Scotland (Edinburgh and Glasgow) and Wales (Caernarfon, Conwy, and Cardiff).

August 20

Welcome to Edinburgh! I checked into my B&B, the Cherrytree Villa Guesthouse, early (remember that 5AM get-up for the 6:30AM flight?!) and after a semi-trauma with the internet, I went out.

The internet didn't work in my room up high on the 3rd floor behind a fire door. Oh Emm Gee. You can just imagine.

I was in a major twist but I got over it. Why did I get over it? Because the owner, Peter, although he could not get the internet to reach my room, he tried things, made some calls, and was nothing but courteous and helpful throughout despite my rising agitato. And what really did it was that I overheard him so many times interacting with his staff in the same way - courteous, helpful, and kind. I forgave him the internet and did my thing in the breakfast room.

So...after all that I went out in search of a beer. This place was just a couple of blocks away and I loved it. All these guys were SO chatty and full of advice and good cheer. I ate lunch there too.
Out for a walk. This library was great and they have an excellent online presence with tons of videos to watch.
One of the many historic pubs. I never did run across a pub in Belfast that had the feeling of the pubs in Dublin but here we're back to the easy times...
...easy to be in, comfortable, bright and friendly and welcoming.
On the stairway leading up from the bathroom, with a painted mirror and wallpaper. Wow, one of my favorite reflect-o shots so far.

I have noticed that the restaurants and pubs don't bother using ground floor real estate for toilets so it's always a hike.
Oh goodie, Edinburgh's by-now-legendary Fringe Festival. What a highlight and I didn't even know it was going to be on when I planned to come here.

My first stop was this old church were they had a continuous free performance of high quality acts. I saw three of them at one time or another and would not be able to choose a favorite they were all so different and all so good.
Against the wall of the church, this guy was doing art.
Along the Royal Mile, the main pedestrian stretch that leads up to the Edinburgh Castle, there are buskers who perform hoping you will give them money and there are the festival acts passing out flyers trying to get you to come to their show.

The buskers have an organization that handles the where and when for them on a daily lottery so there is no jockeying for position.

And for the festival acts, it's all set up in advance and posted on the street. Each act gets 15 minutes 2 or 3 times a day to perform and to get you interested enough to take a flyer.

ALL of them are so very very entertaining. I walked around so very very entertained. Really, amazing amazing.
A scene on the Royal Mile around the big church.
Passing out flyers for a play 'Father Christmas Needs a Wee'.
Another one...
...and another one. Most of those little street-blocking towers had somebody standing on it trying to get your attention.

All this went on during the day. By 6pm only the buskers were left since the folks doing a show were off to their respective venues.
Look how much fun they're having. Oh there are more pictures, but you get the idea.
There are upwards of 200 venues around town doing Fringe Festival performances, some stages, some pubs, some book stores, some churches, and etc etc etc, like the place here.

As you walk around you see a standardized size for the venues saying for example 'Venue 147', and you can look up what's going to be there.

There are many free events but most have tickets required. The popular ones from previous years are often sold out or you have to queue up for a seriously long time. I was way happy just enjoying the street and stopping back at that free church to see what was on.

Had I known enough I would have planned ahead!
August 21

Look Who's Here?! YES! Bill, Cheryl, Mindy, and Ken all on a Crystal Cruise stopping in Edinburgh, and hence my timing.

Here it's our too fun lunch but I wanted to put this picture first.
We did a nice HOHO tour around town and we had to put up our umbrellas only once.
Originally named the North British Hotel in 1902, renamed the Balmoral Hotel in the late 1980s despite the real Balmoral being more than 100 miles away.

It's quite splendid and that's the word I used over and over. Oh, that's a splendid building. Look at that, that's splendid.
Way at the top of another splendid building.
Pretty splendid.
A view of a street in Edinburgh.
A memorial to Sir Walter Scott called the Scott Monument. You can walk half-way up for a good view but we didn't.
And another take on the Balmoral.
After the HOHO ride we had a good lunch at a pub in the first picture from today, and then we walked for a few minutes down the Royal Mile to enjoy more from the Fringe.
There are probably 20 of these performances going on all along the way.

And another thing I think is so commendable about the Fringe Festival is that it is not basically about drinking. All these young arty types around town and no one I saw was sloshed on the street.

I read recently that the population of Edinburgh grows to three times its normal size during the festival. That is one gigantic number.
And then we walked up to the Edinburgh Castle for a tour.

LP: "The brooding, black crags of Castle Rock, rising above the western end of Princes St, are the very reason for Edinburgh's existence. This rocky hill was the most easily defended hilltop on the invasion route between England and central Scotland, a route followed by countless armies from the Roman legions of the 1st and 2nd centuries AD to the Jacobite troops of Bonnie Prince Charlie in 1745."

Here we are at the top of the hill and you can't see the brooding black crags but they are there.
The commanding view of which they speak.
Ken had to go back to the ship to work and we did another little walk-about and then...
...we went to have a perfectly delicious dinner at Whiski Bar. We all got different things and everything was excellent - very exciting.

And then...
...the Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo!

This is the opening ceremony and what it looked like from our seats.
The Tattoo is also on in August at the same time as the Fringe so that's good, you get to see both, but adds to the enormity of the crowds, the expense of accommodation, the queue for food.

We begin. One hundred bagpipers and one hundred drummers entered the field in close formation playing Out Loud.
There were a number of specialty acts that followed including a Mongolian group here. They used projections on the castle walls, different for each group.

Between the big performances there were a few breaks with more pipe and drum numbers. I was drawn back into the kids' participation in the Granada Hills High School Highlander Marching Band and it made me smile.

We also had a performance by a Korean group, a group from Mexico, a local children's choir...
...this motorcycle act.
It was all quirky and fun and that would have been good enough but then the group from New Zealand came on and raised the level of the entertainment to Great.

The New Zealand Army Band played beautifully, their field show was a total delight, and the drill team they travel with, the Lochiel Precision Marching Team, was heart-stopping. The whole crowd was silent, holding their collective breath, wondering if it was possible that they could finish their routine without a mistake. And then came the roar of appreciation when they were done.

(internet pix)
The grand finale bringing everyone back on the field...
...and fireworks. Wow. Fond farewells to the Roberts family and I'm heading to bed.
August 22

The view out my window Thursday, and since I still hadn't figured out what I was going to do for the following three nights I settled into making those plans, working on pictures, and getting ready to go.

Next stop: Glasgow!
August 23

Arriving in Glasgow my new and very kind airbnb host came to the train station to pick up my bag so I could stay in town and do some touring. That was lovely of him and then he drove me into town the next three mornings too which was a good thing since his place was Far. I did get myself home in the evenings. (A reminder of what happens when I leave my arrangements for the last minute...)

The first thing I ran across was this Gallery of Modern Art and come to find out all the museums in Scotland are free so no reason not to have a look around.
A view out one of the windows in the Gallery of Modern Art.

This is a good example of the feeling of downtown. This area is actually called Merchant City and seems more of a downtown than downtown.

Glaswegians, which is what they call themselves, like to say Glasgow is 'The Second City of the British Empire' which was true when there was a British Empire but now-a-days it's pretty far down the list.
Another city of fantastic buildings.
Carlton Place Suspension Bridge by Alexander Kirkland in 1853 spanning the River Clyde.
The Metropolitan Cathedral Church of Saint Andrew, mother church of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Glasgow.

The groomsmen were gathering for that afternoon's wedding. I haven't seen anyone using kilts as everyday street wear but they are definitely what 'one does' for special occasions.
I picked this Italian restaurant for a break and some food because it was just the right amount of crowded, it was light and friendly looking, and they had great chairs.

The food was ok, not great, but this guy, the Italian waiter, was in an exceptionally chatty mood. He could have been working in any Italian restaurant in LA.
That sign was fun leading into what looked like a block-sized warehouse converted into a Vegas style collection of themed restaurants .. Where it Never Rains.

I went in there because it started raining. Fortunately it stopped because I became interested in getting back since I wasn't 100% sure of how to do it. It went very smoothly with plenty of help from my bus mates.
August 24

Paul took me on a nice tour this morning including some driving around town and this museum, the European Museum of the Year 2013, Riverside Museum which absorbed all the items previously displayed at the Transport Museum of Glasgow.
Planes, trains, and automobiles .. and ships and bikes and all sorts of wheeled devices.

Glasgow is another big shipbuilding city from when Britannia Ruled the Waves.
Their website: "One of the old Museum of Transport’s most popular areas was Kelvin Street. At Riverside Museum there is a recreated street from 1895 - 1930, plus two additional display areas depicting shops from the 1930s, right through to the 1980s, giving visitors a fantastically detailed insight into Glasgow's distant and more recent past. For the first time, visitors can access the shops and subways. These 'shops' include an Edwardian photography studio, a 1930s' Italian Café and a 1960s' garage."
And out back you can have a tour of an old cargo sailing vessel that used to travel around Cape Horn. That's us enjoying a nice day.
We had lunch and I ate Cullen skink. It's made of smoked haddock, potatoes and onions, thinner than a stew but thicker than a soup, and it was yum.

Then Paul dropped me off at the Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum.
Charles Rennie Mackintosh, a contemporary of Frank Lloyd Wright, is The Man around here. wiki: "Scottish architect, designer, water colourist and artist. He was a designer in the Arts and Crafts movement and also the main representative of Art Nouveau in the United Kingdom. He had considerable influence on European design. He was born in Glasgow and he died in London."

He had a whole room in the museum and I saw some of his buildings on the street.
Another view.
Pretty professional-looking protest signs.
Across from the museum, one of the fine buildings at the University of Glasgow.
West side city housing in Glasgow.
I climbed up two very steep blocks to see one of Charles Mackintosh's most famous buildings, The Glasgow School of Art.
There is a huge construction project across the street, an expansion of the art school that has been in process for more than two years. The fence that surrounds the construction is six feet from this building so I couldn't get a better view than this.
There are two pedestrian malls in Glasgow city center, the one along Sauchiehall and the larger along Buchanan. The buildings are really fabulous but the stores seem all mall chains and the crowds are mall crowds x4, and mostly I just wanted to get off those streets.

But these guys were there and they were awesome. It's amazing how one bagpipe can soar over all those huge aggressive drummers. Quite a different look and feel from the formal pipe and drum corps of the Tattoo.
August 25

Sometimes you can travel long-distance on the bus and it's less expense or more convenient than the train, but then you have to go to a bus station. I always, whenever possible, use the train.

When you use the train you get to go to the train station. Here's the Glasgow Central Station. It's a good one.

I went to the train station the day before to get tickets for this trip and for my onward journey. I could have bought them online but leaving Glasgow it was going to be so expensive I thought how much worse could it be if I waited. It turned out to be WAY better! The woman at the train station found a way to buy separate tickets that I wouldn't have found online and saved me Real Money and cost only an hour extra in time.
This was a particularly good train station sandwich, sharp cheddar and soft scrambled eggs in a warm toasty crusty French bread, and very good coffee.
At the train station in Skelmorlie where...
...I caught the ferry for the ride to Rothesay on the small Isle of Bute along the coast of the Firth of Clyde.

It took me a few times to realize the town they were talking about pronounced RAWcee was the town I wanted to visit.
Everyone including me was appreciating the sunny sky.

During this 30 minute ferry ride I became convinced that the next place I want to go is the Galapagos. When I looked it up I remembered why I hadn't gone yet - Big Buck City. We'll see - I'll have to work on that when I get back.
A cool view through the dirty window on the ferry.
In the town, that's the information center behind the statue in a glass domed building, I think they called it a summer garden house.
The small port and the ferry.
I walked for a few miles along the coast...
...and up this path because it looked like it led somewhere, which turned out to be to the inset house. When I got good and done I hopped a bus back to town.
And they have a castle, Rothesay Castle.

It took a little less than two hours to get out here and two hours to get back and then a 15 minute walk from the Central station to the bus stop for the 30 minute ride back to Paul's, not counting the waiting time for the bus.

The train ride was beautiful as was the ferry ride and the walk through town was nice too .. so a lot of transit time but it was worth it.

Important note: the weather was very uncharacteristically bright and gorgeous. Don't come to Scotland expecting sunny skies!
Back home, I took a stroll through Paul's garden and found this in a small green house in back. Tomatoes growing in a bag just on the floor.

I've never seen anything like this. Paul said it was a bit of trouble at the beginning because you have to keep pulling out the extra plants leaving just one to grow in each section.

Tomorrow we'll leave at 6:30am for me to catch a 7:10 train to Caernarfon (pronounced kaNARvn) in Wales. Aye Scotland, it's been grand.
August 26 and 27

Today I took the very early long train ride from Glasgow, Scotland to the seaside castle town of Caernarfon (pronounced kaNARvn) in Wales.

It's so cool. I'm standing in front of my hotel looking down the street through the tourist shops and restaurants right at the castle.
I still had an hour before they closed the castle so I went right in.
A view from the castle wall...
...and a view from the highest tower. The climb up to the top of this tower was something, the stairs were narrow and of uneven height, but steep and tight.

On the last step down which was extra steep I could feel a little pull in my thigh. Oh no! But I didn't fall and I've been extra careful for the last two days. At this moment during the afternoon of the 28th all is back to normal.
Intact city walls. This little town was really charming.
It's another Monday Bank Holiday, the second since I've been traveling, and many of the restaurants are closed. Look at those comfy chairs to sit in the window and watch the action. But not for me today.
(btw...The sign is from a museum and the menu is from a real restaurant.)

Check out that Welsh language sign. Yes.

And check out that menu of Welsh Classics. Yeah, I didn't eat any of those. The specialties in Scotland of haggis and blood puddings, I skipped those too.

The fish has been overall the best choice including smoked cod and salmon preparations. I had fish and chips twice of uneven deliciousness.

Snacking off the street is great, my favorite but it's also very pastry heavy so last night for dinner when I was in the restaurant with my computer because yet a-Gain the internet didn't reach my room, I had two giant side orders of vegetables - cauliflower and cheese sauce, and broccoli with butter. Tomorrow I'm going to give fish and chips another try!
My cute little hotel of strange hallways and winding stairs and oddly shaped rooms.
I enjoyed this town.

Tomorrow I'm going to visit another castle town, Conwy. Both these towns and castles are part of a UNESCO World Heritage site. I was hoping to make it to Beaumaris too but I couldn't make it happen without a too crazy rush.

UNESCO: "The four castles of Beaumaris, Conwy, Caernarfon, Harlech and the attendant fortified towns at Conwy and Caernarfon are the finest examples of late 13th century and early 14th century military architecture in Europe, as demonstrated through their completeness, pristine state, evidence for organized domestic space, and extraordinary repertory of their medieval architectural form."
August 27

Now it's the next morning and I'm taking the bus to Conwy.

The girls: (they hear me talking to the bus driver) Are you from America?
me: Why, yes I am.
The girls: (teeheehee TeeHeeHee) You have such a cute accent!
me: I live in California.
The girls: (now you have to throw your hands up to your face like the guy in The Scream, and emit huge squeals of delight) OMG we want to LIVE there!

The girls moved to the back of the bus chattering away. Later I went back and asked if I could take their picture to show my family and friends that they thought my accent was cute. They said SURE and positioned themselves exactly like this without a single direction from me. Too adorable or What.
I think it's natural, when I hear an American speaking the sound lifts above all others and I am always 100% sure that they are Americans. It's just so obvious. We do have an accent and to my ears I can't say it's so cute. There have not been so many which means the ones I do hear stand out even more.

I hopped on a HOHO bus for a quick one hour around Conwy and out to the surrounding seaside resort town of Llandudno.
More of Llandudno where Very Important People have had vacation homes or come to take the waters at the grand hotels since the mid-1800s.
The Conwy castle through the bus window...
...and more.
It's very grand and the walls were better preserved than in Caernarfon.
I found this guy... I was walking a good distance on the walls. You can see how far the walls go by following along and looking toward the center, mid-right.
Back in town, here's a statue of Llewelyn in Lancaster Square.

Conwy was another charming town and I'm very glad to have made this swing through the north-west coast of Wales although I should also note that I had a lot of travel time to make it happen. Usually people pass through in their cars and that does make more sense time wise.
August 28 and 29

It was a five hour train ride across Wales, and lovely the whole way, to get from Conwy to Cardiff where I only have two full days and it rained all morning so now if I'm going to hit the highlights I have to pack a lot into the available day and a half.

Cardiff is nice. This is a modern patch surrounded by mostly Old Town.
Around the corner from my hotel, which is a block from the train station, which is in the center of town.
Oh look, they have a castle.

This castle has been rebuilt any number of times and the last guy made basically a 'fantasy' or a 'folly' of a castle adding elements from many styles.
Cardiff Castle, inside the walls.

I took a walking tour around town and the guide said that Wales had the most castles per square foot than any country and there are good reasons why, and he told us all about it.

I had an astounding history lesson with this guide. He talked fast and totally non-stop for two hours.
Here he is, Bill, the James Michener of tour guides. I had my mouth open half the time ('I didn't know that .. I didn't know that ..') just trying to absorb it all.
A shopping arcade. To tell this story I'd have to write for 10 minutes if I could even remember it all. I'm tired just thinking about it.
The downtown is small and mostly pedestrianized. I'm really looking forward to tomorrow when I'll get out more because it's supposed to be nice all day, unless the computer is wrong again. This morning it was supposed to be nice too.
There's a bigger cathedral further outside town but this one has plenty of stories.
The beautiful and very large Bute Park surrounds the castle.
The Wales National Museum of Art. It has an excellent reputation and I wanted to stroll through, but sorry not for me as they were closing in five minutes.

What I wanted to do in Cardiff: have a walking tour, see the National Museum, see the castle and the church, see the St Fagan's National History Museum which is I think the most 'important' thing, and go to Cardiff Bay and catch the Dr Who Exposition. Let's see how far I get.
The train station by my hotel that says Great Western Railway. I really like the sound of that.
August 30

I got out relatively early this morning to make it to St Fagan's National History Museum when they opened. I knew it was outdoors, big, and there would be a lot of walking, and I wanted to give it my fresh attention.
It was very nice. Look how pretty.
I went off first to the castle because I seem to be into castles here in Wales. Once I got to this place where the castle was supposed to be I kept looking for the castle until I found a sign that said they call this country estate the castle because it was built on the foundations of a castle...
...and you can see some of the old castle walls around.
Scattered through this very large property are many sections of buildings moved here from somewhere else that are set in context and fitted out from a particular time.
Farm buildings, cottages, chapels, a waterwheel and grainary, the castle, cider making, and many more. It was interesting. It needed something though. Like better signs or more demonstrations or people dressed up in costumes .. something to make it livelier and more engaging.
St Fagan's is quite a way out of town so I had to come back in on the bus and took a different bus out to Cardiff Bay to see The Dr Who Experience.

Cardiff is nuts for Dr Who since there's a big BBC production facility here and they do most of the Dr Who filming around Cardiff. Bill, yesterday's guide, said everyone fanatically watches every episode looking for themselves and people they know in the background.

That's the Experience out there in the blue building.
It was a bit of a walk from the last bus stop and I passed through the newly developing Cardiff Bay.

Another one of Bill's stories (and oh my goodness I have thousands. I hope to remember tens.) was about how all the older people still call this area The Docks. Cardiff and the docks were home to a raging economic boom back when Coal was King and then they fell upon very hard times.
Another view of Cardiff Bay.

And pirates! Cardiff was the pirate capital of Europe for decades with the cooperation of all political types. When the government finally decided to crack down the pirates just set sail for the Caribbean and set up shop there.
Here we are, Dr Who.

What happens: they gather a group, and you might have to wait, to all go in together and you walk together through rooms where you are put in scenes from Dr Who. One of the rooms has a 3D component, one of the rooms is a Dalek attack, there's the control room of the Tardis, something else I can't remember.
The main character in The Experience was the 11th doctor, Matt Smith to whom I never entirely warmed since I am still carrying a torch for the 10th doctor, David Tennant.

After walking through the rooms there's a large display area with models of all the villains, costumes and make-up, story boards, and all things Dr Who.
If you're a hard-core Dr Who fan and find yourself within 100 miles of Cardiff you'll definitely want to immerse yourself in all this Who-ville.

If Dr Who never made it onto your radar then this place is not for you.
Local beer! We drove past the brewery on the way to the Bay. I had become obsessed with finding a Brain beer since I couldn't find one when I looked. Even though it's made right in Cardiff not all the pubs carry it. And there it is, Brain in the window! It had a sharp taste and I liked it.

The guy at the pub gave me six fabulous Brain beer coasters for which I am overly excited.
The view from my room at the Maldron. You can see the Bay in the far distance.

I stayed at a Maldron back at the very beginning of this trip, in Dublin, and both experiences have been good. It costs some more than I like to spend but it's a real hotel with decent amenities. You still have to bring your own shampoo.

Tomorrow: LONDON!
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