Make My Order Of Haggis a Double, Please

Jen and I recently went to Scotland with her family (HERE) and had a fabulous time exploring the Scottish Highlands.  We saw Aberdeen and quite a bit of the Scottish countryside.  Next on the agenda was a trip to the country’s capital, Edinburgh.  The original plan was to make it a day-trip, but we felt that there was too much to see and do in just one day (not to mention a two hour drive each way), so we planned an overnight stay.

Country road in Ballater
These dry stone walls have been used as field boundaries for well over a thousand years in Scotland
We set out early in the morning from our cottage in the charming town of Ballater, and headed south (still on the wrong side of the road) toward Edinburgh.  I was simply amazed to see how the landscape could change so quickly from one part of the country to the another (the colors went from a lush, fertile green to a more rustic, almost coarse landscape – beautiful in it’s own right).  
A hilltop basking in the sun, near Ballater – in the Scottish Highlands
A sheep sits down for a rest
Booming commercial center near Ballater
There was a long and desolate stretch of road as the hills flattened and changed their colors
We paused at a scenic overlook to drink up the new landscape
Jen and her sister, Jessica are naturals in front of the camera
Since we opted for an overnight to Edinburgh, we weren’t as rushed to get there, freeing up time to see another glorious castle.  Based on local feedback, countless websites and geographic convenience along our route, we chose to visit, Glamis Castle – often dubbed, “Scotland’s most beautiful castle”.   The current home of the Earl and Countess of Strathmore and Kinghorne (yes, they really do live there; we could still smell the pleasant aroma of red cedar in the fireplace from the night before) began in the 11th century with much more humble beginnings.  Set far in the woods within the town of Glamis, the current castle was once merely a hunting lodge nearly a thousand years ago.  But changes in Royal titles, transfer of property, the ego of a few as well as some sordid stories of murders and love affairs transformed a simple hunting lodge into the massive castle it is today.  There are legends of a ghost playing cards with the devil until dawn and myths of a monster strolling through the long corridors at night.  The castle plays a prominent role in Shakespeare’s MacBeth when Duncan is murdered by MacBeth in Glamis Castle.  And what proper castle would be without it’s Royal ties?  Glamis Castle has boasted a direct link to the Royal Family in many ways, since 1372 (most recently, the childhood home of the Queen Mother).
Glamis Castle
Welcome to Glamis Castle
Julia went right up to knock on the front door
“Well, if no one is home… I’ll just use this as a back scratcher” 
The lion’s are a symbol of the castle and appear in some form in every single room (except the chapel)
Interior photographs were strictly prohibited.  Obviously, I couldn’t resist.
Billiards room
Someone’s bedroom – I was hanging back too far to listen so that I could get this shot.  In retrospect, I see how dumb that was.  I’ll just call it… the “guest bedroom”.
My favorite room – the trophy room where Earl Beardie plays cards with the devil each night (behind the wall to the left)
After the tour (I’ll have you know, I only got scolded for using my camera about four times), we were free to walk about the museums and gardens.  First, we viewed a toy soldier exhibit and read more about the Royal history with the castle.  Then we strolled around the castle, along the nature trail and into the Italian gardens.
Impressive toy soldier exhibit
Private gardens adjacent to the castle
More lions
Castle from the side – the lion protects this side
Jen’s parents, Dominic and Diane snuggling up
And smooching a bit
Julia felt right at home in the Italian gardens
One of the garden’s intricate gazebos
A beautiful hedge wall enclosed the magnificent gardens
A path covered by a canopy of trees interweaving their branches
View from the garden looking back toward the castle
A similar view with Julia (who would barely stand still long enough to take one quick shot)
A second gazebo framing the garden
A guardhouse stands alone from the castle
View from the road as we departed such a magical place
After we left the castle, we pushed the rest of the way toward Edinburgh, pausing only long enough to capture a few wonderful scenic photos.  We arrived late in the afternoon and strolled around town.  We stopped for souvenirs and found a perfect kilt for Julia.  Jen’s father, Dominic suggested that it had been too long since our last whisky and so he purchased a few miniatures for us to enjoy as we took in the sights.  I didn’t hesitate to jump on board – that’s why he’s the best father in law around!
We would pass fields that glowed almost a bright, neon yellow
This guy was sitting on the job
I regretted this photo-op.  I think the booth was more commonly used as a toilet than a phone
 Gothic tower surrounds the statue of Sir Walter Scott, completed in 1846
Bank of Scotland, Head Offices
Allan Ramsay statue stands in front of Edinburgh Castle
Who can resist images created from flowers?!
Edinburgh Castle overlooks the older and newer parts of the city
Part of the castle
Every city has pricey real estate – you’re looking at some of Edinburgh’s most expensive private residences
And again from a slightly different angle – the old city frames the backdrop
This looks like  a good place for a “selfie”  LOL, #lovescotland
And this looks like a good place for a serious sip of whisky
Jess took a little sip of her own
The Anderson Clan
After walking for a couple hours, we bent the tour towards the George Street – a pedestrian friendly street full of pubs and restaurants.  We found one with tasty looking food, a good atmosphere and appeared to be baby-friendly.  We picked correctly and had a wonderful meal.  However, the best part was when we ordered the haggis.  Julia simply could not get enough.  She would scream for the waiter to leave her plate each time he tried to clear it, until she got every last morsel (for those that don’t know what haggis is… just google it).
Haggis and potatoes for the table to share and try (even Diane tried it… and liked it)!
Julia nearly finished the entire plate herself
The next day, we encountered a typical Scottish drizzle (perhaps a bit heavier than a drizzle).  With only indoor options appealing to us, but still a lot of city to cover – we found ourselves at a crossroads.  We discovered the perfect solution aboard one of the city’s “hop on-hop off” tour buses.  We were covered and warm, but still got to see all the highlights of the city, explained to us by a charming tour guide (through a thick Scottish accent).
Scotland is a city divided essentially in two.  There is the Old Town, composed of wonderfully narrow and intricately wound streets that exude more charm than you could imagine.  The west side of the Old Town is dominated by the large and imposing Edinburgh Castle.  Over time, as the city became more and more populated, Edinburgh became one of the world’s first cities to develop “high rises” with 11 and 12 story buildings built as early as the 16th century.  At one point in the 18th century, the city decided to assess property taxes based on number of windows in a building, so many building owners bricked over most of their tenant’s windows.  You can still see these tax-evading buildings as you drive through the city.  As population reached an all-time high in the Old Town, trash became a problem.  During the night, people would dump their trash and toilet refuse from their windows onto the streets below.  It became well known which streets to avoid after a night drinking in the pubs, lest you wanted a shower of the worst kind.

When the population reached an unmanageable amount, city planners developed the New Town on the northern end of the city.  A young, relatively unknown 27 year old, James Craig became the lucky architect for the new city.  He did a wonderful job establishing a well-laid city that stood in stark contrast of the chaotic city just south.  Edinburgh became divided by Princes Street.  Take note, that it is Princes (one “s”) and not Princess Street as many people mistake.  The King had two sons and named this important street after his two male heirs (plural for prince).  When the New Town became developed in the 18th century, the city planners hoped and envisioned that the cities elite would immediately move to newer section.  But no one did – no one wanted to move to what was essentially “the boonies”.  So the city built some of the most elaborate and beautiful homes and actually paid the cities upper crust to move into the New Town.*

Below are some shots I snapped on our tour as the bus rolled at a rapid pace through this fascinating city.

*The interesting little tidbits I sprinkled in above, were all given to me from the tour director.

Royal Scottish Academy, featuring a magnificent collection of works by Scottish artists
A street scene in the old city
A closer view as we drove beneath part of Edinburgh Castle

After experiencing a wonderful tour and benefiting from a clearing sky, we elected to exercise the “hop-off” feature of our tour and headed around a bit by foot.  We did a little shopping, a little walking and a little eating.  Diane got a plaque with her Clan’s tartan for her new home in Maryland.

Julia plays with her nonno
Striking church door
Julia turned out to be a pretty decent make-shift hat during a drizzle
Edinburgh is a port town – you can se the water along the horizon

We wrapped up an amazing couple days in Edinburgh and set our courses back to Ballater.  We travelled along a new route and got to experience even more of this wonderful country.  A few of my favorite images from the drive are below.

This was absolutely stunning in person
Why did the sheep cross the road?  So I could stop in wonderment that this was actually happening
He let me get about 10 feet away before he started telling me to back off
Our wonderful trip to Scotland had come to an end.  So too had Jen’s family’s visit with us in Italy – sadly, we bid them arrivederci, cheerio, adeus and a good trip home.

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