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Sunday, July 23, 2017

Having a sterling time in Stirling

O'er the ramparts of Stirling Castle

For our last full day in Scotland, we took the train from Edinburgh for the 52-minute ride to Stirling, home to one of Britain's most atmospheric fortresses. From the station, it was a twenty-minute walk to the castle, with the views along the way illustrating why the location was so important - Hold Stirling and you hold Scotland" went an old maxim. The National Wallace Monument can be seen in the distance:


First things first upon arrival - lunch. Scottish salmon washed down with Scottish beer:



We began our tour with the Castle Exhibition, giving background information on the Stuart kings and queens, as well as overviews of momentous events such as the Battle of Bannockburn (in which Robert the Bruce of Scotland defeated Edward II of England):





My daughter mans the ramparts, ready to ward off the invading English:


Below the west wall of the castle are earthworks which we were once 16th-century formal gardens known as the King's Knot (on the left) and the Queen's Knot (on the right):


The Great Kitchens give visitors an idea of the work that went into satisfying the gluttonous demands of the Scottish royals:


The castle overlooks the site of the Battle of Stirling Bridge. While at the castle I overheard an American woman talking about Braveheart and had to resist the urge to point out to her and her companions how extremely historically inaccurate that film was:



The Great Hall, built by James IV:




Stirling Castle's highlight is without a doubt the Royal Palace, recently restored to resemble how it appeared when it was built by French masons in the mid-16th century on the orders of James V. My wife checks out the Royal Arms of Scotland above the fireplace in the King's Inner Hall:


The Stirling Heads. The original carved oak roundels can be seen in the Stirling Heads Gallery:



This ceiling painting of three birds shot by a single arrow was the mark of Queen Mary of Guise's family, in the Queen's Bedchamber:


In the Queen's Inner Hall:


Stirling Castle's famed tapestries have been painstaking woven over many years, based on originals held in New York's Metropolitan Museum. The costumed guide gave an informative explanation of the Christian metaphors behind the depiction of a unicorn hunt:





The palace exterior is also worth noting:




The Museum of the Argyll & Sutherland Highlanders covers the history of the famous regiment:



A very touching letter from one of the millions of young victims of the senseless carnage that was the First World War:



An exhibition in the rear of the castle detailing the recreating of the Stirling Tapestries:


A final look at the scenery beneath the castle walls:




Amber enjoys a luxurious post-castle treat:


The admission ticket to Stirling Castle also allows entry into Argyll's Lodging, an impressive 17th-century townhouse and the former home of William Alexander, Earl of Stirling:





Walking through Stirling's Old Town on the way from Stirling Castle to the railway station and the train ride back to Edinburgh:


In Edinburgh for our final evening, we did some browsing for souvenirs. When it came time for dinner, I wanted to try haggis at a tourist restaurant, but Shu-E had had enough of British cuisine and made a stand (inspired perhaps by what she had seen at the castle?). So our last meal in Scotland (save for breakfast the next morning) was at a Chinese restaurant, eating Chinese food and surrounded by Mandarin-speaking diners. As the saying goes, the Chinese will eat anything...as long as it's Chinese. My wife later made a rare apology. I can understand her feelings, but I do wish she could've shown a bit more open-mindedness and tolerance of other cultures (and their cuisines). But after all those years in Taiwan, I wasn't surprised:


Amber plays with bubbles near the Scottish National Gallery:


The Scott Monument, which was getting ready to close for the day by the time we got back from Stirling:


Wednesday evening view from our room at the Broughton Hotel:


And so the next morning we checked out of the Broughton following breakfast, and then departed from Edinburgh. The weather as we drove through the Borders region was atrocious at times - rain, wind and thick fog as we made our way toward England on narrow country roads. Still, there were some beautiful sights along the way that were worth stopping the car to get out and have a look, particularly the atmospheric ruins of Jedburgh Abbey:



Our brief Scottish sojourn ended as left the Borders and drove into England. The four days and nights we spent in Edinburgh were busy ones, but far too short to give the city the time it deserves, let alone the country with which it serves as the capital. I'd like to return to Scotland one day and visit Glasgow, the Highlands, the Borders, the Isle of Skye and Orkney, among others. After all, I still haven't tried haggis.

Lang may yer lum reek!


Thursday, July 20, 2017

Sorry, Nessie, but Britannia Rules

Britannia rules the waves

Next time, Nessie.

The original plan had been to make a day trip to Loch Ness. But after a week on the road, the idea of a four-hour-plus drive from Edinburgh to look at a long, narrow (albeit scenic) body of water didn't hold the same allure as it had when we were planning our British journey. The steady rainfall that Tuesday morning also made the idea of spending several hours in a car seem like an unpleasant proposition. So instead we let our daughter make the decision as to what to do for the day in Scotland's capital. Her first choice was to visit Edinburgh Zoo, which was less than a twenty-minute drive from our hotel. After parking the car and picking up our tickets, the girls prepared themselves for the Scottish summer:


Edinburgh Zoo opened in 1913, and according to Lonely Planet "is one of the world's leading conservation zoos", pointing to its captive breeding program for such endangered species as pygmy hippos, red pandas and Siberian tigers. What impressed Amber, however, was the chance to see penguins and monkeys:



My daughter discovers Irn-Bru (pronounced "Iron Blue"), Scotland's other national drink:


A red panda:


Speaking of pandas, two of the other kind (the giant panda) are the main attractions at Edinburgh Zoo. Entry tickets include a time to see Tian Tian and/or Yang Guang, who have lived at the zoo since 2011. When we showed up at the appointed hour, however, neither one could be seen. The staff allowed us to return periodically, and eventually Yang Guang made an appearance...sort of. Bloody overgrown raccoons:


The highlight of our visit for Amber was the 2:15pm penguin parade:


From Edinburgh Zoo, it was another twenty-minute drive to Leith, Edinburgh's seaport and home to the Royal Yacht Britannia, our daughter's other choice of something to do in lieu of Loch Ness. The Britannia was the former yacht of the royal family, from its launch in 1953 to its decommissioning in 1997. The admission price includes an audio guide (Shu-E made use of the Mandarin one) that provides a comprehensive description of the ship and the onboard lives of the family that made it (one of their several) homes:


The captain takes the helm:



The queen's Rolls-Royce:



For tea time, I had to make do with a cuppa. My wife, not being the designated driver, could enjoy something a bit stronger:





"Time, gentlemen!" The stuffed corgi is part of an activity for the kids - if they can count the correct number of corgis (the Queen's favorite breed) hiding on the Britannia, they'll receive a small prize. Amber found them all and was given a badge at the end of the tour:


The racing yacht Bloodhound, which was owned by the Queen in the 1930's:



Our daughter was satisfied with the day's destinations as we drove back to the hotel, then had dinner at Mamma Roma Restaurant. No longer behind the wheel, I could finally relax with a bottle of fine Italian beer:


As for not seeing Loch Ness, we now have a very good reason to return to Scotland and give the Highlands the time they deserve. I would even drive 500 miles to get there...:


...and Irn-Blu will get us through: