June 26th 2014: Edinburgh, Amsterdam and Vancouver

It was one day, but it was five meals, two plane rides and a nine hour timezone change. Starting in Edinburgh, we tried to sleep, but there were only armrest divided chairs to lie on, and there was construction all through the night. There was even a faulty fire alarm that kept going off. At 4:00 am we went through security and then boarded to fly at 6:00 am.

The Firth of Forth from the air

The Firth of Forth from the air

We arrived in Amsterdam for breakfast (Dutch pancakes, finally!) then bought our last souvenirs and rested til our next flight.

Yum!

Yum!

Coming to Amsterdam added an hour to the trip, but it was fun to leave from where we had arrived. Our flight was of course overbooked and we had to go security again for no reason, but we left on time and had good service. Because of the  time zones, it never got dark, so I watched a lot of movies, ate dinner for breakfast and lunch for second breakfast and slept a little. It was very strange when we flew in, seeing Vancouver again and realizing our trip was over and we were back in Canada. In my mind I was still next door to France, not on the Pacific ocean.

Back where we started

Back where we started

We took public transit to my aunt and uncle’s house, and although we were half asleep, got to see our three month-old baby cousin born right before we had left for Europe and eat Cesar salad, steak and carrot cake. Its good to be home.

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June 25th 2014: Edinburgh

Today was our final day in Edinburgh. Of course, it started with us packing up, having deep thoughts about our trip and then finally getting out of the apartment. We went to the castle one more time, had ice cream and walked down the Royal Mile to the Scottish Parliament. The building doesn’t look at all like Westminster, Parliament Hill or the Legislature. It’s all concrete, wooden beams and metal, since it was built in 1998. The chamber was a semi-circle, so the Members of the Parliament of Scotland (MPSs) had to turn around to address each other, but it was easy to watch from the balcony where we sat. The MPSs were asking the government about their education policies, which included programs for gypsies and bagpipes in elementary schools. The government’s answers all came back to how they couldn’t do anything when they split powers with the UK’s Parliament at Westminster. The Scottish Parliament acts similarly to our provincial governments, so they have control over education, health, housing and environment, but not foreign policy, defense and most of taxation. After watching the session, we walked down the street, passed Hollyrood palace (since the queen is visiting in a few days, we couldn’t go in) and started to wander up Arthur’s seat, the other volcano in Edinburgh.

Hollyrood seen from the cliffs

Hollyrood seen from the cliffs

The wandering turned into a walk and eventually we had walked a full circle of the cliffs. We didn’t make it to the top, but we got beautiful views of the city and a moment of Highland-like hiking.

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Back in town, Kate and I did the trampoline-bungy jump activity left over from the London Olympics. It was incredibly fun, but I was shaking after my seventh back flip.

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We ate supper (Fish and chips one last time!) at a pub, then grabbed our bags from our last European apartment. We had the tram to ourselves on the way to the airport, watching our last European sunset, then settled in with the other early morning flyers in the very basic Edinburgh airport.

June 24th 2014: Edinburgh

A very telling sign..

A very telling sign..

This morning we started through another part of the city, down by the river, the Waters of Leith. The bridges, walkways and random neo-classical monuments were all old and pretty.

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We circled back through the north-east area, which had lots of nice shops and even more old buildings, blackened by coal dust. Once we had hit Princes street again, we climbed up castle hill. My parents went to the Whisky experience, while Kate and I went to the Camera Obscura and World of illusions.  Known as Edinburgh’s oldest intentional tourist attraction, it had telescopes and a viewing room on the top floor and all sorts of illusions on the other five floors, including a spinning tunnel and a mirror maze. The camera obscura itself gave a 360 degree view of Edinburgh, while the guide had great facts about what we saw. The evening was quiet, with us sorting out our records for customs and realizing that we’re coming home.

June 23rd 2014: Edinburgh

Since Edinburgh is fairly small (500,000 residents) we were able to walk everywhere today. We stopped at a music store on the way in to town to investigate the Celtic scene. Then we walked around Princes street and a couple nice walking areas. Tartan is a way of life here, at least for tourist shops. After lunch in the park, we went to the Scottish National Museum. Its an art museum, but its free, requires no ticket and lets you stumble in and see really nice artwork, including some Monet, Degas and Van Gogh works. From there we walked up the hill to the castle, which is built on one of the two extinct volcanoes in Edinburgh.

The castle seen from Princes street

The  castle was really interesting, with great views of the city and the Firth of Forth, as well the Scottish crown jewels, the place where James I/VI was born.

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To get back down to the New Town, we took High Street, which has become a line of overpriced tourist shops. It was a relief to be back in our area, with a lot fewer people. Unfortunately, when we got back I went through my bag and realized I`d lost some of belongings in the past few day, so it was a bad end to the day.

June 22nd 2014: Wick and Edinburgh

We said goodbye to Wick early this morning and retraced our steps down to Inverness. Suddenly there were more trees, bigger hills and a lot more people. The plan was to drop off the car, leave the keys and head to the train, but the rental car company gave one last hurrah of disorganization (never ever use Europcar if you can help it). we eventually left, walked to the train station and had a look around since it was there my grandparents met during the Second World War. The train to Edinburgh took us right through the highest part of the Highlands and past where we swam near Perth. We got to cross the Firth of Forth, and had only a quick walk to where we’re staying.

June 21st 2014: Wick and around Caithness

Our first order of business this morning was to visit the Gunn Clan museum, who I’m distantly part of. My great-great-great grandfather immigrated from Scotland during the Clearances, and we’d always wanted to come back and look at our ancestral stomping ground. The museum was in an old church looking down on the sea, surrounded by green fields.

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It was small, but had nice displays about the original Norwegian Gunns, the conflicts with the other clans and all the loosely affiliated names and people. Then we went searching for our “castle”, which was destroyed by the Keiths. We found two mildly promising ruins, one defended by cows and the other by rusty old farm equipment. It was fun anyways.

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You see that pile of rocks completely surrounded by cows? That’s ours!

For lunch we bought crab sandwiches at a pretty little harbour, then drove north to Duncansby Head, near John o’Groats. Home to big cliff formations (the witches’ hats) and nesting birds, it was very pretty!

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You could see the Orkneys straight across the strait.Then we went to the Castle of Mey, where the Queen Mother had lived. East of there was Dunnet Head, our next stop and the most northern part of mainland Britain. Looking back, we were looking at all of Scotland and England, where we’ve been for the last couple weeks. Just down the coast was our last visit, the town of Thurso. It was dead quiet when we arrived, so we went down on to the sandy beach. On the way back up, we saw and heard some bagpipers. Scotland!

June 20th 2014: Inverness and Wick

The day was supposed to be a short one. Our trip to the Culloden museum was successful. It was very interesting, showing a time line of the government supporters (English, Highlanders, German) and the supporters of Bonnie Prince Charlie (Highlander, French, Irish) as they fought for control of Great Britain.  A movie showing a re-enactment of the battle, and a GPS enabled audio-guide made it very easy to understand. Next, we drove up to Loch Ness, because we just had too. There was a Nessie museum, but we passed it over for the equally credited gift shops and a walk down to the lake.

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We had just started to drive back to Inverness when the plan came undone. Our car went over a large rock and in the next hour, slowly deflated. By sheer luck we pulled off the highway and into a service station at Skiatch. Our tire had been popped by the rock, and with the help of a couple passing mechanics, we switched it for the spare. A long series of phone calls were made to the rental company, who, after two hours, told us to drive a half hour back to inverness to pick up a different car. We thanked the many Skiatchians who had helped us, then went to the Inverness airport. There was another long wait while the company did more phoning and paperwork, so by 8:30pm, we had a new car, a couple ridiculous fees and an extreme impatience for Europcar.  Taking advantage of Summer Solstice, we drove until 11:00pm while it was light, and were thrilled to have actually arrived.