Tea, Dives & Zombie Attacks…Doug does Scotland

Dear Journal,

It’s me again, Doug, and you’ll never guess where my adventures have taken me next! I am up in Boonie Scotland! It all started with a mysterious phone call..

You see when the Queen calls you it doesn’t just come up on your caller ID as “The Queen”. Instead it is a very round about and complicated procedure involving lots of personal questions to verify your identity before she actually gets on the phone. Do you think she has to go through all of that just to call up Prince Charles? Anyway, I was on the train heading north from London when my phone rang. It seems her majesty is up at her summer home in Scotland and was wondering if I would like to stop by for tea. Having no previous plans I figure why not (as if I would have actually turned down the Queen!). So I ended up at the Palace at Holyrood sitting in the gardens with old Lizzie herself. It was quite an exquisite place! We then joined a procession up the Royal Mile and were treated to a tour of the Edinburgh Castle!
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I stayed up on Castle Hill and that night, on Her Royal Majesty’s recommendation, I took in the Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo. Their performances count as one of the 4 events that make up Edinburgh Festival. I didn’t realize this was such a big thing, but they set up a giant grandstand right in front of the castle and over 200,000 people come to see them during this one week!
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The show was awesome, featuring marching and music, a lone bagpiper on the castle walls and a firework show at the end!
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Inverness seemed like the place to go next. I’ve always wanted to see the Scottish Highlands and the famous Loch Ness. One of the main sites of the area, other than the Loch itself, is the Urquhart Castle ruins. They were a neat place to explore! While perched on a crumbling old wall having a rest something in the water caught me eye. It could have been a wave. It could have been a duck. It could have been nothing at all! But there was this overwhelming suspicion building in my gut that it had been so much more!
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I hired a boat to take me to the deepest part of the lake but soon discovered that sitting on the surface would get me nowhere. It was surprisingly easy to find a dive suit in the Loch Ness area…building one my size doesn’t take much material. Once back on the water with my air hose hooked up I plunged into the deep on a quest for answers. Periodically is sent out sonar waves, watching for any irregularities. And boy did I start to get some big ones! A little more exploring revealed a cave. And in that cave…Nessie! Imagine, the Loch Ness Monster hiding out in a cave for all these years! Much to my surprise I seem to be able to speak Monster. Nessie told me how she likes the life of mystery but allows glimpses of herself because she likes the attention. It can get kind of lonely in the bottom of the largest lake in the UK! I told her I have a friend back home names Plesio and I thought they’d get along well. She liked the sound of that and I think I will bring him along on my next visit.
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(That was Plesio last summer when we visited Jurassic Forest.)

I thought I’d round out my visit with a trip to Glasgow. Now Glasgow’s sites are a bit more wide spread than some of the other cities I’ve been to so I decided to use one of the Sightseeing Tour Buses as a means to get around. One of the stops of the tour had to be moved because George Square, right in the center of town, was closed. Apparently there is a movie being filmed there! I found myself thinking “Wouldn’t it be cool to see a real movie being filmed!” so I hopped off my Hop On/Hop Off bus and headed into the square.
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Now the next part was kind of a blur but almost as soon as I reached the barricade holding the fans back from a crazy warlike wreckage of cars someone was over telling me I was perfect. Perfect for what? I barely had time to register that I was to replace a sick extra before I was rushed through hair and makeup and wardrobe and thrust onto a real live set! They told me to act like zombies were attacking…so I went a little bizzurck. I worried it had been a little overdramatic but Brad didn’t think so. Who is Brad you might ask? No not Brad Kummer but Brad Pitt! The heartthrob himself! He complimented my work and gave me a few pointers to use in future scenes. The moral of the story? Look for me in World War Z!

Well that’s all from Scotland. Until next time, here’s a hint of where I’m going next:
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Keep Smiling,
Doug

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In Titan We Believe!

We had some new experiences today: first taxi ride and first (and hopefully last!) hospital trip. Now don’t get all worked up…it’s not a big deal. We’re both ok. The front of Justine’s ankle had been hurting her for a couple of days and instead of continuing to worry about it we took our free afternoon and turned it into a hospital trip. It was surprisingly easy to get helped at the hospital! By far the quickest ER trip either of us had made (and Kristin’s made a lot of ER trips in her life)! It turns out she has tendinitis on the top of her foot towards her ankle. Nothing serious at all (and she had herself convinced she was dying). All she needs to do now is walk a bit less, elevate and ice her foot and take some drugs. Nothing she can’t do. All is good, and hopefully back to 100% in no time!

But now for our day!

We started with showing a nice Russian family the way to the Royal Mile. We must look like we know what we’re doing because people ask us questions and directions quite often…but then again we must actually know what we’re doing because we’ve only once been unable to actually help them. We then walked the length of the mile from the castle to the palace.

Right beside the palace is Parliament. The Scottish parliament buildings were built in 2004. You might wonder why, in a country so wonderfully old, their parliament buildings have ended up in such a new building…we wondered that too and soon found out why this was. With the joining of the Scottish and English crowns all parliamentary business was conducted at Westminster in London. This changed in 1997 when Scotland wanted to control the affairs pertaining directly to their country. Therefore a new parliament was needed and new parliament buildings. The building was designed to look like a branch running out of the nearby park, therefor a lot of the design is centered around very earthy themes. The skylights are shaped like leaves and the buildings like boats. The whole place has an ongoing color scheme of white/silver and wood that was really striking. Our favorite room was the Debate Room. Here the wood was very prominent and looked spectacular!
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The next stop was Holyroodhouse Palace. This is the official Scottish residence of the Queen when she is in Scotland. In this palace we were able to see pretty much all of the same rooms we get to see in the other palaces, but they were just as opulent and therefor just as interesting. The palaces most famous resident was Mary Queen of Scots. This section has not be touched since she left in the 1600’s. We were able to climb the narrow spiraling staircase to her rooms. Here we saw her original bed and the place where her 2nd husband murdered her secretary (there were still blood stains on the floor). We actually felt bad for Mary, we had always assumed she was the bad guy in her relations with Elizabeth.
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The highlight of the palace was the old abbey ruins. What remains of the abbey today dates back to the 1200’s. They have apparently inspired many artists to create great works…we maybe didn’t feel any of that. But still enjoyed the views!
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We followed the mornings attractions with some hardy exercise. We climbed Arthurs Seat, which is an old volcano right in the middle of the city. The part we climbed was by the Salisbury Crages, basically a big rock wall. It was a short but very steep climb so you ended up really high really fast. I don’t know if you can tell from the picture below but you do end up at quite a height. The views from the top were well worth the climb! We made sure to get a lot of photos!
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We stopped for a rest for awhile in a Starbucks on the Royal Mile, as our hike had taken less time than expected. It was here that Justine decided that she wanted to see a doctor. So Kristin found them a cab (this took awhile as they all seemed to already have people in them because of the rain) and we arrived at the ER. Driving on the wrong side of the road is weird. We then got to ride on a real double-decker bus on our way back from the hospital.

Supper was another classic English pub dinner. We had actually scouted the place out yesterday but it was really busy. It was busy again today but we just loitered until we found a table. We both had meat pies tonight…yum! We also had a small plate of nachos since everywhere we look at in this town is advertising nachos!

After supper we toured Greyfriar’s Kirk Cemetary. This cemetery is overlooked by The Elephant House and is where JK Rowling got the inspiration for some of the names in her books. In the graveyard we found the tomb of a Thomas Riddle. Does the name sound familiar? If it doesn’t, he has a few alias’: You-Know-Who, He-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Named or simply Lord Voldemort.
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We finished the day with the Real Mary Kings Close Tour. This was very reminiscent of the Seattle Underground Tour, if you’ve ever been on that. The closes were really tiny streets squeezed between the buildings. They were very uneven and often sunken lower than the main street. When they built the Royal Exchange (a giant marketplace) they wanted it to be level with the main road so they chopped of the tops of the surrounding buildings, leaving the slower levels below the new street level. We got to explore these now hidden lower levels. It was very dark and spook once we got underground. We were presented with a lot of interesting facts, but also with some fun ghost stories and some gruesome tales of the plague. At least 50% of the people who lived on Mary King Close died during the plague! It was an awesome evening activity…spooky but not too scary.
PS. Look at this photo…who is this stranger Kristin has her picture with? Or is that Alexa? It surely can’t be Bean?!
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What we Learned Today:
– The difference between flagstone and cobblestone
– A lot of people were killed in Edinburgh (whether by plague or methods more sinister)

Highlights of the Day:
1. Knowing Justine was not going to have her foot amputated.
2. Supper! Again!

Love, Luck & Legumes (the frozen kind that Justine is icing her foot with!)
K&J

Just cross the Firth of Forth to get to Fife…

This morning we set off on a journey to country #2: Scotland! This is only the second big city stop of the trip so it was a little jarring showing up here. To put it simply: Edinburgh is just harsher than London. Its less “Hey there tourist! We love you! Let us help you!” and more “This is Edinburgh. Have fun figuring out where you’re going…”

It started with getting in to the train station and realizing this wasn’t the one we had directions from listed on our card. We figured out quick that we just had to go one station more on almost any train. So after paying 30 pence to go to the bathroom (I don’t like a world where I have to pay to go to the bathroom!) we were off to the right spot. There are a lot of roads with a lot of names here in Edinburgh but with a little extra wandering and the help of two nice ladies on the street we found our hostel. It’s a nice building on the inside, a bit cramped in space but it will do for 2 nights.

We wandered looking for the cafes where JK Rowling wrote the Harry Potter books. One of them doesn’t seem to exist anymore (or Google Maps gave us the wrong location) but we did find The Elephant House. This is where Jo wrote the majority of the first 3 books! We had a hot beverage and a treat and just took in the atmosphere…this is where Harry Potter was born! The guy next to us was on his laptop writing and we couldn’t help but wonder if he was channeling JKR’s creative spirit and was writing a book that would define the next generation. Or perhaps he, like us, was just writing in his blog about how cool it was to be there. Justine suggested that The Elephant was where Kristin should work on her novel.
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Edinburgh started to grow on us as we continues to wander. It’s Festival here this week, which Justine research to discover it is 4 different festivals all running simultaneously. The only one we have really noticed much of so far is the Fringe. The Edinburgh Fringe is the worlds largest arts festival, so it’s kind of hard to miss. As we walked the Royal Mile (the stretch that runs from the palace up to the castle) we were bombarded with free displays of talent and about a million leaflets for different shows. It was really neat to see! Kind of blows Edmonton’s Fringe out of the water…

The Edinburgh castle dominates the skyline of the city, sitting high upon an old volcano, looking like an ominous fortress. It was originally built a very long time ago but has since been rebuilt in the past 600 years. The oldest building is a small chapel dating back to the 1200’s. Just our luck there was a tour of the castle starting just 5 minutes before we entered! This is becoming our style, joint tours once they’ve already started. Our tour guide was a very informative woman with a very Scottish accent…brilliant!
Up at the top of the castle we saw where Mary Queen of Scots hid while under attack from the English and where she gave birth to James VI, future King who united the English and Scottish thrones. We also saw the Scottish Crown Jewels, which were kinda anticlimactic after the English Crown Jewels. We did get to see the Stone of Destiny, really just a large rock, but a large rock which all the Scottish monarchs were crowned on. Now during coronations it is slid onto a shelf in the bottom of the coronation chair to show the monarch is ruling over England and Scotland.
The castle is still used by the Scottish military. There are many museums throughout the castle showing the history of the Scottish army (we didn’t have time to go to them). We did see the exhibit on prisoners of war. After the castle was no longer a royal residence it became a prison and army barracks during the American revolution, French revolution, Napoleonic wars and even up to the First World War.
We took many photos of the views from the top. We could see everything!
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For supper we stopped at another pub. It was difficult finding somewhere that wasn’t packed (with festival going on the city it positively buzzing) and as it was we ended up sharing a table with a nice Scottish couple who offered us their 2 open seats. Justine was the first to have a meat pie! Kristin was tempted to follow but just couldn’t pass up the sausages and mash. Everything was delicious once again!

On the way home we stopped at a really cool graveyard at the foot of the hill the castle stands on. This is a Padget family oddity: love of cool graveyards! It had really old and really huge graves in it.
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We spent the rest of the evening just chilling at the hostel. Eventually all of our roommates came home and let’s just say we had no idea what cramped meant when we first got there.

Random Observations:
– Scotland is not quite as tourist friendly as Britain was…there aren’t maps every 10ft…

What we Learned Today:
– Scotland actually has history worth learning…

Highlights of the Day:
1. The Castle and actually learning something about Scotland.
2. Supper! Delicious!

Love, Luck & Large Rocks,
K&J