as you can see zoos to me open up a huge can of debatable worms!! Love them and hate them… Grrr!!
Ok, I’m off my soapbox… I’ve been to several zoos around the world at this point and I must say that while some were VERY disappointing and I felt really sorry for the animals (Costa Rica Zoo in San Jose) I thought that the Edinburgh zoo was quite well done! The habitats for the animals are very spacious and the grounds go on forever!! Thanks to E I was able to score a discounted ticket for the zoo and literally spent about 9 hours walking every inch of the zoo! The variety of critters was impressive and again the habitats themselves were spacious (for those critters that need the space!) and the animals seemed generally content. I must say my favorite bit (aside from the big cats) was the baboons! They were so darn entertaining that I could have watched them alone for hours on end! Just watching the interactions between the, probably 50 or so, baboons was better than any reality show on TV today! There was drama, comedy, action, and lots and lots of mating!! Must have been the season I guess… Anyway, if any of you reading this are fans of zoos, I do recommend the Edinburgh zoo.
Oh, and by the way, if any see the Wild Cat, I want to hear about it!! Apparently there is a running joke among people who have visited the Edinburgh zoo where they say that though there is a habitat for the Wild Cat, there isn’t actually a wild cat in the habitat because no one has ever seen it!! Personally, I have seen it and had I known about that running joke I would have taken a picture to show K&E, but alas I didn’t… I actually spotted it twice. The first time did take me quite a while to find it because it was curled up sleeping way up high in a tree. It was about mid-day the first time I saw it. Then later as the zoo was starting to close I made my way back to the Big Cat area and saw it on the floor of the habitat awake and having a sip of water.
Sorry I’ve no pictures to share for this section… I did take a few pictures for myself but find it a bit exploitive to post them up… I know, I’m odd!!
One of the very best things about Scotland in general… The surrounding nature!! Edinburgh is no exception!! It is surrounded by groups of hills that many take advantage of for fun daily hikes. In the case of some, you could definitely tell that the surrounding hills were a daily exercise for them because they were running up them while tourists (including me) huffed and puffed their way up!
One of these groups of hills, located not far from Holyrood Palace (the Queen’s official residence in Scotland) is Arthur’s Seat. Arthur’s Seat is the main peak of the surrounding hills that make up Holyrood Park and has a height of 251 meters, or 823 feet at it’s peak. Honestly the climb really wasn’t all that bad, with the exception of a small bit that consisted of jagged rocks that I personally did a slight shimmy down, just so I wouldn’t bust my rear on the ground, lol!! The views from the top of Arthur’s Seat are absolutely phenomenal!! I’m a great believer now that aerial views are much better than close-ups!! At the peak of Arthur’s Seat is literally a little white stone chair that many of the tourists clamored to get on and get their picture taken with it… I skipped that part…
In any event, I’m going to now embarrass myself by K&E because I honestly can’t recall the exact story behind Arthur’s Seat… Even looking on Wikipedia (yes, I tried to cheat!!) didn’t ring any bells… Sorry K&E!!! I mainly just recall that it was called Arthur’s Seat because it was a great point of view to be able to sit and see any oncoming threat to the city… Anyway, according to Wikipedia there is some fabled connection between Arthur’s Seat and the location of Camelot during King Arthurs reign… But, well, I can’t specify much more than that by memory… You will just have to look it up on Wikipedia yourselves if interested!
Another great aerial view of Edinburgh can be found at Calton Hill. It is basically a hill in the center of Edinburgh, just beyond the east end of Princes Street (quite well known for the shopping!!) and has fantastic views of all of Edinburgh!! In fact, this area is the favorite spot of E’s and while she did try to get us up there, we weren’t able to because they have closed it down to car traffic. But foot traffic was still allowed, so on a later day I returned there to take some pictures.
Calton Hill has several iconic monuments and is the headquarters of the Scottish Government. Monuments include the National Monument, which is designed after a Greek Pantheon but was never actually finished… The Nelson Monument which at the wee top has a little flag pole at the top of which has a metal ball… This monument was basically used to send signals to the shipping boats in the bay. How might you ask? Well, one such example was to alert the ships in the bay of what time it was. Every day at 1p.m. a cannon from the Edinburgh castle is fired off (yes, this still happens today). When the cannon fires off, the vibration in the air is so strong that it knocks the ball on the mast of the Nelson Monument to the base of the mast. People on the ships in the bay are posted to watch the mast of Nelson Monument and when they see the ball drop, they know it’s 1pm! Now, I can’t say that ships today employ their timekeeping by this method, only that they used to in olden days… But they do still fire off a 1pm cannon from the castle today daily. Anyway, another interesting little monument is a cairn that has a stone from the castle of Robert the Bruce. Just a wee bit more of history there…