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Tuesday, February 19, 2008

EDINBURGH, SCOTLAND--DAY 14

Our trip to Scotland culminates with a stay in Edinburgh.

On the drive there, we stop at St. Andrews’ 18th hole, and I can honestly say I can miss a putt just as skillfully as I saw missed putts at St. Andrews! For you golfers who complain about waiting for tee times, you will wait up to a year for a tee time at St. Andrews. On some days the fog is so thick you cannot see the ball to tee off! No one gives up a tee time, however, and there are rumors that on those wet, misty, foggy Scottish mornings it is not difficult to see a grown man cry!

We arrive in Edinburgh in the late afternoon passing through the Kingdom of Fife to the Forth Bridge. (Doesn’t that sound romantic?)

In the evening we attend a Scottish show and dinner at Prestonfield, a grand mansion built in 1687. Prestonfield was built as a statement of wealth and power and designed by the royal architect who had just completed remodeling Holyrood Palace.

Half a century ago Prestonfield opened as a hotel, and some of the famous guests have been Winston Churchill, Margaret Thatcher, Grace Kelly, Sean Connery (yay), Elton John, and Catherine Zeta-Jones. And Rob and Wendy & friends! Benjamin Franklin stayed here in the 18th century when it was still a residence. It is named one of the Best 101 Hotels in the World, and Conde Nast Traveller describes it as “so extravagant it’s like walking onto the set of some flamboyant costume drama.” Nice way to end our trip, huh? We attend the last show of the season, so it’s a sentimental one for the cast as well. Go to Prestonfield’s website; it’s a trip in itself.

To solidify my impression of Scotland, much of the entertainment is both patriotic and commemorative of the fighting Scots: “This Land Will Never Die,” Jacobite Impressions” (Bonnie Prince Charlie and the Jacobite Rebellion), “Glencoe,” (one of Scotland’s most horrific massacres), and “Scotland the Brave.” To highlight Scotland’s musical heritage and what it has given to the world: “Celidh Dancing” (The Virginia Reel), “The Three Scottish Tenors” (singing songs of Scotland), and “Instrumentalists” (bagpipes, accordions, and violin). Of course, just before intermission is the Haggis Ceremony with a rendition of “Address to the Haggis” by Robert Burns. We are served haggis (“Great Chieftain o’ the Puddin’-race!”) during intermission. The show ends with “Auld Lang Syne,” and between the closing night sentiments of the performers and our own near-to-closing feelings, it is a heartfelt song that touched us all.

The following video clips highlight some of the dancing of the evening.


If Prestonfield’s extravagance, dinner, and show are not enough, we come back through the city to see Edinburgh at night—rather to see Edinburgh Castle towering above us by night. This is everyone’s dream castle, built on a rock 70 million years old, The Castle Rock, and the site of a fortress for over 2000 years! We see the Castle from Princes Street, the main shopping thoroughfare. It is an unusual street; the stores line the north side of the street leaving the view to the castle unobstructed. The south side of the street leads to gardens. It takes the breath away.

We’re up bright and early the next morning for a tour of Edinburgh. Our guide, Keith, though not Sean Connery, is as true a Scot as there is, and he gives us quite a tour! Not only of the town, but also of traditional Scottish dress. He explains the kilt—a single piece of fabric up to nine yards long—and its history. We see many men wearing kilts and later we stop in kilt shops, learning that the entire outfit will easily cost more than $1,000.00.

“People are always asking,” explains Keith, “what’s worn under the kilt?”
“Nothing’s worn” is the Scotsman’s reply. “Everything works just fine!”

He also shows us what he claims is the “ugliest building in Scotland”—The Scottish Parliament. It did win eight international architecture awards, but, hey….

We tour Edinburgh Castle and see from the views why it was so important to the history of Scotland. We walk the same paths that Mary Queen of Scots walked, and visit the room where, in 1566, she gave birth to James I whom she left behind when she fled to England in 1568. There’s such a sense of historical presence in every room we visit that it sends shivers. The views from the castle are extraordinary



Click to play Edinburgh Castle
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From Edinburgh Castle, one can walk a mile to the Palace of Holyroodhouse, the official residence in Scotland of her Majesty the Queen. This walk is known as the Royal Mile, and it passes many interesting attractions. As our coach is taking us elsewhere, we forgo the Royal Mile on this day. If we begin at the other end, it’s all uphill. NOT.

We have the afternoon to ourselves and we leave the coach on Princes Street. Now we are in modern Edinburgh, no different from any other metropolitan shopping area with the same crazies! We cross to the south side of Princes Street to head toward our bus stop, and lo and behold, we are stopped by our dear friend, Mike from Burton-upon-Trent, England, who we are supposed to meet the next day when the tour ends. We are staying a few extra days for this extra special visit. What are the odds????? In the middle of a city!!!!!!! Now that's serendipity! First order of business is catching up over tea—actually tea for me; the guys are coffee drinkers. Rob and I catch the bus back to our hotel after we make plans to meet the following day at Holyrood House.

This evening is our tour's farewell dinner in South Queensferry, a little outside Edinburgh, at The Two Bridges restaurant, looking up at the Forth Bridge. Through these narrow, winding streets that challenge our skillful coach driver, Robert Louis Stevenson wandered, and it was in this town that he wrote Treasure Island. How cool is that? It is the perfect farewell to the tour, but it is the beginning of our visit with Mike.


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