Published: May 27th 2010January 29th 2010
The famous golf course right outside our hotel. What a waste on me! haha
I wrote this a few months ago on my most recent overseas adventure -- my trip home from Iraq via Scotland.
We landed at Leuchars Royal Air Field, the Scottish Air Force. Our lodging on base fell through, much to the delight of everyone else, but I, who was not getting reimbursed for expenses, wasn’t thrilled about it. Whoever made the reservation must have liked golf because we stayed in St Andrews, which is best known for having the oldest golf course in the world. Golf was invented in Scotland (actually, in Edinburgh I believe, though the oldest COURSE is in St Andrews). So our hotel was overlooking the green and the beach. A very nice B&B - actually a Best Western. It was only 65 pounds per night for the government rate, but because of our crappy exchange rate (right now 1.6), it was a bit pricey. Not so bad, if we were actually IN Edinburgh, but we were a good 1.5hrs away at best.
We checked into the hotel, dropped our stuff, and were out to find money and food. This is when I found out that my ATM/debit card had expired on 12/31. Oops. The only
With a cute little European car in the picture.
other valid credit card I had was a Discover card, which apparently no one in Scotland has ever heard of. They all take Diners Club cards, but no one even knows what Discover Card is. And I couldn’t take a cash advance on it because I didn’t know the PIN. So, I was out of luck. If I had realized that night the problems I’d have with Discover, I would’ve had my parents wire me some money through Western Union. I was still hopeful that I could figure something out (I mean, I have plenty of money in my accounts - why is it so hard to get it out?!) so instead I made for the post office to exchange money. I had about $200 cash on me, so at least I could get by.
It was about 5pm at that point, so we wandered the deserted streets of St Andrews in search of dinner. We stumbled into a bar/restaurant and the buying of rounds began. If I’d had a way to pay, I probably would’ve bought a round too. As it was, I was just grateful that everyone was feeling generous. Then again, they ARE all getting paid
Not bad! Especially with this cream sauce...
and reimbursed to be there. They have a couple of local Scottish beers (that I can’t remember the names of now). I actually liked the ale better than the lager, surprisingly. I always associate ales with Bud, Coors, Miller - tastes very watery and without flavor. This one was pretty good though. I think I’d still rather have a yuengling.
The food there was pretty good. I actually had haggis, a very Scottish food. The description is much like a hot dog. It’s bits of sheep that’s ground up, spices and sometimes oatmeal added to it, and cooked in the stomach lining. Actually sounds VERY similar to a hot dog. Tastes pretty good too. I also gave black pudding another try. Those of you who have read my Ireland blog may remember that I had it there. It was actually much tastier this time. Still a pretty gross idea though (cooked blood. Ick).
After dinner we bar hopped a little. The town was dead because the students are all on “reading week,” which is something like mid-terms. We managed to make our own fun. But with the 3hr time difference, the long flight, and lots of beer, I
Yum. Actually it was pretty good! I think the yellow stuff was some kind of pureed squash. And some kind of mashed cauliflower was on the plate too. Interesting meal!
was fading fast. I actually made it to 10pm local. Everyone was pretty drunk at that point, and I was ready to go home, so I walked the frigid few blocks back to the hotel. I was ready for a nice warm bed and my own bathroom! Ahhh luxury. It was unbelievably nice to sleep in that awesome bed with the really comfy down comforter. I keep staying at hotels and really admiring the bedding. I think it’s time I spent whatever it takes and make my bed like a hotel bed. I might even buy the exact same stuff as they have. My favorite was probably that Thunderbird hotel in Lima, Peru though. Wow that was nice!
The next morning I woke up pretty early. I had vacillated quite a bit the day before between the #1 ranked thing to do in Scotland - the 1day tour of the entire region (Loch Ness, the Highlands, etc), vs seeing Edinburgh. I only had one day, so it was one or the other. Since we were a good 1.5-2hrs away from Edinburgh, I would’ve had to get up so early to do the tour, and gotten back pretty late. I
What is it with creepy figures in the shop windows in European towns. I think this was a cobbler or something. Eek.
decided in favor of seeing the city instead. I got up and had breakfast at the hotel. It was actually really good! They had fresh sautéed mushrooms (YUM!), grilled tomato, sausage, bacon, black pudding, haggis, and something that I think was prosciutto. They also had scrambled eggs but would make them for you any way you want. I find it weird that a lot of European eggs have this orangey-pinkish hue. I’ve never figured out what it was. And when they brought out a fried egg for one of the guys, the yolk was definitely orangey-pink. Weird. Tasted fine though, if a little wet (something else that seems to be a common theme in Europe).
I ventured out on my own for the day. We had limited time in Scotland, and I wanted to see what I want to see, not what a bunch of men want to see. Not only do I not mind going off on my own, I sometimes prefer it. This was one of those times. The first thing I did was try to figure out my money problems - this is when I realized that I was SOL. I would have to make an
Tampons and Condoms
What more could a girl want from a public restroom?
adventure out of being thrifty. Good thing I started with a big breakfast! My first order of business was transportation to Edinburgh. There’s a train in Leuchars, a 30min bus ride away. But when I got to the bus station, I found out that there’s a bus that just takes a little bit longer and is a lot cheaper. For £9 I could take a bus all the way to Edinburgh. For only £2 more I could get the round-trip ticket. So transportation was taken care of. I had made a list of things to do in Edinburgh after doing some online research, but still had no idea where anything was. First stop: tourist information. Actually, my first stop was a coffee shop to buy a bottle of water: £1.50.
The first stop for any traveler in a new city should always be the TI. They’re in every major city and town (probably in the US too) and are a great way to get your bearings and have all your questions answered by a “local”. In my case, it also meant a free map, which is what I needed most. I got off the bus in the middle of
Quaint streets with cute little houses as I rode on the bus to Edinburgh.
Edinburgh to the freezing cold day. I didn’t have many civilian clothes at Al Asad, and instead of buying stuff or having anything sent out, I just made do with what I had. It may not have been the most stylish, but dang my brown uniform fleece/jacket was WARM! That was the only way I was able to stave off hypothermia, I’m sure. I don’t know how people live there. It SUCKS! It was so frigid I was on the verge of making snotcicles. The wind was the worst part. The temperature is a strong reminder as to how far north we were. That and the fact that it was dark around 5pm. Fortunately for me, the city was actually pretty small, so walking from place to place wasn’t long.
After the TI, I started out for my first destination: Edinburgh Castle. If I thought it was cold down on Princes Street or the Royal Mile, it was nothing compared to the pain at the castle. It was so cold I was actually in pain. I rented the audioguide and proceeded to try to make haste through the Castle. £12.50. I couldn’t even stand around long enough to listen
Under construction. I think just the parking lot, or the building next door. It was so freakin freezing!!!
to the audioguide on things. The only way I was seeing this Castle was from the inside. So off I went to find the indoor relics.
The War Museum is a decent collection of artifacts from all the recent wars in which Scotland has been a part. There was a new exhibition in the museum - Helmand Province. It was a photographic display of some of the bases there. Included were some pics of Bastion - interesting because not only is AJ there now, but I will probably be going there next winter. I made a quick lap through the museum, intending to go back, but wanted to be outside for the 1300 firing of the gun. I ascended the cobbled walk to the top of the castle for a better view. Laid out below us was a fantastic vista of Edinburgh. Despite being close to or below freezing, it was a bright and clear day. 1300 came, the cannon fired, and I ran for indoor shelter. :) While I was up there, I saw the dog graveyard, where they’ve buried countless dog mascots, and I’m pretty sure it’s still in use.
Because I didn’t do the guided
tour, and it was so cold I couldn’t finish the audioguide, I can’t tell you much about the history. I can tell you a lot about St Margaret’s Chapel since it was blessedly out of the wind and had decent benches. I think it’s the oldest part of the Castle - dedicated to Queen Margaret (cum Saint). They date it to 1093, but I think that’s just referring to the year her beloved husband died. They had married young, but he was so involved in fighting and wars that it would eventually be his undoing. He was killed in battle in 1093, and it was said that the already ailing Queen Margaret died of a broken heart shortly after learning of the news.
I left the sanctuary and headed to the next “must see” in the Castle. The Crown Jewels had a long history, again most of which I don’t know haha. They started a long time ago as part of the ceremony to swear in the new monarch. They had survived several battles and sieges by being hidden away. In the 16-1700s there was another battle for which they were hidden at the bottom of a chest and
A nice view of classic streets of Scotland!
locked away. 111 years later, Sir Walter Scott (I think) obtained an official warrant to search for the jewels. And there he found them locked in the bottom of the chest. Now they sit on display in the Castle. Since Scotland is part of Great Britain, they fall under the Prime Minister. I don’t think they have a monarchy anymore. The closest they have to a ruler right now is a Duke of something or other. Although they still bring the crown to Parliament to represent the Scottish chair.
The next famous thing in the Castle is the room where Mary Queen of Scots gave birth to her son James (to become James VI) in the 1500s. It was a scandalous time. She had been crowned Queen when she was an infant, as so often was done during those times, and she was on her 2nd husband, having been widowed at the age of 15. After the birth of her son, she hatefully spit out, “He’s more your son than he’ll ever be mine.” Within a year of her son’s birth, her husband was murdered under suspicious circumstances. She remarried quickly but was exiled to England, where she was
A view of the city from the Castle ramparts!
kept prisoner for 19 years until she was executed. Her son, James, would be crowned James VI at the tender age of 13 months. He would go on to become King James of England, and is well-known for the King James Bible that he ordered to be assembled.
There would have been plenty more to see in the Castle on a good day, but I was so cold, even after being inside for some of the exhibits, that I couldn’t take it any more. I stepped into the Red Coat Café and had a fabulous bowl of tomato basil soup with a ham and tomato sandwich, all for £5. (By the way, I also learned that “quid” is slang for “pound”.) I had a great view of the city as I sat with a steaming bowl of soup in front of me, feeling it warm me from the inside. Afterward, it was all I could do to drag myself back into the freezing air. I quickly made my way down the hill, and stopped at my next site: the camera obscura.
During my travels, I have come to rely upon a few things: Tourist Information for local maps
This looks familiar
In the War Museum inside the Castle. A great exhibit on the war in Afghanistan! A little foreshadowing.
and info, Rick Steve’s guide books (which I was unfortunately without for this trip), and TripAdvisor for honest reviews on what to see and what to skip. The camera obscura was in the top 10 of 264 things to do in Edinburgh. It was worth a shot! It turned out to be the highlight of my trip to Edinburgh, even though it wasn’t very Scottish. £8.50
A camera obscura literally means dark camera (or dark view or something). They’ve been around since ancient Greek times and were used then primarily to look at the sun and eclipses. They consist of mirrors at the top of a tall building, which can be rotated and tilted to display the view from outside into a dark room, projected onto a white table. It functions much like a periscope, actually. Since it was sunny and clear, we had a good view of the surrounding area from the 5th floor of the building we were in (which is perched on a hill). They actually have them around the world in a few choice locations, including San Francisco and NY in case anyone wants to see one. It’s a neat concept. The rest of the
A neat shot of what to expect in Camp Dwyer, from inside the War Museum. A really neat exhibit!
building was a museum of illusions. It was pretty cool! All the illusions, from light tricks, to mirrors, to pictures, to holograms were all there. It was a fun museum and really well laid out.
When I left the camera obscura/illusion place, it was about 3:30pm. I was making pretty good time! Everything closes at 5 in the winter, but I still had 1.5hrs and only 2 things left to see. I walked back down the Royal Mile, so named because it’s a mile long and used to be the only street in town for centuries, until they outgrew Old Town and had to make a New Town a few hundred years ago. The first thing I came to was the statue for Greyfriar’s Bobby. I’m still not sure if that was the name of the dog or the cop, but it was a Skye Terrier who belonged to a policeman in the mid-1800s, and when his master died, he sat vigil on his grave for the next 10 years, or however much longer he lived. He’s a symbol of loyalty and there’s a statue and memorial for him. The memorial actually had little toys and signs - looks
The mascot graveyard inside the Castle.
like its still kept up pretty well!
The last thing on my list to see was the National Museum of Scotland (free! Yay!). It was a toss up between that, the Museum of Edinburgh (free), and Arthur’s Seat (free), which is a long hike up to a great view of the city - definitely not enough time for that. I was hoping to learn some history, as I often like to do when I travel. I am not known for my prowess with a history book, but when I’m in an area and learning things from a guide while looking at artifacts, I tend to remember better. Apparently I need that personal touch and someone to hold my hand through it in order to actually remember things of historical significance (as noted by the vagueness in this blog with regard to historical accuracy). Well, I walked around for about 45min with an audio guide (free) until I was overcome with boredom and fatigue from a long day of walking and running around. With 30min left until closing, I had had enough. I threw in the towel and walked out, heading toward the bus station.
On the way, I
Firing the gun
The firing of the 1300 gun. It really was very underwhelming. I would definitely not put that on my to-do list next time. I was going to post the little video I took of it, and realized how lame it was, so didn't even bother.
passed a marvelous little shop called the Baked Potato Shop. It was on Cockburn Street (pronounced Coeburn), which I remembered reading about, but couldn’t remember why it was so special. Isn’t that awful? I wasn’t really hungry, but it was so interesting I just had to check it out. This little Vegan shack actually had some decent looking food. I love theme stores, so I decided to get a small one for the road. I got it filled with a Greek Salad of feta, tomatoes, peppers, onions, and black olives: £3.30. I held that warm little gem to my body as I hunkered down into my fleece coat for the walk back to the bus. It actually wouldn’t have been bad if not for the wind. With my hands joined together in my sleeves like a muff, and my chin and nose protected by the upturned collar of my fleece, I was almost warm. If only I’d had my hat handy…
I had a nice little walk to the bus station and was going to park myself on the bench (warm and inside!) and eat my baked potato. After paying 20p (about 30 cents) to use the bathroom to
Holy Freakin Crap!
It was so f-ing cold it was unbelievable! OMGOMGOMGOMGOMGOMGOMG!!!!!
wash my hands, I dropped my fork on the bathroom floor. Yuck. Off on another adventure to find a new fork. I had 45min to kill, so I hiked back out and found a McDonalds not too far away. I was hoping for some local Scottish thing there, like haggis on the menu, but no such luck. I did get a toffee blizzard, though. Yum :) £1.20. It may have been below freezing outside, but that ice cream was good! I finished up on the bus, and tried to keep myself entertained for the 2hr ride back to St Andrews. Too bad I hadn’t brought my laptop - only £11 and it had free wi-fi!
Once back at St Andrews, I stopped in a grocery store on my way back to the hotel. I love foreign candy and food. I’ll freely admit that the highlight for me of going to other countries is sampling the local cuisine, be it chocolate or sheep’s blood. I haven’t yet been faced with anything that I needed to draw the line at, but I think I’d have a line, so don’t worry Meem - I won’t show you anything too gross. This grocery
A big famous cannon in the Castle. Here's the inscription since I can't even remember what it was famous for haha (which I think is why I took the picture):
This giant medieval siege gun was presented to King James II in 1457 and used in war against the English. It was kept in the castle and used also for firing salutes. During one firing in 1558, the massive gunstone was found almost 2 miles away! It last fired in 1681 when its barrel burst.
store was much like any other European grocery store - European brands, European food. Nothing too exotic. Wandering around the store, though, reminded me of other times I’ve traveled. I missed being on my own time and my own plans. I’m looking forward to traveling again that way, and with my own choice of companion. After perusing the isles, I loaded up with several different candies and snagged a “Fruity Malt Bread” for breakfast since we’d be leaving so early. Total: £6.75.
And that was my exciting adventure in Scotland! I sort of regret not doing the “Scotland in a day” tour, but it’ll be on my list for next time. I did learn an important lesson, though: don’t go to Scotland in the winter. Even if I were there on my own terms, it would have sucked! I enjoyed my last night there relaxing in my hotel room and warming up under the nice down comforter.
My frugal adventure was pretty successful, I think. I didn’t feel like I’d had to pass up anything (except shopping - sorry, no souvenirs from this one unless you like foreign candy). I spent a total of £48.75. Add that with
Very cool! That's a white table with the reflected image from the mirrors showing what is outside.
the food and drinks from the day before and I ended with a grand total of £63.75.
The next morning was all about getting out early to the planes. The hotel actually had a little continental breakfast set up for us, so I had a nice bowl of cereal before leaving for good. We marched out to the plane in the freezing cold, loaded our bags while seeing our breath on the plane. As they were getting started, one of the propellers started leaking fluid, and a lot of it. Everything was shut down and there were a lot of discussions about what to do. Now, normally I’d be thrilled about breaking down in Scotland. However, at about $120 per night for hotel, no cash available, and the only thing left that I really wanted to do was the tour, which I would miss at that point anyway, I was praying we could get off the ground. No such luck, though. That plane stayed, with minimal crew and maintainers to fix it. They’d get it fixed the same day, but because of crew rest would be unable to leave until the next day. At least they’re getting paid for
Phun with Photons
One of those cool tubes with noble gases that are attracted to the electric charge of your hand.
it! The rest of us transferred to the other plane, secured our bags, and were off on our way home!
And that was my adventure in Scotland! I'll keep it on my list of places I'd like to return to someday, but with so many other places I've never been, it's hard to return to a place I've already been. But who knows where life will bring me...
There are more photos below