A Travellerspoint blog

By this Author: stevencavalli07

August 16, 2011, Day 10

sunny 64 °F

Barely made breakfast before the 10am close...traveling can wear you out. Did some research on Belfast tours since we really only have one day here.

Belfast is quite different than Dublin. Dublin appears to be very old, very quaint, with pubs on every corner. Belfast appears to be much more modern...with a poor city planning department. You can see a 300 year old church next to a modern looking office building. The architecture is not particularly attractive.

After consulting with Gerard, we settled on a three hour black taxi tour and we made the right choice.

Bill, our driver and guide for the three hour tour, took us on a fascinating, emotional and extremely informative journey through the streets of Belfast. Let's start with the fact that he is a non-practicing Protestant who is married to an Irish Catholic woman. I would guess that he is in his very late 40s from information he willingly shared with us.

There is not a lot to sight see in Belfast. You have the boat works where the Titanic was built and a very interesting looking building under construction which will house the Titanic museum beginning April 2012. It has four ship's bows that are the identical size of the Titanic designed into the structure. My pictures were taken from the cab and are not very good. Then there is Belfast Castle which, as Bill pointed out, is not really a castle, but a nice building with beautiful gardens that sits high on a hill with views that would be attractive if Belfast were an attractive city. There is St. Peter's, an 18th century Catholic church. There are huge cranes that are the largest dry dock cranes in the world. But, the bad news is that, whereas the shipping industry in Belfast once produced 30,000 jobs, it now produces only several hundred.
There is an old, large building where The Game of Thrones is filmed (Gary, if you're reading).

What this city is about, however, is "the troubles"...the conflict between the Protestants and Catholics that has been going on for centuries...which gained international attention beginning in the 1960s and ultimately culminating with the Good Friday agreement in 1998. But violence continues to this date. Bill took us through the Protestant "projects" with fascinating murals documenting the Protestants' view of things. We then went to the Catholic side of town with a wall, much like the Berlin wall, 4.8 miles long, 30 feet tall with barbed wire and "safety gates" with similar murals declaring the Catholics' point of view. Bill was very emotional during this three hours which, I must say, was the most interesting and fascinating tour we have taken to date.

Posted by stevencavalli07 23:51 Archived in Northern Ireland Comments (0)

Saturday, August 27, Day 21

Headed Home...Or Were We

rain 62 °F

Our hotel was literally across the street from the Edinburgh Airport. We awoke at 6am for a 9:30am flight which was to take us from Edinburgh to Newark and from Newark to SFO. As we were having breakfast in the hotel's restaurant, I discovered that our flight...and all flights...to Newark had been cancelled because of the hurricane that was pummeling the East Coast of the US.

So, we left our bags on a baggage cart at the hotel and headed across the street to the airport. We went up to a Continental rep and she handed us a sheet of paper which set forth our rights as passengers on a cancelled flight. She informed us that there would be no flights to Newark until Tuesday!! She then told us, if we wanted to try and make other flight arrangements, we could go "over there". "Over there" was a Continental counter with two Continental reps and a line of about 150 people...which was not moving. Not knowing quite what to do, we moseyed "over there" and stood at the end of the line...which was still not moving...and I had visions that we would still be standing there the same time tomorrow. Margaret suggested that we might spend the next three days at St. Andrews.

I decided that there was no reason for both of us to be standing in this non-moving line and announced that I would return to the hotel and go on line to see if other arrangements could be made. In the meantime, Margaret had called Continental and was on hold forever. As I started to walk back to the hotel, a light bulb went on, and I went back to the woman who had handed us our rights sheet of paper and asked..."Is there a different line for first class passengers?" She asked to see our tickets and then immediately marched me to the counter where, in 10 minutes, we had a flight to London and from London to SFO. Only problem was, it was almost eight thirty and the flight to London departed at 9:20. So I hightailed it back to the hotel with a very unhappy cabbie who had been waiting in line to take someone to the city center for a nice fare. And here I was, asking him to drive me a block to the hotel so I could gather up our luggage. In the meantime, Margaret was running interference with the Continental people, arranging to get our bags checked.

The cabbie was a Knight. Although he wasn't happy about it, he realized the urgency of the situation and we flew back to the hotel...he insisted on loading the bags himself... and we flew back to the airport. It was pouring rain. He was wearing shorts. He got out of the cab and, literally, ran to find a baggage cart and then insisted on pushing the cart to the airport gate. I gave him all the pounds I had left, 18, for a 3 pound cab ride. He was a lifesaver. Not only did we catch our flight, we got into SFO an hour and a half earlier than we would have if we went via Newark.

An exciting end to a fabulous trip.

Posted by stevencavalli07 10:56 Archived in Scotland Comments (0)

Friday, August 26, Day 20

On Our Way Back To Reality

rain 60 °F
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This was moving day, once again. We had a wonderful breakfast at the Lodge and then hit the road back to Edinburgh. There was a fairly consistent rain throughout the journey. We entertained thoughts of driving to St. Andrews but, ultimately decided to head to our last hotel on the tour, the Airport Hilton in Edinburgh.

While in Edinburgh the first time, near the National Gallery, there were street vendors and I procrastinated long and hard over purchasing a necklace for Jen. So, when we got back to Edinburgh, I convinced Margaret to go get the necklace. We meandered through the city streets and finally found a place relatively close where I could park and Margaret hoofed it to the booth and purchased the necklace which was made from stones that were handcrafted from the sea.

We then headed back to the hotel and had dinner in the hotel restaurant.

Posted by stevencavalli07 10:49 Archived in Scotland Comments (0)

Thursday, August 25, 2011, Day 19

Loch Ness and The Whisky Trail

sunny 69 °F
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This is the last “real day” of the trip. Tomorrow we return to Edinburgh and we fly back home on Saturday morning…Edinburgh to Newark…Newark to SFO.

We awoke to a beautiful, sunny morning with a ½ mile puff of fog across the Loch. There was hardly a ripple on the water. In the morning newspaper we learned that the winners of the best jokes of the Fringe Festival had been announced. (1) I needed a password eight characters long so I picked Snow White and the Seven Dwarves; (2) Crime in multi-story car parks…that’s just wrong on so many levels; (3) People always say, “I’m just taking it one day at a time.” You know what? So is everybody. That’s how time works! You can Google the rest…but, the best of the worst…”Uncle Ben has died. No more Mr. Rice guy.”

After breakfast we set out for the Whisky Trail, an area about 45 minutes southeast of Loch Ness where there are literally dozens of scotch distilleries within about 20 miles of each other. We chose to check out Benromach, the only distillery that is family owned…chosen at the suggestion of our hotel proprietor.

The burning question I have had since arriving in Scotland is…Why is Scotch Whiskey so much more expensive in Scotland than at home. I favor Mccallans at home and can buy a bottle of 12 year old, single malt Scotch at Costco for about $32. Here, the cheapest price I have found was in a little grocery store up the road from where we are staying…32 pounds which is about $53. Read on for the answer our distillery tour guide gave me (or did I give it to him).

Benromach is a small distillery near Nairn, Scotland. It was established in 1898 but has opened and closed many times. Most recently, it had a re-birth in 1998. The distillery proudly displays a picture of Prince Charles signing the first cask of whisky at the latest version of the distillery in 1998…which was proudly pointed out to us on our tour. Next to that cask in the warehouse sits a cask with a brass label…the one millionth gallon produced at the distillery since 1998. It took 10 years whereas some of the largest producers like Glennfiddich produced 2 million gallons per day.

We learned about the distilling process, saw all of the equipment and the tour ended with a dram of the amber liquid…Margaret’s first ever taste of scotch whisky. She bravely sampled it and then gladly let me finish her dram. Oh, the answer to my burning question, “I don’t know…I hear that a lot…must be taxes.”

Next we set off in search of Cawdor Castle. MacBeth was the thane (Margaret's word...probably from Jeopardy) of Cawder Castle. Being a little castled out, we found a spot outside the castle entrance to take a couple of photographs. Margaret decided that she was going to climb on a fence to get a better view over the castle wall…until I suggested that we had made it two days from departure without a major injury…and how the ambulance and hospital bill would greatly exceed the cost of admission to the castle.

We then headed to Beauley, supposedly renowned for its gift and craft shops. We arrived about 3:45pm, not yet having had lunch. We went immediately to the restaurant only to be told that they closed at 4pm and would not be serving us any food. One thing I have learned on this trip is that a series of Genova style delicatessens would be a gold mine in Ireland and Scotland. I have yet to dare to try their favorite sandwich of “egg, lemon mayonnaise and watercress.”

The day ended with another fabulous five course dinner at the hotel. Gazpacho with candied chilis to start. Ravioli with deer roe for Margaret…risotto with parsley and reggiano cheese for me. Sole meuniere with pommes dauphine for guess who, and chicken for me. Dessert was passion berry zabione and assorted homemade ice creams. Marg pulled out a close game of doms and then we retired to A Beautiful Dream.

Posted by stevencavalli07 02:43 Archived in Scotland Tagged loch ness Comments (0)

Wednesday August 24, 2011, Day 18

Searching for Nessie

overcast 66 °F
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Loch Ness is a large, deep, freshwater loch in the Scottish Highlands extending for approximately 23 miles southwest of Inverness. Its surface is 52 ft above sea level. Loch Ness is best known for the alleged sightings of the cryptozoological Loch Ness Monster, also known affectionately as "Nessie". It is one of a series of interconnected, murky bodies of water in Scotland; its water visibility is exceptionally low due to a high peat content in the surrounding soil.

Loch Ness is the second largest Scottish loch by surface area at 21.8 sq mi after Loch Lomond, but due to its great depth, it is the largest by volume. Its deepest point is 755 ft., deeper than the height of London's BT Tower and deeper than any other loch except Loch Morar. It contains more fresh water than all the lakes in England and Wales combined,and is the largest body of water on the Great Glen Fault, which runs from Inverness in the north to Fort William in the south.

So, after breakfast, off we went in search of Nessie. We actually caught her in one of the photos. We started at the Loch Ness Visitor's Centre for a 45 minute, 5 room, video presentation of the history of the Loch Ness monster and were left to our own conclusions at the end...really...45 minutes of suspense when all you have to do is look at the photographs that have been taken over the years to know that Nessie is/was real.

After a drive around parts of the Loch we took a 2 hour boat trip via Jacobite tours to Urquhart Castle...or what remains of the castle. Urquhart Castle sits beside Loch Ness between Fort William and Inverness. It is close to the village of Drumnadrochit. Though extensively ruined, it was in its day one of the largest strongholds of medieval Scotland, and remains an impressive structure, splendidly situated on a headland overlooking Loch Ness. It is also near this castle that the majority of Nessie sightings occur, so it was a must stop in our quest to see Nessie. It is not known precisely when the castle was built, but records show the existence of a castle on this site from the early 13th century.

The castle is a major tourist attraction in this area and virtually every language I can identify was heard during this visit. On the boat trip back to the hotel, we ordered a couple bottles of Sheepshaggers Lager...really, that's the name...don't miss the photograph of the label...the look on the lamb's face says it all.

Looking for a little variety, we made a dinner reservation at the Loch Ness INN in Drumnadrochit, a town about five minutes north of our hotel. Margaret's dinner was quite good although she was a little surprised when she ordered prawns and a large plate of the suckers, shells, eyes and all, arrived with appropriate tools. I made a bad choice and won't go into it.

Cabbed back to the hotel...had our first rain for a while in Scotland...and retired with a movie the name of which escapes me.

Posted by stevencavalli07 02:22 Archived in Scotland Comments (0)

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