Monday, April 26, 2010

Spring Break : Edinburgh

Alrighty friends and family, here is the end of the spring break series. I promise that from now on, the topics of this blog will be a lot more Scandinavian in nature! But please enjoy this post about our lovely vacation in Scotland.

Edinburgh: Day 1

Half of this day was spent riding the train to from Nottingham to Edinburgh and sharing our “car” with some very “lively” English rugby players. It was entertaining for the first 15 minutes, and then we just got annoyed. Luckily for us, they got off 2 hours before us. The last stretch of the train ride was absolutely beautiful, with rolling hills and views of the coast.

We arrived in Edinburgh, exited the train station, and were greeted by the beautiful site that is Edinburgh. This had to one the prettiest place I have ever seen in my life. We got to Castle Rock hostel, which was definitely the nicest hostel of the trip, and settled in. Then we went exploring down the main street of the Old Town. On our way, we discovered a café called “The Elephant House,” which just so happened to be the café where J. K. Rowling wrote most of Harry Potter. Of course we had to eat there, and the food was great! So was the view: out the window you can see some of Rowling’s inspiration in the Edinburgh Castle and this old elementary school with four towers.

While we are there, Stephanie randomly ran into one of her Luther classmates, Sam, who was on vacation from his study abroad in Nottingham. Small world, huh? She and he chatted while the rest of us did a little more exploring before our “Ghost Tour!” We found this awesome dessert place called “Chocolate Soup,” with an amazing array of tasty concoctions, although most came in a cup, not a bowl.

After that, we met up with Stephanie and Sam for the Ghost Tour. This tour was not really about the scare factor, and more about the gory history of Edinburgh. Our tour guide was the very cute and charming Mark (actually from England, not Scotland) who took us through the old city, across the Cursed Bridge, into a cemetery vault, and up to hill with Monuments that is supposedly haunted by fairies. It was a really neat tour, and at the end we got a free pint at a pub in the old town. I am glad we chose this tour (with New Europe Tours, they do free walking tours, ghost tours, and pub crawls in a ton of European locations) over the super scary ones that Edinburgh has to offer.

Edinburgh: Day 2

Easter! We wanted to make sure that we could still celebrate this day, even though we were thousands of miles from our loved ones, so we attended a Scottish Easter Service. We chose to attend the service at St. Gile’s Cathedral in the heart of the old town. Suprisingly, the congregation there was Presbyterian! We thought for sure that it would be Catholic, but since the reformation came to Scotland, most of the churches have become protestant. The cathedral was beautiful, the choir sounded lovely, the organ was majestic, and the sermon was very thoughtful. I was very glad that we were able to experience it.

After church, our main goal for this day was Edinburgh Castle. It is the centerpiece of Edinburgh, situated on a dormant volcano very close to our hostel. It was very much like the Tower of London with a medieval chapel, prison exhibitions, armories, and the Scottish Jewels. Much of Scotland’s history has been overshadowed by England, so it was cool to learn some things about Scotland. The view from the castle was also absolutely gorgeous, so we took a lot of panoramic photographs.

After the castle, we headed to the National Museum of Scotland, which had free admission. It had a lot of interesting exhibits, although I thought it was not very well organized. Kjerstin and I really liked the children’s discovery stations. We found one about Vikings (yes, they came to Scotland too) where you could try on “Viking clothes.” We were super excited, until I looked at the tag of mine and it said “If you are over the age of 12, please put this back.” Good thing I didn’t, or we would have missed a great photo opportunity!

For supper we searched in vain for decent Mexican restaurant, then for a “Scottish” Pub, then relented and went to “The Filling Station,” which felt a lot like a Scottish Applebees. But it was good food and drinks anyway, and we had a good time laughing, eating, and killing a few hours. Then Stephanie said goodbye to her friend and we went to bed early, in preparation for our highland tour the next day.

Edinburgh: Day 3

Highland Experience Loch Ness Tour Day! We were very excited for this day long bus tour of the Scottish Highlands and Loch Ness. It was a lot of bus travel, but it was excellent tour of hills, mountains, lochs, and valleys. And we saw so many sheep! They were everywhere. When we got to Loch Ness, Stephanie, Lauren, and Julia took the boat out into the Lake, while Kjerstin and I (we were too stubborn to pay extra for the boat tour) took some photos on the edge of the lake and went to a nice little restaurant and pub called “The Loch Inn.” It was tasty and had a lovely selection of books near our table. We read about Glencoe, which was an area we would stop for photos later in the day.

Turns out Glencoe is a harsh valley between mountains named “The Three Sisters” where a massacre occurred hundreds of years before when clans still ran Scotland. The McDonald Clan was slaughtered and dominated by the Campbell clan. The name Glencoe translates from Gaelic as “Glen of Weeping.” Sad story, beautiful place. Other highlights from the tour was Hamish McKay Denovan, the huge pedigree Highland Cow Bull, lovely lochs, huge mountains, rolling hills, and a few more famous places including a castle used in Monty Python and the Holy Grail, a bridge from the Harry Potter movies, and the lovely Stirling Castle. Unfortunately, photos taken from a moving bus in the rain do not do these places justice. It was a very cool day all the same!

When we returned to Edinburgh in the late evening, we decided we have one more mission before our vacation in the UK ended : dessert and whiskey. Stephanie really wanted to sample some Scottish Whiskey and we all wanted a fancy dessert, so we found a swanky café/bar called “St. Gile’s” very near to the cathedral we attended on Easter. It was very tasty dessert, and I hear the whiskey was quality as well. After this, we retired to our hostel, packed up, and went to sleep early so we could be sure to catch our 6:15 shuttle to airport (which was a double decker bus… I was so pumped!).

Here are some of our photos from Scotland

Edinburgh Castle - take from right outside our huh?


Our hostel, Castle Rock. (Photo taken from right below the castle)

Yay Harry Potter!

This one is out of order, but here are Kjerstin and I in our "viking" gear at the National Museum of Scotland. Good thing we ignored the 12 and under rule!

St. Gile's Cathedral, where we went to Easter Service.

Our tourguide, Mark, on the Ghost Tour. This location in the graveyard was supposedly the most supernatural place in Edinburgh, so we were encouraged to take a picture and see if we could spot anything creepy. I didn't use a flash, so the only way I could see anything in the picture was by making it all red and creepy on my computer...hence the picture above.

View of Edinburgh from the castle.

Edinburgh Castle

St. Margaret's Chapel from the 500s at Edinburgh Castle.

Edinburgh (in the background that large body of water is known as "The Firth of Forth")

Edinburgh Castle

Edinburgh Castle


View from Edinburgh Castle

This is one of the buildings you can see from "The Elephant House," thought to Rowling's inspiration for Hogwarts, the school in Hogwarts. They think that because it was a daily sight for her, it was an elementary school, and it has 4 towers (Hogwarts has 4 Houses that live in 4 Towers).
Highlands Tour

Highlands Tour (Don't mind the rain on the windshield)

Highlands Tour

Loch Ness

Loch Ness

Loch Ness

Loch Ness

The girls posing are our travel companions from Left to Right: Stephanie, Julia, and Lauren on their tour boat!
Highlands Tour

Highlands Tour


Glencoe - one of the Three Sisters (Don't ask me which one!)

Highlands Tour

Hamish the Highland Cow Bull!

Monument in downtown Edinburgh


You said it Robert!

Me at 6 in the morning on our departure day, so very excited about being on the upper part of the double decker bus taking us to the airport. (Notice the Scottish scarf...very similar to the tartan of the Cochrane clan....definitely not a coincidence!)

And that concludes my take on our spring break vacation. Kjerstin has her stay in Germany to talk about, and we could talk for pages about all of our adventures, but will spare you and save some things for our victorious return to the U.S. (unless a volcano impedes our homecoming....cross your fingers!).

Thanks for reading!

Shelby (and Kjerstin)

Spring Break : Nottingham

Day 1: Nottingham

We had a rough start to this day. We had reserved tickets on the train to Nottingham from Paddington Station in the morning. Or so we thought. Turns out, there were no direct trains leaving from Paddington to Nottingham, so they provided us with a ticket for the tube to get us to King’s Cross/ St. Pancras station to catch our train. This would have been fine except for the fact that the time of departure that they gave us was for the train, not the tube. Even though we showed up a half and hour early for the “departure time,” we arrived at the station 5 minutes too late. So, we had to purchase much more expensive train tickets for a later train. Bummer.

But after we had a train ride to calm down a bit and look on the bright side of things, we were doing much better. We arrived in Nottingham, found our hostel, and commenced to wandering about the city. The city centre of Nottingham was pretty cool, with a Ferris Wheel, lots of shops, and a neat combination of old and new architecture. In need of something to do, we visited the Nottingham Contemporary Art Gallery (for free). While it was a little too “contemporary” for my taste, there were some cool things there. The theme was “Star City: The Future Under Communism “and my favorite part was a giant spacesuit that you could walk around in. After perusing the gift shop (with lots of creative gifts and books), we went to eat at a cool restaurant called “Nando.” It was a kind of South American cuisine featuring chicken, where you sat at nice tables in a cool atmosphere, but ordered and paid for your food at a counter. After that, we just relaxed at the hostel for the rest of the night, and ended up meeting some interesting people from the UK, Spain, and New Zealand.

Day 2: Nottingham

This day had its highs and its lows. The high was most certainly our morning excursion to Lord Byron’s Newstead Abbey. The famous poet’s lovely estate and gardens were wonderfully maintained, and we enjoyed wandering about the estate for a few hours. The abbey itself was also very beautiful, with some fun educational activities to participate in, including a “Dress like Lord Byron” Station, and a room with hats and dresses from the period to try on. It was about a mile’s walk from the bus stop to the estate, but it was a lovely wooded walk and the weather was lovely, so we didn’t mind it much.

Right when we got on the bus back to Nottingham, it started to rain. And our next excursion was to Sherwood Forest! But this was our only day in Nottingham, so we had no choice but to go for it and hope the weather cooperated. We got on another bus heading to Sherwood Forest, asked the bus driver where to get off, and rode it into the English countryside. Unfortunately, the windows were a bit foggy from the rain and the signs for the bus stops were not very large, so we ended up getting off on the wrong stop, 2 or 3 miles from our actual destination. Not good. We wandered in the rain for about an hour and a half until we got into the town nearby, where we found out our mistake. But we didn’t have the energy or the time to make another journey to the actual visitor center, which was still another mile’s walk from our current location, so we settled on going to “The Robin Hood” bar and restaurant. We had some soup and bread, warmed up, and dried out a bit. It was a bit of a failure, but at least we found Robin Hood Lane along the way, and were eating at a restaurant with his namesake.

We were able to catch the bus back to Nottingham with no problems, and when we got back to town we changed clothes and set to wandering farther into town, towards “Nottingham Castle.” It’s not really a “castle” as only the castle walls remain, surrounding a small palace in the center. But by day it is supposed to have some really cool exhibits inside. Next to the castle was the Robin Hood Statue, among some other monuments to the area. The evening was nice and we also saw some other points of interest on our way back to the hostel. But we had another early train in the morning, and we were not missing this one, so we packed up and went to bed.

And now for the Nottingham pictures:

Trail to Newstead Abbey.

Newstead Abbey

Kjerstin and Stephanie outside Newstead Abbey

Newstead Abbey

Me in the Gardens of Newstead Abbey

Kjerstin and Lauren in Gardens of Newstead Abbey

Gardens - Newstead Abbey

Newstead Abbey Gardens

And here is our evidence that we were indeed NEAR Sherwood Forest....

We may have settled ....but it was a good cup of soup!

Nottingham Castle

Robin Hood Statue - Nottingham

Julia, Kjerstin, and Stephanie in Downtown Nottingham

This cool thing is called the "sky mirror." It looked like a giant contact lens :)

Stay tuned! Only one more blog entry and you will have read of our entire spring break vacation!

Thanks for reading ,


Shelby (and Kjerstin)