Sunday, May 9, 2010

May 8, 2010: The Long Trip Home

Today I was scheduled to fly back early, and I thought I had given myself enough time to get ready, but as usual I underestimated the amount of time it would take me to eat my massive bowl of granola for breakfast. Consequently I was forced to take a cab to the airport, rather than the much cheaper Express bus. I made it though, and that's what counts. And so, thinking I was clear of any problems, I started to relax, but I should have known that flying for me is never that easy.

I boarded the tiny Embraer EMB 145 (Brazilian aircraft) without difficulty, but before it could finish its taxi to the runway the pilot shut the plane down, because some other plane had leaked fuel all over the runway and it had to be cleaned up before we could leave. As we waited I could see a string of large jumbo jets lining up behind us waiting to leave as well, and it felt like they were saying, "get out of the way with your puny, insignificant aircraft, and let the real jets do some 'big boy' work." Eventually we were off and underway though, and we made it to Heathrow with plenty of time to spare (for me anyways).

It's a good thing I had some extra time, because London's Heathrow is one of the largest and busiest International airports in the world. So not only did I need to find the proper gate, but I also had to find the proper terminal as well. Pair this with the security check-in staff who seemed to all decide to go for tea at the same time all the passengers showed up, and by the time I had cleared security and gotten to the lobby, I had to remind myself to take many "deep breaths" (they wouldn't like me when I'm angry).

Like a good traveller I made it to my gate to board with plenty of time to spare, and despite the recent new volcano eruptions from Iceland, it looked as though my flight would leave on time. However, just as we were about to board, we were informed that all flights heading west over the Atlantic had been rerouted over Eastern Europe, and because of this there would be massive traffic jams and delays.

We boarded early at the Captain's request, and then were told that there would be a three-and-a-half hour delay. Thankfully, the attendants put the in flight entertainment on, and after I had finished watching every National Film Board of Canada feature offered, we were informed that the Captain had received an earlier time slot from the British authorities, and we were allowed to fly after only a 1.5 hour delay.

During the flight the TVs stopped working for about an hour, and the two children behind me lost their ability to not annoy everyone in the plane. Between the screaming and the fighting, and the near constant tantrums that involved kicking the back of my seat, it was the worst hour of flying ever. But soon someone working under the plane to make things better, managed to fix the problem, and then I only had to worry about the kicking... and the bad movies.

Because of all the delays, it meant that the estimated arrival time for my flight to Calgary would be after the departure time for my next flight to Grande Prairie. Air Canada thoughtfully re-booked my flight so that I would fly to Edmonton at 10:55 PM, and then stay there over night before flying home the next morning. However, regular readers might remember that I have been reading Around The World In 80 Days by Jules Verne, and just as Phileas Fogg would not be daunted in his quest to reach a deadline, I too felt I should be "daring" and re-re-booked my flight to Edmonton for even earlier, and then rode the Greyhound over night to arrive in Grande Prairie the next morning at 5:30 PM. Not having any cash on me though, I couldn't call for a ride or take a cab, so I put my jet lagged legs to the test and walked home. It took me 75 minutes, but it proved... well I'm not sure what it proved, but it saved at least $10.

May 7, 2010: Eating My Heart Out, Or At Least A Sheep's Heart Out

Today was my last day in Edinburgh, and also my last day in Scotland.

The plan today was to finish up some last minute souvenir shopping, go on my final tour bus ride, and try to view as many museums and art galleries as possible all before 5 PM (A.K.A. when Scotland shuts down).

My first goal was to purchase a specific item that could only be acquired at a specific location (and also apparently a secret location), some ways from where I was staying. This of course involved taking the bus all by myself for the first time since coming to Scotland. Fortunately, like most major cities (outside of Alberta) Edinburgh's bus system is excellent, and so I had no problem finding any number of buses that would take me to my intended destination. To be 100% honest though, I shouldn't say I had "no problems", since I cheated and asked the woman at the front desk of my hostel to look up the buses for me.

After a successful shopping trip I boarded the fourth of the four major bus tours of the city centre. "Why are there four tours?" I hear you ask. Well, one of them goes to the sea to take visitors to the Royal Yacht Britannia, one of them concentrates more on the New Town, north of the poop swamp, and the other two take more or less the same route, but one is run by a live tour guide, while the other tour is given by a recording in multiple languages, and has a "Spooky Stories" option for children. Today I used the "live guide" version of the latter two options, but I had trouble hearing over all of the Swedish, German and French tourists who talked the whole time. I wasn't too bothered though, as by this time I had heard most of the stories two or three times already.

After the tour I went to The Museum on the Mound, which is another name for the museum inside the headquarters of the Bank of Scotland. (It seems to be a trend in my travels that I must visit the National Bank's museum in each country I visit.) From The Museum on the Mound I went to the National Museum of Scotland. I had wanted to visit the Royal Museum of Scotland too, but it was closed at the moment and undergoing a 47 Million GBP renovation. (The Royal Museum holds artifacts from around the world, while the National Museum mainly contains artifacts relating to the history of Scotland). I had also hoped to visit the Royal Art Gallery, but it took me 3.5 hours moving quickly to not even finish the National Museum (I only got to the sixth of seven floors before the museum closed).

(At the top: the earliest complete surviving Scottish Firearm - the Breadalbane gun from 1599. To put things in perspective, the small gun on the white background is at least 12 inches long.)

(The Scottish version of the guillotine, The Maiden.)

(In the 18th Century some men attempted to go to University to train to become midwives. Naturally they weren't trusted, and so they sat in this booth called a Sedan Chair to give them respect since the luxury of being carried around on poles by others was typically reserved only for kings.)

(A horse drawn hearse.)

(Hand operated vacuum cleaner. It's probably still more powerful and effective than the vacuum cleaner at the climbing gym [inside joke].)

After a full day of sight seeing, I stopped in to my favourite pub on the High Street (Royal Mile) to have one last meal of Haggis, 'Neeps, and Tatties (sheep's innards cooked in sheep's stomach, with turnips and potatoes), and of course some Irn Bru with which to wash it down.

While I had meant to type all of this down on Friday when it happened and post it soon afterwards, my hostel had a massive party and so I couldn't access the "Wi-Fi room", hence the late update.

(Misc. picture: Edinburgh one-ups the tiny openings to garbage cans in Seoul, by completely boarding off the opening to this garbage can on the Royal Mile.)

Friday, May 7, 2010

May 6, 2010: Glaswegians Steal A Baked Potato

Wow, what a day! It was my second last full day in Scotland, so I tried my best to tick as many things off my "to do list" as possible before tomorrow.

I arose "early" in the morning at 8 AM, and made my way down to the gates of Edinburgh castle for the opening at 9:30. Edinburgh Castle is one of the biggest tourists attractions in Edinburgh, and I had been told I would need about 2.5 hours to complete the tour, so I thought I should get there as early as possible.

(Edinburgh Castle in the background, with the beautiful Ross Fountain in Princes Street Park in the foreground.)

(A look out over New Town Edinburgh from the top of Edinburgh Castle. The small green patch of grass just below me is the cemetery for the soldier's dogs who lived here when the Castle was a functioning fortress.)

The castle was built on the top of an extinct volcano in around 1130 AD by King David I of Scotland. While definitely imposing on the edge of the rock, the castle hasn't proven to be overly secure against attack. It was captured in 1296 by Edward I of England after a three day siege. Robert the Bruce retook the castle in 1314 when the Thomas Randolph, 1st Earl of Moray, with just 30 hand-picked men, climbed up the rocky cliff behind the castle, and then climbed over the walls (they must have drug the ladders up with them) and took the entire fort by surprise. The English reclaimed the Castle in 1334, but then in another daring manoeuvre, the Scots dressed up like merchants and drove their "supply cart" towards the city, only to halt it right in the open gates to prevent them from closing, while a nearby horde of waiting soldiers rushed to ambush the Castle.

Right, well the history lesson over now so let's get back to my experience...

I'm not sure if I was just tired, or perhaps I've done too much sight seeing the last couple of days, but Edinburgh Castle wasn't nearly as enjoyable as I thought it would be. This was an unexpected revelation too, since I had actually been really looking forward to the visit all week. I feel my assessment is fairly objective though.

As I think back, the three major sights I saw this week were the Royal Yacht Britannia, The Palace of Holyrood House, and Edinburgh Castle. The Royal Yacht Britannia was essentially the floating home of the Queen, and as such it was just oozing with history and character. The Palace of Holyrood House was similarly magnificent because it is the home of the Queen/Royal Family when they visit Edinbrugh (a minimum of one week a year). The Castle however was more of a defensive stronghold, and was rarely inhabited by any of the Kings or Queens of Scotland. In fact, one particular Royal Family dreaded coming to the Castle because it was so inhospitable as a royal dwelling. Because of this, there simply was not as much pomp as one would expect in a Royal building; it was much more utilitarian in design. After finishing the tour of the Castle, I looked in at a 175 year-old Edinburgh tourist attraction: Camera Obscura.

Camera obscura simply means dark chamber in latin, and it works by making a small hole in a one wall of a dark chamber/box, and collecting the resulting image on some surface placed opposite the hole. It is the precursor to the modern camera, and in 1827 Maria Theresa Short installed one in her rooftop observatory, and one of Edinburgh's most entertaining and unique tourist attractions was born.

(The Camera Obscura is not just the camera obscura, it also has optical illusions like this picture of a lego version M.C. Escher's "Ascending and Descending".)

(Fun mirrors too. "Look ma, I'm normal sized!")

(The infra-red camera was my favourite exhibit.)

(Opera Cats.)

After some lunch at an Itallian restaurant (I think the Scott's must love Itallian food, because every third restaurant on the Royal Mile seems to be an Itallian restaurant), I headed back to Waverly Bridge to take my third of four double-decker bus city tours operating from the bridge. This was by far the weakest tour of the four, but the route was the most convenient, as it concentrated on only the most popular of the tourist attractions, and as such helped me map out a route to return by foot later, in order to get more pictures.

(The site of the gallows in the old Grassmarket street, where hundreds of Protestants were killed for not being Catholic.)

(The Last Drop Inn/Pub, just 20 metres from the site of the gallows.)

(Greyfriars Bobby was a Skye Terrier who stayed by the grave of his deceased master for 14 years, refusing to leave. His devotion is memorialised in this statue built on top of a fountain for dogs. The Bar in the background was the favourite drinking hole of his master.)

I had not planned on it, but at this point ,I decided to check out the new attraction Our Dynamic Earth. Our Dynamic Earth attempts to teach visitors about Earth's history, geography, various climates, and how Earth has changed in response to human action and may continue to change, all through interactive, hands-on exhibits. It even goes so far as to market itself as a "4-D experience".

There were definitely a few interesting, and even downright impressive exhibits at Our Dynamic Earth: the Arctic room had a massive block of ice sculpture representing a scaled version of an ice berg, and the Rain Forest room simulated a real thunderstorm. That said, it's no Edmonton Space and Science Centre (or whatever it's calling itself now), and it is definitely marketed at children/schools since I suspect anyone who was able to pass high school biology/science, should have a pretty good understanding of most of the information presented already.

As is typical it seems with my adventures, my visit was not entirely without incident. At the beginning of the tour I was directed the wrong way, and so I went to the final 360 Degree Video Dome presentation first. This was a big problem, because this was the last tour of the day, and I was supposed to make my way through the exhibits in order and then go to the video at the end. As it happened, the first half of the exhibition had shut down by the time the video had finished, but the operating manager came and opened most of it back up, and I was given a privileged private tour by one of the other employees through every exhibit. I was even given my digital audio guide for free.

By now it was after 5:30, and too late to get on the final tour bus (no worries, I have until noon tomorrow on my 48-hour ticket), so I decided to take advantage of the clear skies that were not present earlier in the day, to get some pictures of key points of historic interest in the city. Around supper I walked across the old poop river - the North Loch - and into New Town, to find the Hard Rock Cafe.

Since coming to Edinburgh I've been taking advantage of many coupons I have received in order to get discouts, and on the back of my Airport bus ticket I was given a coupon to get a free chocolae sundae with any entree. That sounds like a good 5 GBP deal, but when I looked at the menu I remembered why I never go to the Hard Rock Cafe: all the prices are 5 GBP higher than anywhere else.

From here I decided to head back to Greyfriars Bobby's Pub to pay homage to Greyfriars Bobby, but on the way there I ran into a homeless man who started telling me how he remembered me, and how I was a "good guy". I had never met this person before in my life, but I certainly did not want to spoil some stranger's good reputation, so I went along with it.

After telling me some nearly incomprehensible story about how someone had stolen his radio, or his money, or maybe both, but that he wasn't like the other homeless people, he had a brain, I thought I could get rid of him by giving him some change. But that just cemented in the man's mind that I was a "good man", and then he made me carry all of his bags all the way up the street to some tavern. Since I didn't have anywhere particularly pressing to be, I obliged.

Along the way, he stopped in at a liquor store to pick up two large bottles of beer, then he stopped two more times to tell the same story he told me to tell his other homeless friends, and he added how the judge knew that the police were harassing him, and that he was being wronged, and that he can't be arrested because he's on bail (does it work that way? And what was he talking about? I'm not sure.)

When we finally reached the tavern he made me open up all of his bags and search through everything to find four of this, or five of that. When invariably only half of what he claimed to have was there, he would explode, and tell me how the police had stolen it from him. I couldn't really follow most of his stories, but I did notice that he already had 4 litres of alcohol in his bag, and so I wondered why it was so pressing to stop and by some more along the way, not to mention make me carry it as well as the other bags.

At this point, my new friend had become quite hungry so I bought him a baked potato (he only had the 1.5 GBP I had given him, but insisted the police had stolen the rest from him). Before he could even take one bite of the potato though, some young punks from Glasgow came and stole it from him. After this, we headed off to find some solution he had in mind, but couldn't explain clearly.

We trekked through the back alleys of Old Town Edinburgh, stopping only so he could take a pee (it was "okay" because he had some deodirizer that he sprayed on it), or to tell some new stranger how he "was sick of it", before finally coming to a Salvation Army. We didn't go in though, because he saw some police officers a block over, and decided instead to head over and yell at them for stealing his money. I wasn't sticking around to help him get out of this one, so seeing my opportunity I put down his bags and left to go back to Greyfriars Bobby's to get my food. (Note: if the police were harassing or assaulting him after I left, he deserved it.)

When I finally got back to Greyfriars Bobby's Pub after an hour of carrying this guy's stuff around, I found out that the bar's kitchen had just closed, and so I couldn't get anything to eat. Feeling rather starved myself by now, I headed back up to The Royal Mile to a small pub next to my hostel that I knew served a delicious lasagna, and arrived just 10 minutes before the kitchen closed and so luckily was able to finally rest after an adventure packed day. (Even with giving the homeless guy change and buying him a potato he then lost, my supper still came out to less than it would have cost had I gone to the Hard Rock Cafe.)

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

May 5, 2010: In The Queen's Home

I stayed up relatively late last night enjoying the free Wi-Fi, and then again the next morning. Because of this, it was already lunch time before I actually got out of the hostel. This worked fine in the smaller centres, but Edinburgh is a big city and most of the attractions close at 5 PM, so this didn't give me much time to get around and see many things. That said, I was still able to take two full tours, and see both the Royal Yacht Britannia, and the Palace of Holyrood House. Before I started on my tours though, I first stopped in at a Turkish restaurant I had noticed was near my hostel the night before, for lunch.

Never having eaten Turkish food, I thought the Turkish meze option would give me a nice sampling of what was offered. The menu called the Turkish meze "a selection of Turkish appetizers." I'm certain that's what I received, but I was not expecting my meze to be a bunch of cooked vegetables that were then cooled so that they were cold. I'm not sure about anyone else, but when I think of Turkish food, I think of something similar to Greek food, which is to say I think of a lot of hot meats either in a pita wrap, or on a stick, not dry borscht. Oh well, at l east it was exotic.

(At least the interior is bright and cheery.)

(And what's this? Can it be? A closer inspection of the above picture indeed reveals hookahs!)

After lunch, I bought some unbelievably delicious vanilla fudge from the Fudge House shop just down the street some more, before heading back to Waverly Bridge to catch my first bus tour and see the famous Royal Yacht Britannia.

(Up on top of the bus, in the open air. When the bus is standing still this is quite pleasant, but at full speed it gets rather cold.)

(Some people sitting in the park beside Waverly Station, next to my bus stop. Unbeknownst to them, they are actually sitting in what used to be a massive river of human excrement that was drained to make this station.)

As I mentioned yesterday, the Royal Yacht Britannia was essentially the home of the Royal Family while they were at sea. They must have spent a lot of time at sea too, because the ship did more than 1 000 000 miles, or the equivalent of once around the world for every year it was in service. It was also the last in a long line of Royal Yachts, dating all the way back to the 1600s, since in 1997 the British Parliament deemed the ship too expensive to upkeep, and the Queen was forced to decommission Britannia. The Queen's loss was the public's gain though, and since 1997 the ship has been an open museum through which the public can take self guided tours.

(The binnacle and compass originally on board the Britannia.)

(The bridge of the ship. There is only one chair on the bridge, and only the captain of the ship was allowed to sit in it.)

(Looking out at all my adoring fans along the dock. Can you see the crowds who came to wave to me? I swear they were there just before I took this picture...)

(The main deck where The Royal Family liked to spend much of its time.)

(Me ringing the big bell on the main deck.)

(The girl on the left in this photograph is the Queen as a young girl.)

(The Royal Yacht's tea room, in which guests can spend far too much money for cake and teas.)

(I can't remember the name of this room, but the furniture was purchased by Queen Victoria, and Queen Elizabeth II had it brought from a previous Royal Yacht and placed here on the Britannia.)

(The Royal Dining Hall on the Britannia. It took more than three hours to set the twenty five places, and each place at the table had to be set using a ruler to make sure everything was in exactly the right spot.)

(A ceremonial pig killer the Queen received as a gift.)

(The huge on board laundromat. Each member of the crew had to change into a new uniform at least six times a day, and the captain sometimes had to change into a fresh uniform twelve times a day.)

After taking far too long on the tour (looking through a bookstore on my way there probably didn't help), I had to rush to get back into Edinburgh if I wanted to get to the Palace of Holyrood House before the last admission. I did make it though, which will free up some time over the next couple of days for yet more fun activities.

(The entrance to the Palace of Holyrood House. Because it is a government building I was not allowed to take pictures inside. This is the best I could do.)

(The second tour bus I rode today. This one was a classic bus with a live tour guide, making for a unique experience.)

(The back of the Scottish Parliament building.)

(These windows on the back of the Scottish Parliament building are called "contemplation windows". They cost about $28 000 each. When this building was first made, these windows looked out over an open field, but now they just look into the apartment next door.)

(When the very old buildings of George Street were built, the city of Edinburgh instituted a window tax. Each pane of glass resulted in extra tax being charged. Consequently, many house owners removed the glass, boarded up the hole, and just painted on the window instead of paying the tax.)

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

May 4, 2010: Edinburgh

Today I left Inveraray behind and headed to my last stop, Edinburgh. Rather than taking the more direct route via the motorways though, I thought I'd give my Astra one last workout on the windy A Roads. Unfortunately, as I headed west, I started to leave the mountains and lochs, and move more into farm land as I crossed the Great Glen, which is far less interesting to see.

Up until this point I had been staying in Scottish Youth Hostels Association (SYHA) hostels, because I felt it would be a good way to make the Hostelling International (HI) membership I bought in the winter more worthwhile (The SYHA is a member of HI, and as such HI memberships work at SYHA hostels). However, despite the friendliness of the people working at the hostels, there was a sterility about the hostels and the seemed more like a group of chain hotels than guest houses. In Edinburgh though I am staying at an independent hostel in some brick building in the Old Town, and it definitely has that "European" feel that one would expect from a European hostel.

For starters, all the rooms at the Royal Mile Backpackers Hostel are themed. My room is called the Fridge Room, and all the beds are named after different beers. There was a Guinness bed, Corona bed, Miller bed, and my bed, the Molson bed. Another room is called the Gotham City Room, and the beds are named after characters from the Batman comics: The Joker, Robin, Batman, etc.

I can't tell you much more than that though, since I just arrived, but in keeping with that absolute of hostel travelling: you will always meet a Canadian or Australian in every hostel, I have met both already today. Better yet, said Canadians are University students from the UofA (unfortunately my Alma Mater), and one of them was originally from Grande Prairie (small world?)

* * * *

For the first time this trip I arrived in at my destination in the afternoon and not the late evening, and so after checking in at the hostel I thought I'd go explore the Royal Mile outside my hostel. The Royal Mile is called the Royal Mile because on one end is the Palace of Holyrood House and the Scottish Parliament, and on the other end Edinburgh Castle. I'm going to see those places tomorrow though, so this time I was just trying to get the shops out of the way to make room for more important sight seeing in the upcoming days.

(My favourite sight in Scotland: vintage e-mail + text + phone booths.)

(A couple pictures of old, tall steeples/towers along The Royal Mile. I couldn't be bothered to learn the names of the buildings to which they were attached though.)

I had already suspected as much, but I can now say for certain that the Royal Mile contains nothing but overpriced souvenir shops and restaurants. It's the Itaewon (a street in Seoul that is nothing but a tourist trap) of Edinburgh. However, I did find a very interesting 3D movie documenting the history and "science" of trying to find the Loch Ness Monster. Then, after finishing the movie, I literally stumbled upon the entrance to The Real Mary King's Close Tour - one of the tours I had been looking forward to taking in Edinburgh, but did not know where to go to sign up for it, so this was a lucky break.

"Closes" in Edinburgh were the very narrow streets between the six to fourteen story buildings during medieval times. Mary King was a widow who, due to a unique loop hole in Scottish law, became a rich business woman/politician, and was allowed to vote and carry a gun back in the 1630s. It was such a great accomplishment that she had the close in which she lived named after her; the only time a woman has received this honour.

Some time later, when the government decided to build the Royal Exchange (now the City Chambers), rather than levelling the close it just built the building on top of it in the 1700s. Fast forward a few hundred years, and modern archaeological work discovered that the buildings and streets under the Chamber were still in tact, and after some restoration work, an enterprising company developed a tour to see the homes and streets as they were back in the time of the Black Death.

(The underground closes are considered a government building, since they are underneath the City Chambers, so I was not allowed to take any photographs. However, I was able to take a picture of this model which shows you that the new buildings were literally built on top of the old homes.)

It just so happened that when I arrived at the tour office, a tour was set to leave in ten minutes, and so I signed myself up for it. Our tour was hosted by an actor playing a "foul clenger," whose job it would have been to go house to house and take people infected with the plague to a special colony to die.

One of the more fascinating parts of the journey was when we learned the secret of the weird costumes the doctors used to treat victims of the plague. Dressing in an all black leather and a scary beak mask, and generally looking like the inspiration for the MAD Spy vs. Spy comic strip, was supposed to scare away evil spirits, the supposed cause of the plague. Nonsense to be certain, but ironically they actually worked, because the real cause of the plague was the flies that were attracted to the human excrement lining the street, and the all leather costume kept the flies from reaching the doctor.

Come back tomorrow when I take a double-decker tour bus around Old Town Edinburgh, and up to the Royal Yacht Britannia - the former sailing vessel of Queen Elizabeth II and the Royal Family.

May 3, 2010: Louis

(This is my second post today. Don't miss my post for May 2nd below this.)

One of the main reasons I came to Inveraray, was to try out the Scottish Tourism Board "4 Star" rated activity centre, Argyll Adventures. Argyll Adventures offers five activities, including a 7 metre climbing wall (not that tall, really), a paintball range, laser tag, bungee trampoline jumping, and the activity I was most interested in, horse riding tours.

Never haven ridden a horse before, I thought I'd sign up for the two hour beginner class (I'll try the Tevis Cup next time). My horse for this first sunny afternoon since my arrival in Scotland's ride was Louis.

After a quick ride around the training ring to get the hang of the controls, we headed off on a rather slow walk through the country side, culminating in a fantastic walk along the beach.

(Here we are descending a steep hill. It's a good thing that I always pick the best times to take my hands off the wheel/reins when capturing these photographs.)

(The beautiful trail along Loch Fyne that brought us back to the stables. The 11 year-old girl in front of me taught me how to touch my toe and my horses ear whilst riding; harder than it sounds.)

I've always loved horses, and was certain I would get on sportingly with one should I have the opportunity to ride it. I wasn't wrong either, as the trainer said Louis usually falls way behind the group, and that I must have developed a rapport with him because that was not the case today. I'm going to train up so that I can go faster next time. I'll never win the Tevis Cup at the pace I went today.

(Me and Louis, bringing up the rear. I always get at least one Louis in each of my blogs.)

Some time during the ride our guide told me that the climbing wall had a route on it that had yet to be climbed by a visitor. With a challenge like that I immediately handed over an extra six pounds to give it a go.

The first three routes were a breeze, but the fourth and final route really was difficult. I'm certain, had the holds been cleaned, and I been able to use my climbing shoes and some chalk I would have made it to the top without much fuss, as it was though I couldn't seem to get past the last move. So, with my energy dwindling rapidly, I decided to pull out my secret weapon and climb with socked feet instead of my shoes. With my new ability to stick my big toe into some of the small pockets, I finally made the last move, which of course made up for my less than admirable performance at the fell race (because my result in a 150 person race, in the middle of nowhere, was common knowledge across Scotland).

Pride restored, I went home and celebrated by eating through an entire 326 gram jar of Doritos HOT salsa dip, with chili flavoured corn chips. Then I felt sick.

May 2, 2010: In Jail

After the race yesterday I drove to my next destination, Inveraray, but arrived too late and was too tired to explore and get a good sense of the town (I've already mentioned that small Scottish towns tend to shut down at 4 PM). This morning though, I set about on a sight-seeing mission to see what Inverary had to offer, which, it must be said, is not much.

(A rustic bench outside my hostel so "vintage" that moss is growing on it.)

(A memorial to Scottish soldiers who lost their lives in battle during WWI on the village square, which is in turn next to the fabulous Loch Fyne with the famous Atlantic Bridge in the background.)

(The historic Inveraray pier, designed in 1762.)

A stroll down Inveraray's one street brought me to the pier, and a rather excellent maritime museum that is actually located inside a boat. I won't bore you with the details, because you really had to be there to enjoy it, but let it be shown on the record that I quite enjoyed the unique experience. From here, I took a look inside all of the shops, and eventually made my way to one of Inveraray's more famous attractions: the Inveraray Jail.

(An actual classic "puffer boat" [on the left] which were once all the rage on the Scottish canals. The ship on the right is the museum.)

(Me, pretending to be captain of the ship that houses the Maritime Museum in Inveraray. It's a good thing the ship was moored to the pier, because the wheel was at the other end of the boat.)

(A diesel starboard engine which was at one time fitted to a local fishing boat.)

The Inveraray Jail was once an actual jail and country court built in 1813, and was in use until 1889, but the court continued to try cases until 1954. Life in the prison, especially the old prison, must have been horrible (when it was first built there was no heating system), but as a tourist attraction it is an afternoon well spent.

(The entrance to the Inveraray Jail.)

(A Scotsman causing mischief on the balcony at the Inveraray Jail.)

(The Inveraray Jail was also a county court, and as such a scene like this would not have been uncommon. This is actually a trial for a man who was charged with bigamy, because he married another woman, when unbeknownst to him, his wife, whom he thought dead, was actually still alive. According to the court records he was actually found guilty.)

(Yes, that's right, no piping or "other filthy playing" after supper.)

(Me, locked away for eating sweeties in the jail.)

Other Pictures...

(In Inveraray one can still find an apothecary for all [some of?] one's pharmaceutical needs.)

(I love Scotland, because cars like these are the norm, not the exception. And I know what you're thinking too. You're saying to yourself right now, "that's all fine and dandy if you're single, but what if you have a family? Then you absolutely need a giant SUV." But you're wrong. Look in the back of that black car and what do you see? A car seat. How is this possible? It really is bonny Scotland, I tell you what.)