Category Archives: Trips

Traveling experiences.

Playground at Princes Street Gardens, Edinburgh, Scotland

The absolute best playground we visited in Scotland was on day two at the Princes Street Gardens in Edinburgh. The playground is located on the far western side of the park. The park map we saw neglected to mention there was a playground and we trudged the entire length of the park, Calvin complaining the entire time, on faith having heard a rumor there was suppose to be a playground somewhere.

I was very relieved when we found the park to see it was worth the trek. The park is spectacular. The main playground equipment is setup like a play castle.

04CastlePlayground

It has all the normal playground features such as slides, monkey rings, rope bridges, etc.

03CastleSlide

06MonkeyBars

08RopeBridge

There’s also a climbing wall so you can storm the castle.

07ClimbingWall

The playground also had a wide variety of spinners ranging from single-person spinners to a giant rope climbing apparatus that also spun.

12Spinnerwithoutsun

09IndividualSpinner

02spinner

There’s also a little kids area and the obligatory themed spring rider.

11LittleKidArea

05SpringRider

And, of course, a log swing that looks like it could be used to ram open (fragile) castle gates.

01logswing

If you’re looking at the park facing south, you can see the play castle overshadowed by the real Edinburgh Castle. (The sun was not kind to my pictures.)

10SpinnerAndCastle

Summary:

Features
Surface Material Mostly poured rubber
Restrooms Yes, relatively close, it appears you usually have to pay but we didn’t the day we were there
Water fountain Can’t remember
Shade Reasonable amount of shade
Picnic area Can’t remember but the park itself has a ton of benches.
Parking No
Pros
  • Nice playground equipment
  • Very scenic backdrops
Cons
  • A bit tricky to find if you don’t know where it is.

Playground at Highland Folk Museum, Scotland

I’ve been meaning to post pictures of the Scottish playgrounds we visited but kept procrastinating. While Scotland isn’t quite as overflowing with playgrounds as Hong Kong is, we visit several nice ones. On our seventh day in Scotland we visited the Highland Folk Museum. We arrived toward the end of the day so didn’t have nearly enough time to wander around. However, right within the entrance is a pretty nice playground area for kids.

Among other things, they have the best tire swing I have ever seen. It’s huge.

01TireSwing

The main playground area had a rustic feel to it.

05springrider

However, they had several more modern pieces of playground equipment also. I’m pretty sure one of our Boulder parks has this one:

03modernplay

They also had a fantastic spinner. I think it would have been even better with more people on it.

02spinner

There was also a single-person spinner and a wobbly balance beam to walk on.

04singlespinner

Away from the main playground area there’s also a digger, fairly close to their sawmill building.

06Digger

Summary:

Features Modern age 5-12 playground equipment, log-house style playground equipment, wooder spring rider, amazing tire swing, large spinner, individual spinner, wobbly balance beam
Surface Material Mostly bark chips
Restrooms Yes, relatively close
Water fountain Can’t remember
Shade The more modern playground is shaded by the trees but the wood-based playground elements don’t appear to get shade.
Picnic area Can’t remember.
Parking Parking for the museum
Pros
  • Best Tire Swing Ever
  • Nice variety of equipment
Cons
  • N/A

Camping

Our family spent the Fourth of July long weekend camping at Moraine Park Campground. It’s a very civilized campground with flush toilets! This campground was also the site of Calvin’s first camping trip back in 2010.

This time I tried a new way to organize camping food. All the stuff that needed to be cold went into the cooler. But everything else got portioned into my cloth grocery bags. I had one bag for each cooked meal. So, in the first bag went everything I needed for the first meal that didn’t need to be chilled. The next bag contained everything for the next meal, minus the items I needed for the first meal (like the camping pot) and so on. Then, at the end of each meal I redistributed the things that would be needed later into the appropriate bags for their next meal. This system worked surprisingly well and prevented me from doing a lot of the rummaging I’ve done in previous trips. I would have preferred to use clear plastic bins for each meal but this was a lot cheaper.

Thursday
We left for the campground Thursday evening around 5ish. As soon as we got there I put up the bug shelter for the picnic table and then started to make supper. Since we were expecting to arrive around supper I made it super easy. I brought a bag of freeze dried pasta primavera for each of us and a pound of asparagus. In retrospect, I can’t believe I never thought to bring asparagus for camping before. It’s incredibly easy to prepare and cooks within minutes.

After supper we put our stuff in the tent (we have a fantastically huge family tent), got everything organized. I read to Calvin for a while and we all eventually fell asleep.

Friday
Thursday night I slept the best I can remember in a tent. The air was pretty warm most of the night and Calvin slept straight through without waking. In addition, nobody else’s child was screaming which was a definite plus. At around 5:30 I was woken up by a loud noise. At first I thought it was the wind violently whipping the tent around. Then I realized a huge herd of deer had decided to go pounding through the campground. We got the tent door open soon enough to see them stampede away. It was not uncommon to see a couple of deer in my backyard growing up but it was still pretty interesting to see a whole herd of deer wandering around a campground.

For breakfast we had scrambled tofu that I had prepared back home, pastries from the Bavarian Bakery, and strawberries. I heated up the tofu in my cast iron skillet so cleaning up was really easy. I just dumped the extra tofu into the compost sack1, wiped out the skillet and then heated it on the stove again to sterilize it.

Our goal on Friday was to hike up to Emerald Lake. Since Calvin loves transportation, and parking at Bear Lake is impossible, we took two shuttle buses to get there. Calvin obviously can hike when he wants but he spent much of the time complaining. However, it was still a successful hike for him.

On the way back we stopped by the Moraine Park visitor center and I got seduced into buying three books. Two are books about park ranger adventures and the third was a picture book about scat. Calvin also decided he wanted to use his allowance to buy a stuffed fox.

For supper we were contemplating hot dogs. However, they didn’t start selling wood till 5:30 so I read to Calvin out of one of the new ranger books. Around 5:30 Jaeger left to get the firewood and it promptly started raining. I changed supper bags and started getting things ready. The bug shelter provided some protection from the rain but not for a particularly large area.

While mom was visiting she took me shopping to Costco and suggested I try using the prepackaged Tasty Bite entrees. They’re shelf stable and it turns out you can heat the pouches up by just putting them in boiling water. This has the distinct advantage of keeping a pot from getting dirty. I paired them with boil-in-a-bag brown rice and called the supper a success. Given the rain it was particularly nice not to have to spend a great deal of time cleaning up.

Saturday
Saturday I attempted to make pancakes. I haven’t had prior good success with pancakes while camping but gave it another shot. I used a Krusteaz mix so I only needed to add water and then oil for the cast iron skillet. It took me a couple of times to get the cooking time and temp right but eventually I ended up with pretty decent pancakes. Probably a first for me.

Jaeger was having trouble coming up with hiking routes that were both interesting and something Calvin could reasonably be expected to do. Eventually he settled on going over to the west side of the park and taking the Big Meadows trail. This time we explained clearly to Calvin that we didn’t want to hear any moaning or no smores for supper. This hike went much better, especially during the short time when we were walking as the same speed with another family that had kids close in age to Calvin. The meadow was nice but I didn’t find it quite as inspiring as a lake as a destination. On the way back we saw a moose.

Since Calvin did so well, and it was way too hot, we decided a treat was in order and drove to Granby to get ice cream. Then we returned back over Trail Ridge Road to camp.

There wasn’t any rain in the evening so we were able to eat our veggie hot dogs and smores. To my surprise Calvin seemed to think the smores were ok but he only wanted one.

Sunday
Sunday we ate a fairly boring breakfast of oatmeal then packed up and came home. Remarkably we were on the road by 9:30 so got back home in time to unpack and put things away in a orderly manner.

All-in-all I think it turned out to be a pretty successful camping trip though Calvin can definitely use more practice hiking.

  1. I wanted to minimize dish cleanup so we brought compostable dishes and had a bag we put all the compostable stuff into. It worked fairly well except the bag stunk up the car toward the end. Next time it needs a sealable bin.

York – Day 3 / Scotland – Day 9

Today we woke up, went down for breakfast, and then headed out for our last day in York. We took the bus to our first site: the York Cold War Bunker. It was a lot more interesting than I expected though, unfortunately, Calvin found parts of it scary. When in use, this bunker was run by volunteers and it’s purpose was to provide info on the location and fallout of nuclear bombs. The purpose of this was to be able to save up to 1/3 of population if the UK was hit with a nuclear bomb.

Much of the story surrounding the bunker was rather grim/surreal. It had 120 volunteers and once they were alerted, the entrance was sealed after exactly 60 of the volunteers made it in. It would stay sealed for 30 days after which point the people inside were considered expendable. There was a guard to be stationed outside to keep anyone else from getting in. He too would be collateral damage. In addition, they had a secret list of the engineers in the area that could fix the equipment and they would be forcibly drafted if the situation arose. These engineers never learned they were on these lists until the program was decommissioned in the 90s. They were not happy to learn that they might have been forced to leave their families in the middle of a crisis.

Also, there was a part on the top of the roof that had to be changed every 6-8 hrs. This would require sending someone outside to quickly change it (they practiced changing blindfolded in case it was at night). They did not provide any protective radiation suits for this. Once changed, they’d go through the decontamination room and go through 3 washes (sinks with hoses) which they estimated would take care of about 90 percent of the radiation and was unlikely to kill you within 30 days or pass much radiation to those around you.

Anyway, it was all very fascinating. The tour guide asked us if we had any similar bunkers in the US. Neither Jaeger nor I had heard of any quite like this but we assume in the US something similar existed but was solely operated by the military instead of volunteers.

After the bunker we walked to a windmill. The windmill was built in the late 1700 and was hooked up to a flour mill. At its busiest, the mill could produce 3-4 tons of flour a day. It sounded rather astonishing especially since it’s a relatively small area. The mill fell into disuse in the early 1900s until a preservation society formed recently to get it back up and running. They had to replace substantial parts of the windmill but it once again can grind flour using the windmill. They have some for sale in the gift shop. I was tempted to get some but I didn’t think I could justify the extra bag weight.

After the windmill we headed back into town to get lunch. We ended up finding a pasties shop that had quite filling pasties (Jaeger continued to deny that chocolate could replace lunch). We had a little extra time before our train was suppose to depart. It was raining outside so we considered going back to York Minster only to see, based on the line, that everyone else had the same idea. Instead, we decided to head off to another used bookstore our guide book had mentioned. It’s amazing how many used bookstores there are in York. On our way, we ran into another one and stopped for a quick look. Unfortunately none of them had the book I was looking for but we ended up with an autobiography by Roald Dahl that looks pretty interesting.

We packed up our luggage from the hotel and arrived at our train platform 5 min before it was scheduled to leave. Our train ride was fairly uneventful except for the several minutes involving a screaming child that I’m happy to report was not Calvin ๐Ÿ™‚

Once again in Edinburgh we dropped off our bags at the left luggage stand and went out to find supper. We had a good supper, picked up our bags, and took a taxi to our hotel which is by the airport. The hotel is not the same quality as the previous ones we have stayed at. Jaeger had reserved a double bed with a sofa bed for Calvin. When we got to our room we were confronted with two twin beds and a sofabed. It looked very 1950s. Jaeger was not amused. We were able to get our room switched but then had to wait for them to make up the sofabed for Calvin. Oh well, it’s only for one night and appears to have all the basics.

Tomorrow we start our journey back home. It’s been a good vacation but it’s also always nice to go home.

York – Day 2

Yesterday Jaeger and I joked that Calvin rated hotels based on their breakfasts, how close he is to mommy, and how good a fort he can build out of the bed. While our Inverness hotel was quite nice, it was a bit of a disappointment to Calvin. Our York hotel on the other hand has pretty much everything he could ask for (the only way it could be better would be one king bed that the whole family piles into).

The hotels breakfast is free for all guests so I was skeptical that it was going to be any good. However, it turned out to have the best vegetarian options of any of them. It was a bit more generic than the others but the options for us worked better. Calvin ended up with scrambled eggs, potatoes with ketchup, and a mini chocolate muffin. He was ecstatic and he got even more excited when he noticed there was a tv in the breakfast room. It was just running news but that seemed to be enough for him.

After breakfast we still had an hour before the train museum opened so we wandered by a used book store. I didn’t find any of the books I was looking for but did stumble across another author that looks like she might be a good fit for Calvin. We wandered around a bit more and finally headed for the train museum.

As advertised, the train museum was big and impressive. I think the part I found most interesting was the evolution of the royal train cars. Queen Adelaide commissioned the first royal train car when it was still a fairly new contraption. It’s clear that they hadn’t figured out a distinct train style yet. The train car looked almost exactly like a luxurious coach. There were only seats, no other comforts, and to get to one of the three compartments you had to open external train doors. The next train car was the final version of Queen Victoria’s and it was interesting to note how much the design had advanced within that time period. Queen Victoria’s train car had several connected rooms including a saloon with sofas.

It was also interesting to see some of the regular older train. Bathrooms didn’t appear for quite a while and I could’t help but think of the inconvenience of toting a young child via train.

The train museum also had a library that included some children’s books. I read several to Calvin before insisting it was time to get back to the rest of the museum. We wandered around for a bit. The museum had quite a few exhibits for young kids that Calvin enjoyed. They also had a play area that had things like Chuggington costumes, train tables, and a variety of Legos that I’d never heard of before: Lego Soft bricks. These bricks are about 6 times as bit as a regular Lego brick (the current set of Quatros we have is 4 times bigger so these are even bigger than Quatros).

After playing with the Legos for a while we ate lunch in the train’s cafeteria. After lunch Calvin and I went outside to briefly play in the train’s playground. It was an ok playground but nothing particularly special. I didn’t take any pictures. However, right next to the playground was a mini train that the kids could ride on for 1 pound. Calvin took a ride on that and really enjoyed it. We wandered around a little more until leaving around 3:30pm.

Our next stop was the Yorkshire museum. They had a fair number of things for Calvin to do but other than the specific little kid areas it didn’t really catch his attention. I enjoyed the medieval section the best.

The museum closed at 5. The place we wanted to eat at didn’t open till 6:30 so we had about an hour and a half to waste. Since it was now raining we decided to go back to the hotel to pick up our rain coats before wandering around within the walled city. Calvin started to get cranky and complain of being hungry so we started looking for a cafe that was still open to get a little snack.

Eventually, we stumbled across the York Cocoa House. They close at 6 but we squeaked in with 2 minutes to spare. Calvin got a regular hot chocolate, I got an orange hot chocolate, Jaeger got Yorkshire tea and then we all shared a lime and coconut dessert. It was divine. I’m trying to convince Jaeger we should go back there for lunch tomorrow but he is protesting because it’s a chocolate shop and doesn’t have “lunch” food. I don’t know why we need anything as plebeian as sandwiches for lunch when we can get chocolate like that.

After finishing our hot chocolate we wandered a little bit more and then headed in the direction of dinner. The vegetarian restaurant we ate at is only open two evenings a week (normally they’re a cafe). I got the spinach and leek ravioli, Jaeger got a mushroom burger, and Calvin got gnocchi. It was all good and I was especially pleased that Calvin seemed to really like the gnocchi.

After supper we walked back to our hotel in the light drizzle. Tomorrow we’ll do a couple more things in York before heading back via train to Edinburgh.

Scotland – Day 8 / York – Day 1

Today we woke up bright and early. However, even though we woke up a 1/2 hr later than yesterday it didn’t feel as early to me. Perhaps the absence of a fire alarm test helped. We went down to breakfast promptly at 7, when they opened, and ordered hot breakfasts. This turned out not to be the best choice as it was a full 20 minutes for our breakfast to arrive. We quickly ate and then checked out and started walking toward the train station. The train station is relatively close but our train left at 8 and the combination of a slow breakfast and Calvin’s top speed was starting to concern me. So Jaeger pulled both suitcases while I carried Calvin on my shoulders at a fast walk. We made the train stop with several minutes to spare.

The train ride itself was fairly relaxing. Up till Edinburgh we hit 70-90 mph. However, after Edinburgh there were parts where we hit 125 mph (Jaeger bought a special GPS app for his tablet so he could track it). Calvin spent most of the 6 hr ride listening to an audio book while coloring/drawing while I read. I really adore how engrossed Calvin can get in audio books. For lunch we got food from the train cafe. We arrived in York around 2pm.

We checked in to our hotel. This one is a “Hampton by Hilton”. Inverness was our big hotel splurge so this one is more cookie-cutter corporate (Jaeger checked and they have face flannels, perhaps because they’re an American (?) chain).

We left our hotel and started walking in the general direction of York Minster. We went slightly out of the way so we could walk up on the wall surrounding the city. Jaeger wanted to go to Evensong (weirdly, he’s quite pro-religious services when he considers them a cultural experience) which was scheduled to start at 5:15. We weren’t sure how long it was going to last so we decided to stop and have a fortifying snack at a coffee shop. Once again Calvin and I got the Hot chocolate with cream and marshmallows and split a cookie.

We got to York Minster a bit before 4 and wandered around the church for quite a while. I was not quite as systematic as I would have liked due to Calvin’s distractions. It was pretty interesting though. At 5 we gathered in front of the organ and were ushered into the Quire. I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. This seemed a pseudo-special Evensong as they were celebrating the 20th anniversary of the foundation of the Hope and Homes for Children charity (I don’t know if highlighting specific charities is a normal thing or if this was just special). The service consisted of:

  • The Bidding (Chancellor and Canon in Residence)
  • Procession and Responses (choir)
  • Office Hymn (congregation)
  • Psalm 108-109 (choir)
  • First Lesson (Exodus 2:1-10)
  • Magnificat (choir)
  • Second Lesson (Colossians 3:12-17)
  • Nunc Dimittis (choir)
  • The Apostles’ Creed (congregation)
  • The Lesser Litany, Responses and Collects (choir)
  • Anthem (choir)
  • Address (5 min sermon)
  • Prayers (Canon in Residence, longer than the address)
  • Hymn (congregation)
  • Blessing (Dean of York who happens to be female)
  • Organ Postlude (wasn’t in the official program so I’m not sure what was played)

The whole thing lasted around an hour and was a bit longer than I had planned on. Ideally, I would have brought more than just Calvin’s crayons to amuse him. I usually bring way more to a regular church service. However, Calvin still was reasonably behaved. I can say for sure he was not the most disruptive element as that honor belongs to the man whose cell phone went off twice after the Canon in Residence had specifically reminded people to turn their cell phones to mute. Also I’m fairly certain Calvin was the youngest kid to survive the whole service (there was a family with one child younger than Calvin but they left after only the first couple of songs).

After Evensong we went to a nearby vegan restaurant. The adult food was pretty decent. Their kids menu didn’t appeal to Calvin. For some reason vegan/vegetarian restaurants seem compelled to do terrible things to kid’s menus. When will I learn my lesson and just order him an adult entree? To compensate for Calvin eating relatively little supper, we also got dessert. Jaeger and I split a carrot cake. I think if I had to I could be vegan for most of my food choices. The exception would be dessert. Carrot cake is not right without cream cheese frosting. I mean, that’s the whole point of carrot cake. I got Calvin a chocolate mousse pie that’s basically a more unhealthy version of my chocolate tofu pudding. I figured it probably got a little extra protein into Calvin.

We got back to the hotel relatively early at around 8. However, tomorrow looks like it’s going to be jam-packed so this early evening probably won’t become a trend.

Scotland – Day 7

Jaeger woke us up at the crack of dawn. Ok, not really but it felt like that to me. However, we did manage to get up and eat earlier than we had the last couple of days. Today I ordered the porridge for breakfast and then promptly Americanized it by adding sugar and dried fruit (I surreptitiously grabbed sugar cubes that were meant for tea).

After breakfast we headed out of Inverness to Aviemore to ride a steam train. With the Scottish countryside passing by, the steam from the train drifting pass our window, and the whistle at crossings I could almost hear the opening music from the BBC’s production of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.

We got back to the station around 12 and decided to eat lunch. In one of my desperate searches for vegetarian food “around” Inverness, I had stumbled across a review of a cafe in Aviemore called The Mountainside Cafe which claimed it had a good number of vegetarian options. We went in and I was impressed by the labeling. They had labels for vegetarian, dairy free, wheat free, and gluten free. They also noted that they could try to prepare food nut free but couldn’t vouch for their suppliers. They had a number of good lunch option. Jaeger and I both ordered a Red Lentil burger but I got seduced into ordering a spicy hot chocolate and a rhubarb and white chocolate scone with Cornish clotted cream. I was thinking of the scone as dessert but it came before my entree. The scone with clotted cream was wonderful. Jaeger said he could see me having an experience. The rest of the food was very good too but I kind of wished I had just ordered another scone ๐Ÿ™‚

We took a brief detour after lunch to mail a postcard to Calvin’s classmates. On the walk back to the car I was stopped by a guy with an English accent who asked if I was a local and was quite disappointed to hear that I was not.

Once we got back to the car we drove to Cairn Gorm mountain and took the Funicular Railway up the side of the mountain. That was pretty fun. At the top there wasn’t a huge amount to do because they weren’t letting tourists out on the tundra (to avoid damaging it). We saw some impressive views and then caught the ride back down. The ride back down was very full but Calvin continued his theme of charming grandmothers from all continents and got a seat at the front so he could watch our descent.

After the mountain ride we drove about a half hour to the Highland Folk Museum. This was an absolutely fantastic place. Unfortunately we didn’t get there till 4 which didn’t leave nearly enough time prior to closing at 5:30. If I had the ability to do it over again I would have spent the entire afternoon there (guidebooks do offer suggestions but they rarely know how long Calvin’s interest can be captured). The museum covers several acres and recreates the dwellings of the highlands from the 1700s and on. The day started out rainy in Inverness but by the time we got to the museum it was fairly warm and mostly sunny.

The first thing you see when entering the grounds is a playground for children. They have the biggest tire swing I have ever seen. It was fantastic. They also had several other pieces of playground equipment (pictures to be posted later). Once I pried Calvin away from the playground we wandered down the various paths. The first building we entered was an old school where a staff member let Calvin try to write with a old pen, ink, and blotting paper. What I particularly liked about the buildings is they are fully furnished like the original owners would have.

We ended up at the little 1700 village right around closing time. As we approached one of the staff members asked Calvin where he was from. He replied “The United States” and the other staff member laughed and said the first one had guessed we were French because the French always show up at the end. The building was really interesting. Apparently the inhabitants slept 5-6 to a bed and slept sitting up. According to the guide they slept sitting up because they tended to have pretty bad breathing problems because, among other things, they didn’t have any chimneys and so the smoke just stayed in the house with the warmth. She also pointed out that what we were seeing was fairly luxurious for a normal person and a family who lived in a fine house like this was probably fairly educated and could read and write in Gaelic and English.

As we were walking down the path toward the gate we saw another couple rushing toward the cottages. Jaeger murmured “I wonder if they’re French” and, sure enough, they were definitely talking in French.

Since it was now 5:30 everything was closed. We headed off to the airport to return our car rental. I was relieved when Jaeger handed over the keys. It was really useful to have a car but slightly nerve wracking also. We got a taxi to take us back to the hotel. Our taxi driver was originally from Romania and when we got in asked us if we were English. I’m mainly amused by this because I had gotten the impression on my high school trip that Americans were easy to spot miles away because of how we dress. Apparently that isn’t the case anymore. (In case you’re wondering, I was not trying to blend in. I had my good hiking shoes, straight leg jeans (not skinny), and my REI fleece and raincoat.)

Back at the hotel we decided to go back to La Tortilla for supper. It was already 7:20 and we needed somewhere close by because we have to get up early tomorrow to catch our train for York.

Coda
I forgot to mention kind of a weird experience we had while driving to the airport to drop off our car. We were blithely driving down the rode when all of a sudden the car in front of us put their brake lights on. It was a dual carriage way so we moved over to the right lane just in time to see an entire wheel from a Porsche rolling around on the shoulder with the Porsche continuing to drive, though slowing down, on it’s rim. I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything quite like that before. Tire blowouts, yes. Tires detaching and rolling away from a car, no.

Scotland – Day 6

Our grand adventure continues! Today we wandered around the country side with Jaeger staying firmly on the left side of the rode (when the road was wide enough for sides anyway).

After breakfast we took a quick walk into town to procure a raincoat for Calvin. I brought a raincoat for him but only belatedly realized it was at least one, possibly two, sizes too small for him. The previous day I had seen pretty decent looking raincoats at a reasonable price in a store that had already closed for the day (did I mention that even the mall closes at 5!?). So we went back this morning for the jacket.

Today was gorgeous. It was warm and sunny most of the day. A perfect day for a country ride. We started by going the long way around to a town called Cannich. We were planning to take a short hike there at a place called Dog Falls. While Google maps worked well yesterday, it didn’t work well today because Jaeger’s phone didn’t have a good connection most of the time. Upon entering the town, the guidebook said to take a right so we did. We drove and drove and drove with the road getting smaller and smaller till it was a one lane track. Eventually we figured out we were on the wrong road and turned around. However, the scenery was lovely and the weather so mild that we had the windows rolled down so it wasn’t a wasted drive.

Once we got back to Cannich we realized that what they considered right, I considered straight. Now that we were on the correct road we had another pleasant drive that once again narrowed down to one lane but this time they had more areas for cars to pass one another. We made it to the Dog Falls trailhead and set off. There were two options for the hike. The first was to go straight to the falls and come back the same way. That was about a mile hike. The other was a two mile loop that also went past the falls. We intended to take the one mile option but eventually, about one mile into the hike and at the top of a hill, we realized we had taken the trailhead for the two mile hike instead. Fortunately the weather was nice and Calvin only complained a little.

Because the hike was longer than expected it was around two in the afternoon before we arrived at our next destination: Urquhart castle on the banks of Loch Ness.

Upon arriving, we headed straight for the cafe in the visitor’s center. I had bars with me but they don’t really take the place of a real meal. We ate our food and then went and watched a short video on the history of the castle (contentious and a lot of feuds). Then we went down to wander around the ruins. It was pretty interesting and Calvin in particular seemed to like it. I think it’s because since it was in ruins, he was allowed to run and explore the place instead of dutifully trudging through a touring line. The castle was mostly in ruins but they did stabilize some of the areas so we could go up into one of the towers and look over Loch Ness. As expected it was very beautiful.

After leaving Urquhart Castle we headed down to where Fort Augustus use to be. The main thing of note here is they have locks for boats going to/from Loch Ness. Unfortunately, we were caught in traffic when the boats went through and the next time wasn’t till 8:30 so Calvin didn’t get to see the locks in action. By this point it was already pretty late (i.e. past 5) and shops were closing up so we headed back to Inverness for supper.

For supper we decided to try a restaurant called George’s Thai and South Indian food. We had looked at the menu out front yesterday but had passed because we’ve been eating a lot of Indian recently (the same thing happened in our 2006 trip to London). However, once we got back to the hotel and were desperately looking for more vegetarian food we figured out they served dosas! This was not on their outside menu. We went there tonight and they do indeed have Dosas and vada. It was very nice to eat something other than pizza.

Coming back to the hotel I stopped by the front desk because when our rooms had been cleaned they took away the washcloths without replacing them with anything. I mainly use my poof ball but it’s handy to have washcloths for Calvin. So, I went to the front desk and requested a washcloth. The clerk looked at me blankly. I explained that we had received fresh towels but the washcloths hadn’t been replaced. He continued to look at me blankly. So I hazarded “face towels??” His face cleared and he said, “oh, do we give those out?” I told him I wasn’t positive but there had been some when we arrived (our hotel in Edinburgh had not had any). He went and rummaged around in the back and emerged triumphant with the requested washcloths. He handed them to me with the comment that he learned something new today. Upon getting up to my room I looked up washcloths and learned 1) that they aren’t called washcloths here and instead are called flannel, or possibly face flannel1 and 2) it’s pretty common for hotels not to offer them (source).

I’m not entirely sure what we’re doing tomorrow yet. Jaeger is industriously typing away creating a plan while I write this. I think a train may be involved but I’m not sure.

Coda
It turns out my day was not quite as finished as I first thought when I wrote about our day last night. I had just drifted off to sleep when the fire alarm went off. I jerked out of sleep completely disoriented. I picked up Calvin, looked around vaguely for my shoes and decided it wasn’t cold enough to actually require shoes, wrapped Calvin’s blanket around him and headed out the door. I didn’t actually take the correct exit because I went by rote down the main hall exit. I got all the way down the stairs when the word went out that it was a false alarm. I got the impression that someone might have been trying to get out, or get in, and triggered the fire alarm instead. I groggily retraced my steps and got to the room door only to realize I had not grabbed my key card before leaving. I took nothing but Calvin and a blanket for him. Fortunately, Ted was a bit clearer headed and had dressed and grabbed his wallet. He also took the closer exit which I think means it took him longer to hear that it was a false alarm. In any case, while I was trying to decide what to do next he arrived and let us back into the room.

I put Calvin back to bed and he went to sleep again with only a faint complaint about me waking him up. I also went back to bed but it took me longer to fall back asleep.

  1. Our next hotel called them face cloths and they were available if you forgot yours.

Scotland – Day 5

We seem to be making a habit of waking up fairly late, dragging ourselves out of bed around 9 and then rushing to get the last 1/2 hr of breakfast. I think that’s how I react to jet lag. I have very little problem with waking up in the middle of the night but I like sleeping even more than normal. This doesn’t hurt our schedule too much because most tourist sites don’t open till 10 anyway.

After breakfast we drove to Cawdor Castle. Jaeger has gotten significantly better at driving on the left side. I no longer fear he’s going to scrape me and my side of the car off a building. Also, we have learned that Google maps work fairly decently in Scotland in terms of showing roads but you can’t trust the navigation. Thus, an official navigator is essential for getting around the roads in Scotland.

The drive out to the castle was very scenic. Having worked in Greeley/Weld County I’ve seen a fair number of farms but none are as picturesque as the ones I see here. I’m not sure if Scotland/Uk/European Union actually restricts large scale farms or if they exist elsewhere but I haven’t seen any yet. We were also fascinated by various road conventions:

  • They have what seem like fairly symbolic roundabouts: small (2 meter diameter) painted circles that you obviously are suppose to treat like a full round about.
  • We had a one-lane underpass where one lane was signed as the yielding lane.
  • We also came across a one-lane bridge with a stop light to indicate which lane was allowed to cross.
  • As a way to limit traffic speed they sometimes purposefully narrow the road to one lane with one side designated as having to yield to the other.
  • Quite a few of the backcountry roads have one-lane stretches with pullouts and the UK drivers very politely signal with their lights to give way to you.

One of the primary reasons we visited Cawdor Castle was because Calvin wanted to see more castles. Cawdor Castle was a different type of castle than Edinburgh. Cawdor Castle was never designed to withstand a true siege. It had a drawbridge but I think that was more for show than anything else. The insides of the castle were nicely furnished with a mixture of old and modern. Apparently the Dowager Countess lives there in winter when it’s not open to tourists. I was amused when we were ushered into the “old” kitchen to see a collection of good quality copper pots with a note that when the cook was informed the copper pots were going to be replaced with “better” modern pots, she quit. I can’t blame her the pots looked like they were in perfect shape. I was amused by a lot of the explanatory signs as they seemed to be making sly remarks and obscure in jokes. For instance, when discussing the modern kitchen, which use to be the school room, it noted the school room had done an excellent job of creating spinsters and invalids. I bet there’s some stories there.

Calvin liked the idea of the castle but seemed to get restless going through it. He enjoyed the grounds a lot more. They were very beautiful. Unfortunately, the holly maze was off-limits because all the visitors were bad for the holly roots. However, we still enjoyed strolling around the grounds. We had to leave sooner than Calvin would have liked because we had a very full schedule.

The next stop was site of the Culloden battle. Before going into the museum we ate lunch at their cafe. After lunch, we went in the museum and wandered around. Calvin didn’t seem as excited by this museum as he had for the one in Edinburgh castle. However, he really liked the war video reenactment. We went into a room that had movie screens on all four walls. There were no chairs, I think you were suppose to just stand in the middle. They showed a reenactment of the Jacobite troops advancing on the “government” troops and the massacre that followed (around 50 government soldiers killed versus 1500 Jacobite soldiers). I was a bit nervous about letting Calvin see it but he didn’t seem to mind (it was shot in black and white and showed men falling down but no obvious blood). In fact, Calvin wanted to watch it again but I thought once was enough. After we went through the exhibits we went out onto the battle field where it showed where the government lines were (with red flags) and the Jacobite lines (blue flags). It also noted that due to development the grounds were a a lot less marshy than they’d been for the actual battle. The Scottish clans tended to fight together so they had grave stones where the various clans were believed to have died.

After wandering around the battlefield we got in the car and drove a short distance to the Clava Cairns which I think archaeologists believe were old burial grounds. It’s not really big enough to be worth visiting if you’re not already in the area but it was interesting. Also, like pretty much everything else, very scenic. We took a short detour as we were leaving to gawk at a splendid viaduct that we believe our train to Inverness went over. Viaducts are a bit harder to gawk at when you’re riding on top of them. Jaeger took some pictures but we had a lot of very atmospheric mist so it’s unclear whether or not it’ll turn out.

After the Clava Cairns we had hoped to go up in the mountains and ride the Jacobite steam train. However, we didn’t have nearly enough time for it today (and now that we’re back, it appears we would have had to get tickets weeks in advance anyway). So instead we drove back to our hotel, parked, and got out to wander Inverness. The one thing I especially wanted to see was Leakey’s Bookshop and Cafe, a large used bookstore located in an old church. The atmosphere was everything I had hoped but the selection wasn’t what I was looking for. It seemed to specialize in old books and printings, some first editions, and what I really was looking for was something like Powells, some old stuff but newer stuff too. That being said, I was very happy to find a newer edition of Enid Blyton’s The Magic Faraway Tree (complete with updates to remove potentially offensive language).

We left the bookstore right before it closed at 5 hoping to find a cafe to grab a bite to sustain us until we could find a proper restaurant to eat at. Unfortunately, it turns out that almost everything in Inverness closes at 5. We eventually got lucky and found a Costas (like Starbucks) which closed “late” at 5:30.

With some calories in us, we went looking for dinner only to have my fears about vegetarian food in Inverness confirmed. Before coming I had looked online and hadn’t found very many options but I hoped that more would appear that just didn’t have their menus online. No such luck. Most of the vegetarian options seemed to be somewhat dubious. As in, you can have good quality food or vegetarian food but not both. We walked to one restaurant that was rated well on TripAdvisor and a commenter had mentioned his vegetarian daughter had “plenty of options.” We were hesitant since “plenty of options” from a non-vegetarian seems to often mean there’s a salad you can pick meat off. However, our options were limited so we walked over to look at the menu. Plenty of options in this case meant 3 vegetarian starters (one vegan, probably) and a vegetarian frittata (note, I’m not a huge fan of eggs). We passed and, out of desperation, went to Pizza Express for supper. This time I got an interesting pizza with beets, salad greens, pesto, and onion. It was good but I’m hoping we can find something other than pizza tomorrow.

Tomorrow we’re planning to drive around the Loch Ness area. According to several websites days 2 or 3 are the days tourists are most likely to get in an accident because they’ve gotten overconfident, relax, and their instincts from driving back home kick in. I planning on practicing my frantic shout of “left!” some more in case it’s needed.

Jaeger’s Pictures from May 19.

Scotland – Day 4

Last night we spent repacking our suitcases. It’s amazing how much disorganization only a couple of days of traveling can result in. It probably doesn’t help that we packed tight to reduce the amount of luggage we took.

This morning we woke up bright and early, finished putting stuff away, and went down to breakfast. After breakfast we took our luggage and hiked down to the train station. We arrived a half hour early and saw that the train to Inverness didn’t have a platform yet. We went and sat down and waited about 15 min till they finally assigned it to platform: #14. Just as we were getting up, we noticed the number had changed to #16. We waited a minute more and heard a “platform change” announcement for #16 and decided it was probably safe to go.

The train seats were setup with two seats on each side with rows facing each other and tables in the middle. We shared our section with another man. As promised, the scenery was spectacular. It reminds me of a lot of Washington except more sparsely populated and with more scenic buildings. Calvin did very well on the trip and spent most of the time listening to an audio book while coloring.

The train restrooms were interesting. The doors were mechanized and required pushing a button to open. Then you went inside, pressed a D button to close and then the L button to lock (at least I think that’s how it’s suppose to work). It’s a little nerve wracking not knowing for sure how to operate the door. It doesn’t help that they have an emergency button right above all the other lettered buttons. I think they need better instructions.

We arrived at Inverness and I felt we should take another bathroom break. I wasn’t prepared for the 20p cost per person (automated with turnstiles) but fortunately Jaeger had change. The plan was to get a taxi to take us to the airport where we were to pick up the rental. However, we decided we needed to eat before doing anything too involved. We walked around the corner from the train station, with our luggage, and found Pizza Express which is a chain pizza restaurant we had eaten at in Hong Kong. We got food and had a yummy lunch.

After lunch we got a taxi to take us to the airport. We walked up to a row of taxis and managed to get the attention of the first in the line. It was harder than it sounds since she was engrossed in a book. Unlike the taxi drivers in Edinburgh, this driver was pretty talkative. I think the most useful thing we learned was that a large cruise ship is scheduled to drop about 6000 passengers tomorrow so we should avoid Loch Ness and the city center tomorrow (sounds like they are suppose to be here only one day).

The taxi driver also had an amusing story about another American tourist who had hired her for a full day once. They had spent most of the day wandering around the various sites and were currently on a fairly boring stretch of the road. The tourist fell asleep only to wake up and start screaming. It gave the taxi driver quite a start until the woman calmed down enough to stop screaming and explain that she thought they were driving in the wrong lane because they were on the left side. This has apparently made the taxi driver very wary of letting Americans fall asleep in her taxi.

We made it to the airport car rental stand and after an eternity of tapping Jaeger was issued keys to a car and a car seat. We had expected a choice between a high back or low back booster and at first glance we thought we got a high back booster. However, upon further inspection, it turned out to be a full car seat that was borderline for Calvin’s weight and with twisted straps I couldn’t figure out how to untwist. So we took it back and got a high back booster instead which proved to be satisfactory.

Fort George is really close to the airport and the roads aren’t busy so we felt that would make a good practice run. Jaeger seemed to adapt to left side driving fairly well except he had a tendency to hug the side more than I was comfortable with. It doesn’t help that the roads are narrower than I’m use to. However, we made it to Fort George unscathed.

Fort George was pretty impressive and was built using a more “modern” star design instead of old-style castles. This design works much better once cannons started being used. It has a moat and high earth walls and originally had a couple of draw bridges. You could tell we were’t in the US because they had terrifying drops off the earth walls that were nicely signed as dangerous but not fenced in anyway. I insisted Calvin hold my hand when he went near the edge, much to his disgust. The fort sticks out onto a peninsula so has very good views from most angles.

We wandered around the fort for quite a while and ended up in the Highlanders’ Museum which is all about the Highlanders’ history of serving in the armed forces. We didn’t get much time at the museum because it was closing time.

The drive to our hotel was a bit more adventurous. Most of the adventure was Google’s fault. It didn’t seem to be aware that a good number of the roads were pedestrian-only so we ended up going in a circle. Once we turned off navigation it went a little better but we still had to do one u-turn where Jaeger temporarily forgot we were in a left-lane country. Fortunately, we’ve been married long enough that he figured out what my incoherent shrieking meant before any cars appeared on the road. I had been practicing a terse, but informative, “left” if this situation arose but when it did, speech deserted me.

We did make it to the hotel and checked in. Jaeger reserved a suite at the Glen Mhor Hotel which is very nice and spacious. There’s a sofa bed in the main room which connects to a very large bathroom and a bedroom with a king bed. Weirdly, the furniture looks like it could have come from Room & Board which is the only place that has furniture Jaeger and I can agree on. In addition, the main room windows overlook the river Ness.

For supper we hiked just a couple blocks to La Tortilla which is a Spanish-style restaurant (I wasn’t ready to get back in the car yet). Jaeger and I got vegetable paella and a potato tapas with a mildly spicy sauce on top. Calvin got a “Spanish omelet” which looked more like a frittata to me. However, the name wasn’t important as he devoured it.

While I like our new accommodations, Calvin doesn’t because his bed is now in a completely different room from ours. So I’ve told him that if he falls asleep and wakes up in the middle of the night (after we’ve gone to bed), he may come sleep in our bed. It’s a king size so there theoretically should be room . . .

Jaeger’s currently working on figuring out what we’ll do tomorrow. Hopefully we’ll figure out something that skips most of the cruise ship tourists. I do feel somewhat self-conscience complaining about the tourist other potential tourists ๐Ÿ™‚

For a parallel account of our fourth day in Scotland, see Star Fort.