Saturday, May 12, 2012

A couple of drowned rats

Boy oh boy, Edinburgh day on Thursday was disastrous weather-wise! We woke up and it was rainy and absolutely freezing. After an okay breakfast at the hotel we decided to tackle the Royal Yacht Britannia and Edinburgh Castle. Due to the weather we drove, down to Leith for the Queen’s Yacht to start with. Brilliantly there is free carparking there, you get to the Yacht through a very big and nice shopping centre. The boat was awesome, frankly I went around feeling mega jealous of the Queen for being able to own and travel on such a boat! The Queen’s apartments and staterooms were so nice! Which you’d expect, of course, but it felt like you were in a house on the sea – I could definitely see myself hanging out there on a nice cruise around the Mediterranean. Mmmmmm... We also got to see the ‘downstairs’, i.e. the crew’s areas, which were also not too bad but seriously when I’m on those ships I can’t think of anything worse than being a sailor – it’s so claustrophobic and it smells funny. I’m sure my crew won’t mind though...

HMY Britannia

Mads with the audio guide, in the control room (?)

Feeling right at home. 

Cold, wet day. But we were determined to hear what those audio guides had to say!!

A Rolls, in case you need to pop out at the next port...

The Queen's bedroom

The state room

Here's one for Ben: swords with sharks teeth instead of a blade. Ouch!

The Queen's study

I really liked this room - Prince Phillip's study. 

The living room. 

We had lunch at the shopping centre, I had the most delicious tomato and basil soup, yum yum yum! Then we headed out again to Edinburgh Castle. A little problematic (of course), as basically the whole middle of Edinburgh has been torn up with road work, so the Audi had a little trouble trying to figure out which way we should go. But we made it in the end – and it started to pour!! But hey, you can’t go to Edinburgh and not go to the castle, right? Plus we had a mission: try and find a cannon for Dad that a formation at Jenolan Caves is named after – but he didn’t know the name of it or where it was or anything... Ah well, we’d do our best!

Edinburgh Castle perched high atop the volcano. Very intimidating...

To be honest, the castle was a bit disappointing. I don’t know if it was because we were soaked through with icy, icy rain and so couldn’t really look around properly – me literally because I was wearing my glasses and they were covered in raindrops, and whenever I breathed they would fog up – but there were other reasons as well. For a start, the place has never really stopped being used in an official capacity, so there are a lot of areas that are blocked off because they house offices. Also it means the rooms have been renovated a lot as they’re used for state functions, so you don’t really know if what you’re looking at is actually old or if it’s just been done up to look old. I suspect much of it comes under the latter category, such as the Great Hall in the Royal Palace. The second reason is sort of related to the first: the bloody Victorians got hold of it. Feeling a sudden surge of patriotism they decided to ‘fix up’ the castle and make it look like the romantic castle of their dreams. Thankfully many of the proposals to almost completely change the place fell through in favour of ideas that were more conservational, but there are a few Victorian additions, such as the gate house. And I guess compared to the Tower of London, and even Dunottar, it just wasn’t as good!

At any rate, we did have a fairly good look around, and it is an incredibly formidable fortress, perched high up on an extinct volcano, looking over the whole of Edinburgh. And we had a very spooky time in the military prison, sort of hidden away in a deserted corner of the castle, complete with creepy dummies in the cells – we were the only ones in there and we couldn’t get out fast enough! We also saw the Honours of Scotland, which are basically the very nice and sparkly Scottish Crown Jewels (which, I might add, were saved from Cromwell and his armies at Dunottar and secretly smuggled out. Scotland, you can thank us later...) and the Stone of Destiny, which Mads has been obsessed with for some reason: basically all kings of Scotland must be crowned on this stone, so, naturally, the English nicked it to use in their coronations because the English monarch is the monarch of Scotland too. Apparently in the 80s I think, some students nicked it back from Westminster Abbey, and so the English decided to give it back – on the proviso that it is still used whenever the next King/Queen of Britain is crowned.  There is also a really nice little tea place in there, where we stopped for a bathroom break and a warm, delicious hot chocolate.


The Royal Palace

The Great Hall 

A large, very decorated fireplace in the Royal Palace. These rooms are quite nice, still used for state functions.

Such a beautiful day! Looking out over Edinburgh from the castle.

Yum yum yum, hot chocolate with melty marshmallows.

Eventually the freezing cold got too much for us, and our poor little toes were soaked through, so we decided to leave. Oh, and I believe the relevant cannon, Dad, is probably the Mons Meg, one of the oldest cannons in the world apparently and it is bloody huge!

Mons Meg. I'm providing scale. 

So we made our way out past the ice cream van parked out the front (I was completely speechless. You would have to be INSANE to buy ice cream on a day like that! What were they thinking??? I practically was an ice cream myself!!) and went to one of the fifty tartan and souvenir shops in the street leading up to the castle, where Mads bought herself a scarf in the Keith tartan. Back to the hotel to check that all my toes were still attached, and attempt to defrost them, only venturing out again to get pizza for dinner.

Just a wee bit chilly

Couldn't see much. I need windscreen wipers. 

This street has about fifty clan/tartan/souvenir shops.

Yesterday was a bit of a write-off. We hopped in the car again, heading SOUTH this time toward Liverpool, where the plan was to catch a ferry to Dublin. This part of the trip I deliberately hadn’t planned too much, because I thought it might be nice to try a bit of spontaneity – people always seem to be going on about how good spontaneity is. They are wrong. To start with, Liverpool is possibly the worst-signposted place on the planet. You would think finding a dock at which many people catch ferries to other countries would be easy. Instead, after following signs for ferries to a point, they all disappeared and left us to our to our own devices. There is even a sign to ferries to Dublin (yay!) which are actually out of date because those ferries don’t go to Dublin anymore (ooookay). After a couple of hours (this is after four hours driving just to get to Liverpool in the first place) we found a nice person in a cafe who printed directions out for us from the P&O website, so we were able to get to the docks. We discovered that the next ferry would leave at 3.00am, so we booked our tickets and checked in to a hotel for a couple of hours for a shower and a snooze.

I can’t really tell you much about the ferry at all, because Mads and I managed to sleep almost all the way there. We were the only people on the whole boat who weren’t in a cabin, so we had a whole room of seats to ourselves, and they give you real pillows and full size, really warm blankets. They also gave us breakfast at 9.30, which we woke up for (seriously, bacon in the UK is awesome. Yuuuum!). Then we arrived at the dock and got back in the Audi, who seemed to also have had an okay trip, drove off and we were in the Republic of Ireland, our other ancestral home! Amazingly enough we didn’t even have to get our passports checked or anything! Very relieved to find they do drive on the left here, but trying hard to readjust to kilometres per hour rather than miles per hour (pretty important to get it right, there is a fairly major difference between travelling at 30km/h and 30mph) and having to figure out Euros after finally having got used to pounds... irritatingly Euro cents are gold coloured and full Euro coins have a lot of silver on them. So I’ve just been handing notes over all day.

See ya Liverpool. 

Sleeping on the boat.

Land ho! First glimpse of Ireland.

Anyway, we found a carpark in Dublin and went to explore. And can I say, that for both Mads and myself, it was love at first sight. Dublin is amazing! I don’t know what I’d expected, but it is just so pretty and so cultural! There are galleries and museums everywhere. Our day in Dublin started out very well as a couple of Irish boys tried to chat us up as we walked along. Naturally we were chuffed, who doesn’t love an Irish accent? However we declined and continued on our way. We started our sightseeing at Trinity College, which was founded by Elizabeth I, because we happened upon it first. We wandered in, it was really pretty, then decided to go and see the Book of Kells, a book containing the four Gospels from the New Testament that was put together by Irish monks around 800BC. It was very beautiful, as were the other ancient texts on display, but the real treat was to come: the famous Long Room of the Trinity College Library. I’d seen pictures of it, I’d read about in Ulysses by James Joyce, but nothing can really prepare you for actually being there, it is incredible. It is massively huge, with old, old books from floor to ceiling over two floors. The arched roof is stunning, the smell of the books, the whole place is just amazing. 600 years of knowledge amassed into one room, plus the knowledge that greats such as Joyce, Bram Stoker and Oscar Wilde stood there too. We were in awe. We didn’t want to leave. We literally just stood rooted to the spot for ages not trying to figure out how to steal a whole, massive room without anyone knowing. Mads even confessed that Cambridge, where she has always dreamed of going, may have been usurped by that one library.

Trinity College.

We wandered through St Stephen’s Green, a big park in the middle of the city, which was lovely, and saw a people’s art exhibition with some really beautiful paintings – I saw a few I was tempted by, if it weren’t for that small matter of getting my stuff home to Australia. We then went to the National Museum of Archaeology, and I can safely say that it is the absolute best museum I have ever been to – if you know me, and the number of museums I have been to and loved, you will know that is a huge call. Even better than the British Museum! But seriously it is amazing. The artifacts they have there are absolutely incredible: Viking leather satchels and shoes, an ancient book of Psalms discovered in a peat bog and painstakingly separated out and cleaned, bog bodies (which I have to say were very appropriately presented – they’re all in one room, but each of them are in their own private cubicle things. We could only bear to look at one, because they are pretty horrible really), and ordinary sorts of medieval objects, rather than the usual religious relics you see. One of my favourite pieces was a little gold boat from the 1st Century BC which was found in Ireland, with little oars and a rudder and seats in it. But we didn’t get nearly enough time in there. We had booked a hotel in Dublin for last night, but obviously we spent the night on the boat instead, and tonight we are in a nice hotel in Cork, so we had to leave Dublin a lot sooner than we’d have liked. There are a few more places I’d like to see there (plus these really fun looking Viking duck tours, you know those vehicles that go on the road and in the water - everyone gets to wear a viking hat and they cheer a lot, how fun!!), but Cork seems like a nice place. Driving through Ireland was stunningly beautiful, too. Somehow it seems greener than England even: I think perhaps it’s not as cleared, there are more trees around. We also saw a lot of old, crumbly towers dotted around the place, which was cool, very Rapunzel. Another thing I like about Dublin (and Ireland in general) - all the signs are written in Irish as well as English. I'd love to hear someone speaking it while we're here!

A glorious day at St Stephens Green

The National Museum of Archaeology. Spectacular.

It's the kind of museum where you don't know if you want to look at the artifacts or the building itself. Beautiful!

My fave: little gold boat from the 1st Century BC

Just a street in Dublin, it's such a pretty city!

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