Castles and Palaces

We stumbled across an article from a travel website naming the top 10 castles in the world. We’d only been to two on the list  – Neuschwanstein in Germany and Chateau de Chillon in Switzerland. But it got us thinking – what would our top-ten list be? And how many castles have we been to?

Coming from the United States, we tend to share in the idea pushed on us by Disney at an early age that castles are magical, beautiful, complete with Prince Charming and a beautiful Princess. In reality many of these castles have dark and bloody histories full of murder and mayhem. Both Heath and I are history buffs, though, and really love seeing castles and learning about the people who lived in them and the life they led.

In case you were curious, here are all the castles that we’ve been to, sorted by country and vaguely in the order we visited them. Continue reading

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Day 12 – Edinburgh

[NOTE: My journals from our honeymoon from here until the end are a bit lacking because I took notes and then didn’t go back and finish writing them until over a year later.]

When the next day dawned, our clothes were still not dry, and I had to resort to using hair dryer. Do you have any idea how long it takes to dry a sock, let alone a shirt, with a hair dryer? I don’t recommend it.

We descended the plaid stairs to have a pretty decent breakfast. Our hostess has a twin sister that helps out during meals. I thought it was extremely unfair that they were wearing the same color shirt, because in my early-morning brain-fog it took me a few minutes to realize that the conversation I started with the hostess I completed with her sister.

It was a cold and drizzly morning that we set out into, trying to find a local launderette. After circling the block several times, and having me dash out in the rain with the clothes while Heath continued to circle, finally got our clothes on their way to being clean and dry. We dropped the car back to the B&B and walked to Edinburgh Castle and the Royal Mile.

We started at the top of the Royal Mile with a tour called the Scotch Whisky Experience. It was overpriced, slightly insulting to Americans, but rather informative. I’m not normally a scotch-drinker myself, but after the tour, I managed to drink my whisky without gagging (a first for me) and my appreciation for scotch has grown. Continue reading

Day 11 – Stirling

We both woke early and got moving pretty quickly. We had a very decent breakfast right at the window of the B&B with a view of the monument. The hostess of B&B is just as chatty as her husband, but very nice as well, and was very helpful in making travel suggestions.

We first went to the much-anticipated The National Wallace Monument. You park at the bottom of, well, it’s like a cliff, really, and they have a chartered bus that takes you up a very steep drive to the top of a tall hill. In the parking lot there is a gift shop, and a giant statue of… Mel Gibson as he appears in the movie Braveheart. Our B&B host says that the locals all call it not the Freedom statue, or the Braveheart statue, but just “going to see Mel Gibson.” It is a bit cheesy, but they had a little blurb on the tour about how a local artist was inspired by the movie, and made and gave this huge statue to the museum. I made Heath stand in front of it and took a picture of him (he was the Mel Gibson version of Braveheart for Halloween a few years ago – blue face, wig, and all).

freeeedom!

freeeedom!

You have the option of walking up from the parking lot to the monument, but considering how steep it was, I don’t think our pudgy butts could have done it. Plus, it was starting to gently rain, which would have ensured that we embarrassed ourselves by falling flat on our faces. So, we took the bus up to the top. The drive is a bit scary, as you are going up a very steep winding path through some pretty thick trees.

Once at the top, the exterior of the monument building is even more amazing when you are right up close to it. The masonry was gorgeous, and in excellent condition. There’s a huge statue of Wallace on the exterior of the tower (looking nothing like Mel Gibson, go figure). Since it wasn’t an additional charge, we opted for the audio tour on headphones, which was well worth it. The program talked about everything – the history of Scotland and William Wallace, the troubles in getting the monument building designed and built, the art on the interior, and the views from various spots. Continue reading

Day 10 – Isle of Arran and Stirling

We slept in more than we intended to. The shower was quite a challenge to get started (some weird machine to conserve both water and heated water). We almost missed breakfast, and I managed to slide in before they closed, and got them to hold on Heath’s order. The breakfast was terrific. Everything was fresh and locally made. Our very sweet hostess inquired about my tummy troubles, which seemed to be doing a bit better this morning.

We packed up and checked out, and our hostess allowed us to leave our luggage at the house for a few hours while we explored more of the island. First on the list was finding me meds for my stomach, which I was quick to take, just in case.

Next, the utterly confusing bus schedule (see yesterday) forced us to walk all the way from Broddick to the Aromatics and Cheese shop (I think it was just a few miles, though). The Aromatics shop’s scents were too overwhelming for Heath, so he shoved a handful of pounds in my hand and left. I got a few nice soaps, body wash, and some really awesome lemon lip balm. The cheese shop was tiny, but to die for: Scottish wines, whisky, cheese, and Arran Oatcakes. There was also a window into the cheese manufacturing where we could see them hand-dipping cheese wheels in wax. We bought a wheel of cheese, oatcakes, whisky sampler box, and a bottle of mead. I wish I’d written down the name of the wine that they had as I wanted to try to get a bottle, but no one on the Scottish mainland seemed to have it. Oh well, it just means we’ll have to go back again, eh? 😉

With the help of a local, we figured out which bus would get us back to Broddick. We hiked up the hill to our B&B, collected our bags, and went in search for lunch. We found a tiny shop selling hot sammiches (mine was a delicious pastry filled with mushrooms and chicken), and also got a coke to share, and a small pot of ice cream made by the island’s dairy. We had the loveliest most relaxing picnic on a little grassy knoll above the beach, but below level with the street level. I can’t begin to describe the bittersweet moment of totally feeling relaxed, but disappointed that we couldn’t stay longer. The sun was shining, cool, but not cold, and the grass was perfect for stretching out on. Continue reading

Day 9 – Glasgow to the Isle of Arran and In-between

Breakfast at The Victorian was predictably bad, including the fact that you had to pay if you wanted coffee or a cappuccino (from a machine, no less). We got out of that nasty hotel as quickly as possible. I can thoroughly recommend that you shouldn’t even consider booking a room there!

We were headed to the Isle of Arran, off the south-west coast of Scotland, and needed to catch an early ferry. Our taxi driver from the hotel to the train station was the first amusement of the day; it is really a unique experience to listen to a combined South Asian/Scottish accent.

We bought our tickets for the train, and discovered that Scotland (well, the UK in general) is definitely not like Switzerland’s tighly-run trains. A bit before we were about to board, an announcement stated that the train had broken down, and that they were providing a bus instead to get passengers to the small town outside of Glasgow where the ferry is (it was a direct train ride). We went outside immediately, afraid to miss the bus, and it was a good thing we did. The bus stood there long enough to board those folks standing outside, and zoomed out of the city.

The train authorities must have called ahead to the ferry line, because they actually had to hold it for all of us on the bus. We already had our ferry tickets, but we wanted to stow our big suitcase, and just take the tiny duffle with us. Normally the ferry only stows things for one day, but told them they would do it for us for a few pounds. I was a mite worried that we might never see our bag again, but we were told to RUN for the ferry, as they had just finished selling the last of the tickets, and were about to lift the gangplank. Continue reading

Day 8: Waterford to Dublin and First Impressions of Scotland

Glendine Country House continued to exceed our expectations with a devine homemade breakfast. Unlike most of the other B&B’s, Glendine had a pretty full menu, which made it hard to decide; I opted for poached eggs on a potato waffle. They also had a sidebar with homemade yogurt, homemade jams, rhubarb compote, scones/biscuits, and homemade butter. I hope we’ll get to go back again someday to that B&B, because I loved the whole experience.

I’m sure everyone will be shocked to learn that we decided not go to Waterford Crystal, even though we were right there in Waterford. We probably should have gone the day before, but considering how far we would have had to back-track, it turned out to be a wise decision.

We packed up, checked out, and sadly left the Glendine Country House, and started the very long drive (about four hours) to County Meath (just north of Dublin) to see Newgrange, Knowth, and Dowth – three ancient burial sites within a few miles of each other. We stopped for a plain cafeteria-style lunch at a pub, and I had my last Bulmer’s cider.

The street signs are NOT correct for Newgrange, and it was not easy to find like we’d been led to believe. We got lost and ended up going to the some historic battlefield that I can’t remember the name of to get directions at the tour office. Continue reading