London, Edinburgh report: Part 3

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Aug 10th, 2005, 10:21 AM
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London, Edinburgh report: Part 3

This is the FINAL report, I promise:

Friday, August 5:
We were up at 6:30 a.m. to catch Tube to Paddington Station to catch Heathrow Express for our flight to Edinburgh (by now I would give away my luggage to anyone willing to take it!). We dropped our bags off at Apex City Hotel and headed for the Royal Mile where Rebecca and I succumbed to the lures of all those shops. We managed to fill two shopping bags in a rather brief amount of time--sweatshirts for her, a rugby shirt for the fiance, a Scottish doll for my niece, and items from St. Andrews for our golfing friends). After lunch, we shopped some more---lavendar lotions and soap, etc. We had no idea how to get all this stuff home, but we were undaunted in our determination to buy every tartan item in Edinburgh in the shortest time possible!
We went back to the hotel to change for a 6 p.m. dinner reservation at The Witchery, which is a lovely place and dearly expensive, especially when daughter thinks we should celebrate our first evening in Scotland with a bottle of wine. She had duck and I had sea bass, and we capped it off with a pudding assortment (passion fruit, creme brulee, chocolate torte, peppermint sorbet and summer fruits--yummy!), then we went back to the hotel and changed into warmer clothing for a 9 p.m. Mercat Ghosts and Ghouls tour which began near St. Giles Cathedral and proceeded to the infamous Underground Vaults, supposedly the most haunted place in Britain. This tour was pretty hokey, and I'm a tourist if there ever was one. I think it depends upon the guide you have, and ours was a nice enough chap, but just mediocre as a guide. Walking back up the Royal Mile (because everything is uphill in Edinburgh) we noticed the massive security and long lines for that night's performance of the Military Tattoo.

Saturday, August 6: We had already fallen in love with Edinburgh, and I was far more relaxed with no Tube security alerts to contend with, so we had breakfast at the hotel (salmon and porridge!), then crossed the street to yet another weekend flea market where I felt compelled to buy books (books?) (books!). In a secondhand shop the day before, Rebecca found an old copy of "The Woman in White," and since we'd just seen the play, I felt compelled to buy that as well. My book collection was growing by leaps and bounds. I still had no clue how we were getting all of this home.
Anyway, we then headed to Edinburgh Castle, getting in very quickly despite the enormous lines because of my trusty British Heritage Pass. The views from the castle are just magnificent and worth the trip alone. We were charmed to see a wedding party for one of the guards being married in tiny St. Margaret's Chapel, and then viewed the Scottish crown jewels (paltry compared to the Tower, but impressive, nonetheless) and the Stone of Destiny (which the British had called the Stone of Scone at Westminster Abbey). After spending time at the Castle, we stopped into an exhibit about the Tattoo, and then, having not had my fill of cleaning out the stores on the Royal Mile, bought 2 inexpensive tartan blankets, one for my best friend, the other to keep me warm at that evening's Tattoo. We had a late lunch/early dinner, and I was introduced to the joys of sticky toffee pudding, which is really a cake. I've learned they never call anything what it really is, maybe as a way of throwing us Yanks off balance all the time! I also decided to try Pimm's after dinner, which I always read about in my English novels and mysteries. It was not a success. I'm not much of a drinker at all, have never even, to this moment, tried whiskey. But Pimm's was not to my taste at all. Our tickets were for the late Tattoo, at 10:30, so we took a brief nap before heading out to get in line for the performance. The crowds are just enormous, but we chatted with a woman from Melbourne, Australia, who tried valiantly to explain the game of cricket to us. We were happy at last to find out what it meant to "play for the ashes," since that is what was on the television every day. Despite her efforts, cricket remains a total mystery to us, although we really like the look of it. The Tattoo itself, my whole reason for traveling to Edinburgh, was not a disappointment. It was wonderful--from the steel band from Trinidad and Tobago, to the King's Guard from Norway. There was a naval theme marking the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Trafalgar, complete with fireworks. Rebecca and I were both thrilled by all of it--the massed pipers and the Lone Piper, and we linked hands for "Auld Lang Synge" and stood for "God Save the Queen," and applauded for "Scotland the Brave." I'd paid dearly for the hotel package including these tickets, but it was worth every penny, or pound.

Sunday, August 8: It was our final day in Edinburgh, so we had a Scottish breakfast including eggs, tomato, mushrooms, a potato scone, bacon, black pudding (I ate it, but don't know what it is, except, again, it is not pudding as I know it), and pork and leek sausage. We walked to the Royal Mile, as we were certain there were still gifts to be bought (oh yes, a pewter necklace for my sister-in-law), then walked down the street, past many of the Fringe participants who were in a particularly festive mood prior to that afternoon's Calvacade (parade) till we reached Holyroodhouse Palace, which is lovely, with a classical center courtyard. It is the Queen's official residence in Scotland, although she vacations at Balmoral, and we saw her dining room, throne room, Great Gallery, and the king's bedroom (I don't remember which king). It was most interesting to climb the 25 winding stairs used by the conspirators who murdered David Rizzio, secretary to Mary, Queen of Scots, and to see that ill-fated queen's bedroom, as well as a room with many royal mementos, including her needlework, rosary, and a lock of her hair. There is also a blood-soaked piece of cloth from the beheaded Charles I. We loved the hauntingly beautiful ruined Abbey adjoining the castle, and its lovely garden with an amazing view of Arthur's Seat. From Holyroodhouse, we took a taxi to the Royal Yacht Brittania, which was very lovely to see, with the bedrooms of the Queen and Duke of Edinburgh, the royal honeymoon suite, the dining and drawing rooms, and officer's quarters. But the nautical venue made Rebecca miss her fiance who is in the Navy, so we cut this short and grabbed a snack, and then broke down and bought a duffle bag for all of our Scottish loot. Then we headed back to the hotel to change for a Scottish Night I had booked at Prestonfield Hotel. We had the most charming taxi driver, who had been to the show himself and insisted we would enjoy it, and he teased us about trying our first haggis. When I mentioned that we would need a taxi back to the hotel later, he promised to come and pick us up so that he could find out how we liked the show, and the haggis. We were early, so a bellman showed me around the hotel itself, which is so magnificent. People like Princess Grace, Sean Connery, and Elton John have stayed at this fairly small place, with only 27 bedrooms. There is a room with leather walls which were transferred from Holyroodhouse Palace, and the dining room is exquisite. If I had the money, I would definitely want to stay at this peaceful hotel, with peacocks strutting its lawn.
The dinner before the show was a choice of Angus beef (my choice, and just average, as you would expect at a large event like this) or cold Scottish salmon, and ended with a flummery (which IS a pudding!). There was wine included, and we enjoyed the company of a Dutch couple who now resided in Edinburgh, and with two women from the city, one of whom was the grandmother of one of the young dancers in the show. The show was touristy, but fun, and included a dramatic haggis ceremony before the interval (intermission). The haggis wasn't bad--ours was molded atop a serving of mashed potatoes and turnip. In addition to a piper and dancers, the show featured three Scottish tenors, and I particularly liked one sad song about WWI called "The Green Fields of France," as well as a sing-along with familiar songs such as "Loch Lomand." As you might expect, it ended with a rendition of "Scotland the Brave" and with people from all over the world joining hands once again for "Auld Lang Syne." And sure enough, our cab driver was waiting out front for us, and was happy that I had not disliked the haggis. I had booked this dinner as a way of marking our final night in Scotland, and it was fun and festive. The following morning, we would begin our journey back home, via Heathrow again. At a pub at the airport, I handed my daughter a slip of paper and told her to write down her five favorite things we saw or did on this trip, in no particular order, so we could compare. Four of our choices were identical: Buckingham Palace, "Les Miserables," Stratford-Upon-Avon, and the Military Tattoo in Edinburgh. We only differed on our choice of Windsor (me) and the Tower of London (Rebecca), and both agreed we easily could have gone either way on that. I knew then that the trip had been an equal success for both of us, and I knew also, that I would have to one day return to Scotland, especially to see the Highlands in the north. In the meantime, we can treasure our memories of this wonderful visit....
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Aug 10th, 2005, 12:25 PM
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MaureenGP,

Very much enjoyed all of your report & as a Scot I'm particularly pleased that you liked Edinburgh - even though I'm from Glasgow

Hope you don't mind, but I've taken the liberty of attaching below links to the other parts of your report so that everything is on the one thread;

Part One

http://www.fodors.com/forums/pgMessa...name=MaureenGP

Part Two
http://www.fodors.com/forums/pgMessa...name=MaureenGP

Jim


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Aug 10th, 2005, 01:05 PM
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I really liked that report. I'd have hated the holiday (at least the Scottish bit) but I'm so gld you didn't.
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Aug 10th, 2005, 01:21 PM
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It was so kind of JJBhoy to link all of my threads together for those who are interested. I realize it runs very long--I don't know how to write shorter! I did love Edinburgh, and yet every taxi driver we had encouraged us to get outside the city, especially to the north. We did not have enough time to do so, which is why we need to return for a longer visit to Scotland.
Sheila made me laugh--she would hate our trip, but was happy that we enjoyed it, which shows a generous spirit! That's nice, and kind of how I feel about people who travel to the Amazon or India. I know they are amazing places, but they hold little interest for me---yet I'm so happy when people travel there and really love it. To each his own--I wouldn't expect everybody to enjoy tartan shopping, haggis---or even the Tattoo, wonderful as it was. It helps to like bagpipes...
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Aug 10th, 2005, 01:46 PM
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Maureen, You shouldn't apologize for the length of your trip report, it's a great read. I loved hearing about your theatre experiences, London is such a treat for theatre lovers isn't it? I wonder if there was a general apathy with the cast of Phantom that night because we saw it a year ago and thought it was wonderful. I'd seen it before but enjoyed the performance we saw. What happened to traveling lite??I thought you were given lots of suggestions planning your trip. Where did you deviate from the packing lite program? Good report and welcome back. Deborah
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Aug 10th, 2005, 02:25 PM
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Deborah, I WAS given so many really good suggestions, but I cheated in my last-minute panic the day I left, and stuck extra things in my bag thinking the weather in Scotland would be cold.
And, even though I traded in the first piece of luggage I bought for another one that I thought was lighter, I still think this new suitcase is too heavy to begin with. So, before I travel again, I will try to find a lighter piece of luggage.
The ironic thing is that it was not as cold as I thought it would be in Scotland. I even bought an inexpensive blanket on the Royal Mile to put over my lap at the Tattoo, but I really did not need it. The seats are so close together, in order to pack as many people in as possible, that you kind of keep each other warm!
What I did NOT need: the third pair of slacks, the extra skirt, at least four of my tops, a blazer, and my rain jacket and hat. I carried my little umbrella faithfully every single day and never needed it once. I took loafers for Scotland, and they worked well on the cobblestones, but I could have managed easily with my 2 pairs of sandals.
Of course, it could have worked the other way around, and gotten very cold, in which case I would have needed some of the extra things.
(Now that I've worn some of my new things, I think I can be more objective in packing.) Actually, I am in the midst of doing laundry, and I'm making a list of the things that I really used and needed in order to facilitate packing next time. I figure it's better to do it now while the experience is fresh, rather than a year from now when I will have forgotten what it was like.
On top of packing too much, despite all of your advice, I kept buying souvenir guides and little things in London--none of which looked like it should add much weight, but it certainly did.
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Aug 10th, 2005, 02:33 PM
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Oh, I forgot a couple of things: Somebody on this forum mentioned buying a pashima before I left, and I couldn't find one at the last minute, at least in my price range, so my daughter and I each ended up buying cheap ones from a vendor in London, and we used them constantly!!! On warmer evenings, they were a delightful cover-up, and on cooler evenings, they added extra warmth over a cardigan. I will never leave home without one again!
As for "Phantom," I don't know how to put my finger on the problem exactly, except that the performance seemed rote and unemotional, and usually I feel very emotional about this play. The actor playing the Phantom actually did a very good job in the final scenes, but for most of the show, I felt unmoved. I think my reaction was probably colored by the fact that we had seen five other shows, two of which were absolutely outstanding, and the rest of which were quite good. So, Phantom suffered in comparison. I also liked the New York staging better--there are just little differences, but my daughter and I both agreed something seemed a bit off. Maybe it was just an off night in general, which can happen with any production.
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Aug 10th, 2005, 02:52 PM
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Maureen you are good to post your trip report so soon after your trip. I enjoyed reading all three parts. You were correct to bring the raincoat and the hat and umbrella because often you do need it. I know what you mean about having a last minute panic and throwing some extras into the suitcase. It takes a very committed light packer not to do that and I'm not there yet!!! It is difficult also to not get loaded down with all those souvenir books. How can you go to Windsor Castle or Buckingham Palace and not purchase books with all the lovely photos I hope you were able to create some new memories with your daughter. It saddened me to think how you must have felt seeing "your husband's bench" in London. Thanks for the report, Deborah
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Aug 10th, 2005, 03:16 PM
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Deborah, the most committed light packer I have ever seen was a woman waiting in line with us at Heathrow. She had one backpack, nothing else, and it looked like it was half full. She was wearing a white sleeveless top and a red print long skirt, looked very neat and put together, and she told the woman next to her that she had been traveling in Europe for two weeks.
But, I will never be that disciplined, ever. (And she obviously did not purchase any books, blankets, or Scottish dolls!)
As for my husband's bench, it's amazing how suddenly I was hit with waves of grief over a sitting place. I think part of it is that we have a delightful photo from that previous trip in which it looks like a raven is perched on my husband's shoulder. I had the hardest time with places we had been together, but sometimes I was also saddened by a new place that I knew he would have loved. And, despite my disenchantment with the production of "Phantom," I was caught off-guard in the scene where Christine sings a song at her father's grave with lyrics saying: "Wishing you were somehow here again...."
But, though it sounds like a sad trip, it really was not. Those few moments were offset by other moments of real joy, sharing a wonderful trip with our daughter, and making new memories.
Ironically, for those of you who were part of my original thread, which evolved from packing suggestions to a philosophical discussion on grief and travel, I arrived home to find out that the wife of a good friend and co-worker died of a massive stroke last Saturday. She was exactly my age, and they were the most delightful, devoted couple, a real love story. At the wake yesterday, her husband told me that he doesn't know how to survive this loss, that his grief is like physical pain. There were montages of photos of their life together, including many shots of their travels, including one of her with a guardsman at Buckingham Palace and another at Piccadilly, places I had just visited. The photo on the funeral card was of Meg with Balmoral Castle in the background. I have a multitude of emotions, but foremost is the same one I've had for a long time, and that is that life is very precious and very short, so don't put off doing the things you really want to do, and don't take your time with your loved ones for granted. If I can convey any message at all, it would be that one.
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Aug 10th, 2005, 03:19 PM
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A lovely trip report! I've felt like I just took a mini-vacation! And, no, not long at all. Loved the details you threw in.

I remember the first few times my mother and I traveled together after my father passed away. It wasn't easy for her, but she was a trooper. It's difficult. More so than people realize until they are in that situation. I'm glad to see that you forged ahead and enjoyed this time with your daughter. I know even now when I travel with my mom, sometimes one of us will stop and say, "Wouldn't dad have just loved this?" And he's been gone almost 14 years. Special people always stay with you!

Sounds like a great trip! Especially loved the parts about Shakespeare (am a fan myself) and Scotland!
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Aug 10th, 2005, 06:12 PM
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Thank you for sharing such a wonderful and informative trip report. I will be saving this information for future use.
I also appreciate you sharing so candidly what it was like to travel for the first time without your husband. I am sorry for your loss, but the reminder to cherish each day brought tears to my eyes. My young, active 64 year old mother was recently diagnosed with pancreatic cancer so I have been living those sentiments. In fact, our summer trip was cancelled due to her illness and the "project" of planning a trip for December is proving comforting - it is good to keep living life and doing the things I love with people I love.
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Aug 11th, 2005, 05:12 AM
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Oops, a friend just pointed out to me that I skipped over Thursday completely. Actually, the Wednesday description is actually Thursday, July 28. I'm still blaming the jet lag for these little faux pas....
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