I spent 2 weeks in Scotland.  The week of June 29th through July 5th in Edinburgh and the week of the 6th of July through the 13th in Inverness. They say, Edin-boro, not burg like in Pittsburgh.  I had an apartment North of town in a suburb called Newhaven.  It’s close to the docks but close enough to town to have a good position to do all the touristy stuff.  I am staying about a 10 minute bus ride outside of Edinburgh in a suburb over by the docks called Newgate.  This apartment is really nice with views from the living room over to the castle and a partial view of the bay.  Out of the kitchen window you get a full view of the bay.  I’ve spent most of my time in the kitchen/dining area.  There is no TV here but I watch some tele via the internet when I’m here in the evening.  I’m on the top floor which makes things quite, no noise from people walking above me on wooden floors!  But, with silence comes sacrifice, I have to walk 5 floors every day at the end of the day to get up here – no elevator.  This is typical in both the UK and Europe.  If a building is older than the 1960’s, it’s a good chance there is no elevator.  It only makes it difficult when I arrive with my bag and have to hoof it up, but as I said, the quiet in the evening is worth it to me.
I arrived on Sunday after a long days journey from Oxford in England.  I opted to take the bus from Oxford to London Heathrow and then fly up to Edinburgh.  Bus to Heathrow was just about an hour, I was there for several hours before my flight left and the actual flight time was just about an hour.  From the Edinburgh airport it was a quick 1/2 hour in to the main train station and then I cabbed it from there to here.  All that hassle was less than the train fare would have been from Oxford to Edinburgh and about only an hour faster once you factor in waiting time at Heathrow.  I’m surprised as small as Britain is that the train and bus service is not as fast as it is on the continent.  There are no fast trains from London to Edinburgh.  The direct trains still take about 6 hours and, considering the relatively short distance, that’s a long time.  I believe it’s about the same distance as Paris to Amsterdam but that trip is only 3 hours via the high speed Thalys train.  From Edinburgh to Inverness this Sunday it will take me 4 hours on a direct train and, I’m considering renting a car to get me from Inverness in Scotland to the Lake District in Northern England.  The drive should still take me about 5 hours but it’s better than waking up to catch a 630am bus that gets me near where I want to be by 1pm.  My only problem with renting cars is that I can’t drive a manual vehicle, I need to get an automatic car and that sometimes seems to present a problem with availability and cost.  
The Scottish countryside is beautiful.  Yesterday I took a tour to Stirling castle and that tour also went to Rosslyn Chapel.  Rosslyn Chapel was recently made über famous by Dan Brown’s Da Vinci Code and the Chapel recognizes that the increase from 35K visitors to over 150K visitors per year can directly be attributed to the book and the movie, they are quick to emphasize that Hollywood took many liberties with facts.  Same hold true with Braveheart and I’ll be taking that day tour tomorrow as long as I feel well.  Today I woke up with another cold, my second since I’ve been over here and the second one came too quickly after the first in my opinion.  I got the first cold about mid-May and that lasted a couple of weeks and now it’s only beginning of July and I have another.  This one is completely different from the first, so I know the first one did not linger and rekindle.  Since May the weather on the Continent and here has been quite warm and when it does cool off I relish the coolness and want it as much as possible.  I’m not one of those people that thinks a draft or going out with wet hair makes you sick, but I do think the ups and downs in the weather may make your immune system a bit wonky.    Anyway, I hope this doesn’t get in the way of my enjoyment of things.
I did miss the Braveheart tour more because I wanted to make sure that my mild cold didn’t turn into something worse and it didn’t. The following day I got to take my Robert the Bruce/William Wallace tour.  When you go to Stirling, there’s a statue of Robert the Bruce outside the castle and if you look across the way at the next hillside summit, you will see the William Wallace monument.  Today’s tour took us to that Wallace monument and I had fun climbing up the 263 steps.  Nothing compared to the 470-ish steps you climb when you go to the top of the Florence dome or the over 750 steps to get to the 2nd floor of the Eiffel Tower, but it was still some good exercise.  Towns like Edinburgh, Oxford and others I’ve been to recently are quite small and my per day mileage has been small compared to when I was living in Paris, Rome, Florence or when I was in London.  I’m looking forward to walking from Westminster to my apartment in South Kensington.  Anyway, the tours I took outside of Edinburgh were very nice and my time in Edinburgh was also excellent.  It’s a grand old city with some iconic buildings and the Scottish people are very nice indeed.  Within the city I visited the Castle and Royal Mile as well as their National Museum.  All worth a visit.
The train from Edinburgh to Inverness was almost 4 hours and went through some beautiful scenery.  One of the stops was Dahlwhinnie Distillery.  I almost jumped out of my seat.  I was planning on taking the train back there and go for a tasting but when I considered the cost of the train ticket from Inverness to Dahlwhinnie and back plus the tasting fee, I could buy a nice bottle of the stuff instead.  Dahlwhinnie is not just the name of the whiskey, it’s also the name of the town. I always enjoy in Europe that you can leave a city and within a short time you are in what appears to be a lovely countryside.  Then, you can tell when you start to approach the next large city when you see the burbs and those signs of civilization like supermarkets and car parks that are necessities to us but really scar the landscape.
Inverness is even smaller than Edinburgh and on one of our tours we were told that 80% of the population in Scotland lie between the cities of Glasgow and Edinburgh.  Once you are north there are very few inhabitants.  Inverness being the largest of the cities in the Highlands and Islands region had a population of less than 150K.  As in a lot of European cities, Inverness is by a river.  The river Ness which is only about 7 miles long and it dumps into the North Sea to the East and starts at Loch Ness to the West.  Loch Ness is a beautiful place and I had spectacular weather the day I took a cruise on the Loch.  As we were told several times on the tours I took, a Loch is a lake but it can also be an inlet of water even if it is sea water.  I got to visit a couple of castles up by Inverness, on Loch Ness is Urqhart Castle and the castle that was featured in several movies including the original Highlander film Eilean Donan castle.  Just like in Ireland, the Scots say “fill-um” when they say film (movie).  I also visited the Isle of Skye, but briefly, on one of the tours as well as the most northern tip of Scotland’s mainland, John O’Groats.  Not on purpose, I’ll be visiting England’s most western edge, Lands End next week.  These two points are only 873 miles from each other and many people hike or bike the full distance; often in the name of a charity.  John O’Groats is only about 8 miles from the Orkneys, which I did not go to and could not see because we got fogged in at the tip of Scotland on the day I was there.  Most people come up here to see puffins and through the lens and zooming in afterwards, I did catch one!  Puffins are better than penguins because they can fly.  Inverness itself has some cool walking trails and one of them is right out of town.  I walked about 4 miles of it to some islands in the middle of the river Ness.  Since it got dark at 11pm, I was able to do these kinds of walks in the late afternoon before dinner, which I normally had about 8pm.  I had a very nice apartment in Inverness as well.  This one I booked through booking.com which I’ve used when AirBnB does not have something I like or I am not staying in one specific spot for more than 3 or 4 days.  I’ve tried to stay put for at least a week at a time in a base where I can explore an area without too much trouble.  Although I have tried to pack light for these remaining months of travel, I still feel I overpacked but I think that’s only because the weather here has been a lot warmer than anticipated.  I expected it to be in the 60’s during the day and drop under 60 at night, especially way up in the North and Scotland but it’s been mid to upper 70’s and has not dropped much at night.  It has also been very very humid.  
So, my Inverness apartment was right across from the tourist office which is where 2 of the 3 tours I took departed from.  The 3rd tour I took departed from the bus station which was only about a 10 minute walk from my place.  I had a view on the castle but this castle is not open for tourism as it is and has been the county courthouse and jail for over 100 years.  The current Inverness castle is an 19th century structure but it has a nice view and gave me a nice view from both my bedroom and living room windows which both led on to the same balcony.  The balcony of the apartment stretched the length of the apartment.  I only enjoyed the balcony for a little while since I was out most days.  But, I always enjoy having an apartment and cooking for myself, relaxing, etc.  It’s not the same for me since I’m a female, to go out to a pub or watch a band play late night because I don’t feel safe or comfortable doing that.  This is where some friends would come in handy!  It’s not the only activity where a friend would come in handy.  The other thing I didn’t do much of were long hikes in the hills.  Unless I knew a walk was a loop and clearly marked, I have not engaged in it.  The weather changes very quickly and not having experience with both the ordinance maps and the terrain, I didn’t do any of these extended walks.  The few walks I did take, as in Inverness along the river or in the Lake District, around a couple of lakes, were very pleasant and I felt safe even when I didn’t see many people.  

So, I had thought of renting a car to take me from Inverness to the Lake District but looking at Google Maps, that was still a 5-6 hours drive, same as the train, so the train won out.  Train travel here is not cheap either  but when it is comparable in time and price, I will take the train over driving.  I’m catching up on this blog on a train from Penrith in the Lake District to Manchester Airport.  But, that explanation will come later.

The thing on everyone’s lips was the vote for independence from England which will take place on September 19th.  It sounds to me as though it’s going to happen but there are so many questions as to the details like, will there be a boarder crossing between England and Scotland.  Will there be a Scottish Pound and will they have their own passport.  There are so many Scots that live in England or have family there and the same holds true for English that work or have family in Scotland. They were also very proud that the Ryder Cup will take place there next month as well as the Commonwealth Games which are about to take place in Glasgow.  In all I should have taken more time to explore the outer islands and the far north but maybe on some other sabbatical year!

Too many photos to post here so go here:
https://picasaweb.google.com/104823087906895041287/Scotland?authkey=Gv1sRgCPeWs4HX-bH-7AE#

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