Sunday, August 31, 2014

Day 8: Kelvingrove

June 28, 2014

The next day was our only full day in Glasgow.  We took the subway up to the river Kelvin and walked around. For the other geeks out there, yes, this is the river that gave its name to William Thompson, 1st Baron Kelvin, who defined the absolute temperature scale and also did valuable work on data transmission rates and engineering stresses in the transatlantic cable.

We walked until the Kelvingrove Museum opened. It's another beautiful building, and as we came in, we heard the end of a concert being played on their great pipe organ.

We walked around several wings, but were particularly interested in the exhibition on Charles Rennie Mackintosh.  They had a good deal of his furniture and interior designs, which were lovely and distinctive in an Art Deco-inspired way.  They also had a gallery of work by the Scottish Colorists.  We've developed a policy in some of these large, multi-subject museums of picking one or two areas, often of local relevance, to see, rather than trying to take in everything.

We also wandered through a fascinating exhibit of Fred Farrell's WWI art (which was rather more interesting to us than the colorists, truth be told).  Some of the pictures on display were ones he drew on his own, which would not have been published at the time, such as those showing wounded, or the hardships in the trenches. One stark drawing of no-man's land- a torn and devastated landscape barren of life- was particularly poignant.

After seeing these exhibits, we found our way down to the cafe.  As it was just opening up, we took a turn around an exhibit on the growth of Glasgow in the Georgian era.

In the cafe, I continued with locally-themed day and ordered a bowl of cullen skink, which is Scottish seafood chowder.  It was delicious!

After the museum we walked around some more- out through the botanical garden (filled with informative plaques)- and caught sight of amusing (at least to us) signage.  (The bottom item - the Kibble Palace. We pictured a large building filled with cat food.)

We strolled back to the Clyde and visited the Riverside Museum.  Definitely a must-see for aficionados of transportation technology- boats, trains, bicycles, buses and just about anything else you could imagine. Do check out the virtual tour

Glasgow did not have the reputation of a tourist destination twenty years ago, but it has cleaned up very nicely in its post-industrial phase.  We thought that in terms of look and feel, it had more in common with other cities that grew significantly at the same time, rather than necessarily other cities in the UK.  

After dinner, we strolled back up to the Kelvingrove area to find a pub with live music and shared a table with a couple visiting from Finland while enjoying the toe-tapping music.  They were folk-dancers, they told us, and Scottish music was similar in feel to Finnish folk music.  When we'd finished our cider and the noise had gotten to be a little too much, we said goodnight and walked back to our hotel.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Day 7: The Bonnie, Bonnie Banks

June 27, 2014

We set out early for Loch Lomond and found our schedule driven by our dedication to using public transportation.  We got off the train in Balloch, and after strolling around getting oriented, located the ferry landing just after the boat left, and the next one wasn't for an inconveniently long time.

So, we set out to look over the bus schedule and found that the next bus going in our direction wasn't leaving for an hour.  It's this kind of thing that leads us to see things we might otherwise have missed, in this case a leisurely walk about Balloch Castle Country Park, which was lovely and had nice views of the loch.

Our bus eventually took us up the east side of the loch to the national park center in Balmaha. The park center was small but had some interesting exhibits, and afterward we weighed our (two) options, and in view of the somewhat cool morning, chose the hot sit-down lunch at the Oak Tree Inn instead of a cold sandwich. To our delight, the food was excellent and we plotted our afternoon feeling much refreshed.  We walked up the West Highland Way, following the lake shore and enjoyed the scenery.
After a pleasant hour or so, we came upon a ranger station and had a nice chat with the park staff.  (They told us how fortunate we were to have such nice weather...and were astonished to find out that this was usual for us during our UK visits.  They invited us to stick around.)  We looked at the map and consulted our plethora of schedules, and decided that we had enough time to walk to Rowardennan and make the last ferry across the lock to Tarbet, which has a train station.   The park staff assured us that the trail followed the lake and was mostly flat.  "Only one real hill,"  they said blithely.

We set off at a fairly brisk place, and were not in the least sorry to see more of the area.

However we soon came to doubt the ranger's veracity.  We had at least half a dozen respectable candidates for 'just one hill'.

We balanced scenery appreciation with the need to keep moving.

In some cases, the scenery looked back.

I was just as happy I wasn't taking the photos, as time ran shorter and we continued to hustle.
Me, hustling.
We reached the ferry landing with only about fifteen minutes to spare.  I used the time to score us a couple of cold drinks at the youth hostel next to the landing.

And then we were off to Tarbet, at last getting to see the shores from out in the lake.

We landed in Tarbet, which was a slightly larger village and walked the couple of miles up to the train station. Consulting the schedule we found a train due shortly and started speculating on what we might have for dinner when we got back to Glasgow.   Only the train did not come.  A train going the other way stopped and picked up most of the passengers waiting on the platform, leaving half-a-dozen puzzled people still standing there.  It was then that Jonathan consulted the schedule again and noted a small unobtrusive 'S'- denoting Saturday service only- next to the train listing.  Today was Friday.  We mentioned this diffidently to the other passengers and they all exclaimed, reviewed the schedule and agreed that we were out of luck. There was another train, fortunately, but not for two hours.

Jonathan and I contemplated our empty stomachs for a moment.  "You know," I said.  "We passed a restaurant just at the bottom of the hill before we turned up the station road."  We decided to go check it out. It was called Slanj, and turned out to be quite new, but located in an attractive renovated church.  And the food was excellent.  

We had a terrific dinner, walked back up to the station, experienced the insect life of Scotland (the midges come out at dusk, quite annoying). And then we took the train back to Glasgow.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Day 6: Falkirk and Stirling

June 26, 2014

The next morning we checked out of our hotel and boarded a train for the next stop on our journey.  We alighted at Falkirk, and after a certain amount of navigation by dead reckoning and directions from a friendly passerby, we found the canal walking path we were looking for:

From there we found our way straight to our destination, the Falkirk wheel. The Falkirk wheel is a boat lift, raising boats from on canal to another, 79 feet higher in elevation.  Due to the clever balancing, the wheel takes remarkably little power to operate.  There's a video here that shows how it operates.

They have a small visitor center and a 'water park', which we were amused to find was an area that demonstrated various types of hand-powered pumps filling miniature canals.   While it may have been designed for children, we had to try it out while we were waiting to see the boat lift in operation.
Engineers- not so different from children.
Finally they sailed a boat into the wheel and it started rotating. Amazing.  The pictures just don't give you a good feel for how big it is.

After that, we strolled back down the canal towpath to the train station and proceeded to Stirling, home of Stirling Castle.

Looking out from the castle walls, we could see the landscape over which was fought the battle of Bannockburn (think Braveheart- though every single guide we met first mentioned it, and then told us that the movie was wildly inaccurate).    As with many castles, it had fabulous views of the surrounding countryside.

And here's the view facing Bannockburn (a burn is a river) where the battle is believed to be fought. (Certainly where the historical reenactment was planned to occur.)

The interior was also spectacular- the Great Hall, which was added by a Scottish king to please his French wife (apparently the older parts of the castle were cold and drafty).

After seeing the castle we toured the 17th century townhouse of the Earls of Argyll.

After exploring Stirling, we hiked back down the hill to the train and finished out the day in Glasgow,

where we were checked into our hotel near the river Clyde.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Day 5: Engines of History

June 25, 2014

Museums don't open until 10:00 am, or at the very earliest 9:30, so we started off the day with a stroll down to the new town, where we found the Conan Doyle pub across the street from the writer's former residence.

In front of the house, there was a statue of the great detective himself, no doubt contemplating some interesting clue.  

After strolling and admiring the Georgian architecture, we headed for the National Museum of Scotland.  The building was fabulous:

We wandered around for some time.  We'd especially wanted to see a special exhibition on the invention of logarithms, which turned out to be off the main gallery.  Although the museum has some splendid general interest areas, we concentrated on the parts to do with Scotland.  We fell into conversation with one of the museum demonstrators and in addition to seeing a mill steam engine demonstrated, he also started up their Newcomen atmospheric engine for us.  (They don't actually run steam in the museum, they cycle the machinery using a modern system- I'm sure the museum's insurance company insists!)

From there we did some additional walking, strolling out past the University of Edinburgh and through The Meadows.  

As it got later, we turned back and found more music, this time in The Captain's Bar, which someone had told us about in the pub the night before.  We found ourselves singing along with some humorous Canadian songs, played by a fellow who turned out to be Grant Simpson, fiddler for the Scottish group North Sea Gas.  We had another delightful musical evening to finish our last day in Edinburgh. And now I really want to see North Sea Gas play as a group on their next American tour!  

Monday, August 11, 2014

Day 4: Edinburgh

June 24, 2014

The next morning, there was a slight drizzle on the streets, and the air was cool and damp.

We weren't about to let that discourage us, however, so we set out with umbrellas for Edinburgh Castle. We took the tour, then walked around the various buildings, taking the indoor areas first to get out of the wet.  The Great Hall was fabulous.  As were the Scottish crown jewels, but we weren't allowed to take pictures in there.

As the morning went on, the weather began to clear in fits and starts.  There were originally a lot more photos, but later in the afternoon I discovered that my camera was malfunctioning- the light meter had died and I had taken a number of photos of blank white rectangles.  Nearly all the photos you'll see from here on were taken by my husband with his cellphone.  But we didn't figure that out until after we left the castle, so there aren't as many of the castle as I would have liked.

As the weather cleared, the views from the castle were spectacular.

After lunch, with the weather clearing considerably, we set out for Arthur's Seat in Holyrood Park, a promontory overlooking the city.  As we climbed higher, the views got ever more striking.

We took a different route down, sensibly taking a longer path rather than a straight scramble down the rocks.  We observed other, less cautious hikers, having some difficulty descending.

After strolling back into the city, we found some dinner and headed up to Sandy Bell's, a pub with reputation as a music venue,  to hear a music session.  We love Scottish music, and really enjoyed the evening.  We walked back to the hotel relaxed and with fiddle music playing in our heads.