During our visit to London we traveled by train, tube (subway), bus, and ferry. Because of the good public transportation system, London is easy to navigate. The London Transport Museum celebrates the long history of public transport in the city. As early as 1829 the London Omnibus was in operation. The museum is filled with antique vehicles and tube carriages from across the years.
A bit of a bonus is nearby Covenant Garden Piazza with many shops and restaurants. We heard a talented string quintet entertaining diners there. There’s a lot to see and do in London, but if you like old vehicles and such, you will enjoy this museum.
Several years ago we visited London, seeing most of the famous spots. This trip was shorter and we wanted to take an easier pace and see a few things we missed before. Honestly, our “easier pace” turned out to be something other than “easy” but we did finish our days earlier than we would have otherwise.
On our previous trip we watched the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace. This trip we went to St. James Palace to watch the beginning of that ceremony. While there were a lot of people there to watch, it wasn’t nearly as crowded as it is at Buckingham. We listened to the band and enjoyed the pageantry. The troops marched right in front of us on their way to Buckingham. If you’ve never seen the changing of the guard I recommend Buckingham. However, if you want to see just a bit of it without quite so much hassle, Friary court at St. James is a good place to go.
It’s about a 15 minute walk from there to the Royal Mews. This is the working stable/museum where several of the royal coaches are stored. Our main purpose in going there was to see both The Gold State Coach and Diamond Jubilee State Coach. These were King Charles’s coronation carriages. Having seen them in the news made seeing them in person even more interesting.
We finished our sightseeing for the day taking a double decker bus across the heart of the city back to our hotel. You can get a bus tour of London, but we’ve found that just riding the local buses is a good, and inexpensive, way to see things.
We made Inverness, known as the “capital of the Highlands,” our hub for exploring Loch Ness, Eilean Donan Castle, and the Isle of Skye. This region is known for its breathtaking scenery with majestic mountains encircling the deep lakes. Loch Ness, a remarkably deep lake, has a dark blue hue and boasts the largest reserve of freshwater in the entire UK. The highway winds its way along the lake and one stunning view after another comes into sight. Sorry to say, the elusive Nessie, the legendary monster, was nowhere to be found, yet the amazing landscapes compensated for its absence.
Continuing westward from Loch Ness, we ascended through a mountain pass, pausing frequently to capture photos and take in the magnificent panoramas. Eilean Donan Castle, originally erected in the 1200s, served as a formidable defense against Viking invasions and later became a stronghold for the Mackenzie clan. Although the fortress was destroyed in the 1700s, it was painstakingly reconstructed after nearly two centuries, eventually becoming a national trust property. We toured the castle, getting a firsthand view of what life there would have been like.
Our tour continued to the Isle of Skye and I’ll write about it in my next post.
There are several vintage steam railways around the UK. One not too far from us is the East Lancashire Railway, Bury – just north of Manchester. In fact, Bury is at the northern end of the Manchester tram line. We rode the tram about an hour and a half up to Bury to ride behind the Lady of Legend coal-fired steam locomotive. The line runs along the River Irwell about 8 miles to the town of Rawtenstall. The weather started off cool, but nice. As we rode the train it began to rain followed by small hail! The weather didn’t delay our trip any, but it did dampen our desire to do much exploring! We opted for a coffee shop break followed by a return ride on a vintage diesel train, with a break for lunch and then another ride behind the steam locomotive.
The other half of our adventure was a visit to the Bury Transport Museum. It was fun checking out a wide variety of antique vehicles there – ranging from an old tractor to double decker busses to another beautiful steam locomotive.
It was a nice day trip for us, and we recommend it to anyone who likes the old trains.
It’s only 165 miles from Manchester to Dublin, but most of that distance is over the Irish Sea so the only two ways to get there are by air or by ferry. Air travel is less expensive and should be much faster. Any way you do it from Manchester is much less expensive than flying from the States.
You will note that I said air travel should be “much faster.” In our case, the trip took longer than it should have. Our original flight was canceled due to technical difficulties. No complaint about that; I have no interest in flying in a plane that is in questionable condition! However, our Ryanair flight kept being delayed as we were bumped from one plane to another as they searched for a spare aircraft for the short hop. When all was said and done we arrived in Dublin in a plane full of drunks (you can guess how they passed their time during the delay). All’s well that ends well, and we arrived in Dublin without further issue.
We were booked into the Metro Airport Hotel and appreciated their free airport shuttle. Upon checking in they told us we were being upgraded to a suite! It was as nice a hotel accommodation as we’ve ever had – a three room unit! One wall of the bedroom was filled with windows. Our only complaint was that just below us was a major highway intersection. I think we managed to arrive on an especially busy night as we heard sirens off and on throughout the night. Since the intersection is a major one the emergency vehicles turn their sirens on as they approach the intersection and then turn them off once they are through. Happily, things were much calmer the second night.
The city bus passes right through that intersection, making it easy to hop a bus and ride directly to the heart of Dublin. You might want to know that Dublin buses don’t accept credit cards. Upon arrival at the airport I stopped off and bought a one day “Leap” transport ticket, so we just held it against the card reader as we got on the bus and on other trips that day.
One thing we wanted to see was Dublin Castle. It was different than we expected, more of a palace than castle. There’s lots of artwork by famous artists plus rooms of fancy furniture and such.
From there we walked along the River Liffey where we happened on a college rowing event. It is amazing how fast the teams can get their boats going! We walked on the famous Ha-penny Bridge and then checked out O’Connell Street in the heart of the city.
From there we hopped a bus for a short ride to Trinity College to see the Book of Kells. This is a surviving copy of the Gospels dating from the 800s – a beautifully handwritten and illustrated portion of the Bible. It was impressive to see it, but unfortunately for us, no photography is allowed. However, the Book of Kells is adjacent to the “Old Library” which dates back to the 18th Century. We took lots of photos there. There is a harp on display there that is several hundred years older than the Library itself. It is called the “Brian Boru’s harp.” Since the harp is considered to be a symbol of Ireland, seeing this ancient one there in Dublin is pretty cool.
A bus ride back out to the hotel with a stop for fish and chips finished our day in Dublin.
The day after Christmas we boarded an EasyJet flight from Manchester to Milan, Italy for our first visit to Italy and then Switzerland. Air fares are quite good around Europe, and we didn’t want to miss the chance to do some exploring. As we approached Milan we could see the Alps (Italian or Swiss?) down below us. That marked the beginning of our Adventure.
Milan is a big city, filled with activity everywhere. We got around using public transportation, mostly the subway. I specifically picked our hotel based on its easy subway and train access – right across from the Milan Central Train Station.
Since we don’t speak Italian we were concerned about the language barrier. We learned just a few phrases, but before long we realized that everyone seems to speak English. Some people just looked at us and switched to English (apparently, we “look” like tourists). I tried my few Italian words out, but, apparently, even my Italian sounds like American English because they would usually answer me in English anyway.
We bought 3 day transit tickets, so we could hop on and off of the subway or trolley where ever we wanted. That set us free to explore the main sights of the city. The subway, by the way, is very popular and more often than not it offered standing room only. Most of our trips were 3-5 stops, so that wasn’t a real big deal except for the afternoons when we were getting leg weary. We never rode the subway during rush hour. I can’t imagine the cars being more crowded than they were.
One of the highlights of the city is Leonardo da Vinci’s famous mural, The Last Supper, which was painted in the late 15th century. We had to buy tickets early to see it, but we felt it was well worth the effort. The painting is on the wall of the church. Amazingly, it survived Allied bombs that hit the church during WWII. It was humbling to see the famous art in person.
In route to see the painting we walked around the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II. This is a very upscale shopping area, filled with luxury stores. The entire area was crowed to the point that it was hard to walk around. I think everyone was touring like us, although a few people had shopping bags, so some people were there to actually shop!
The heart of Milan is the huge Duomo Cathedral. The church dates back to the 1300’s and construction continued on the building over 600 years! One feature not to be missed is the rooftop tour! By going up on top you get a more close up view of the amazing architecture of the building. There are statues, latticework, and spires everywhere. It is amazing to me that statues would be placed in areas that could never be seen from the ground. We took the elevator up but ended up climbing up and down many stairs as we followed the route up higher and higher. Of course, the views of the city are magnificent. Then, even from the roof top there are still more spires towering high above. The inside of the building is amazing too. This ancient church seats 40,000 worshippers! It seems that every square inch of the interior is carved, decorated, etc. There are stained glass windows everywhere, including some huge windows made up of smaller windows that tell the story of the Bible.
After finishing up our tour of the church we hopped on the subway to visit the Piazza Gae Aulenti. Visiting this ultra-modern shopping area after exploring the Cathedral nearly gave us “architectural whiplash!” From an ancient building we found ourselves surrounded by the latest, most modern buildings you can imagine. The Christmas market was still in operation, and there was a giant “tree” constructed of snow sleds. It was very interesting. In the near distance there are two “forest” sky scrapers. These big apartment buildings are covered with trees!
For meals we had mostly pasta. One night I had a pizza that was quite good. The next night I had lasagna that was even better. Jackie loved the Alfredo with mushrooms she had one meal. I enjoyed a coffee they have called a macchiato. It is similar to a latte but somehow better. It seems that there are coffee shops and pizzerias on every corner.
I think we could have continued sightseeing Milan a few more days. It is an interesting and fun place to visit. If you come, don’t miss the Cathedral rooftop or the “Last Supper.”
Just a few minutes from the campus of Nazarene Theological College where we are volunteering is Stockport, still within the confines of the Manchester metro area. We’ve visited the shopping mall there several times. Today, we visited a historical site just steps from the mall. The Stockport Air Raid Shelters are tunnels dug out of limestone to provide protection for the citizens of the area. Today, this site serves as a reminder of what life was like for the people of this area during World War II. Because Manchester was a major manufacturing hub of England it came under German fire many times, including a major attack over Christmas of 1940. Hundreds died and thousands were injured during the Manchester Blitz. During that raid, and others, people in the Stockport area found shelter in these tunnels. It was sobering to imagine women and children hurrying into these tunnels as air raid sirens sounded the warning.
Edinburgh, Scotland is a great tourist city. We spent four days there and could have spent another four days continuing our exploring. The main attractions are all fairly close together so it isn’t hard at all to see a variety of things in one day. However, it needs to be noted that there are some serious hills there. This takes its toll on even people who walk on a regular basis.
We enjoyed trying out some different food places while we were there. Check out our photos of “Oink;” this is a chain of fast food restaurants specializing in – well you can guess! We ate at a local Turkish bakery near the train station. We liked it enough that we returned to grab some takeaway there to carry on the train on our return trip. We also had some good fish and chips at a nicer restaurant on Victoria Street near Grassmarket Square – an area with plenty of places to eat and shop. It is also where many public hangings took place in Edinburgh’s history. Of course, we checked out a few coffee shops along the way. Jackie loved the Chocolate Cafe where she got a coffee that was more chocolate than coffee! And, of course, we tried out the most popular soft drink in Scotland. It’s an orange colored soda that tastes to me like a cross between Big Red and Cream Soda. It’s not bad, but I think I’ll stick to my Coke Zero.
It was fun just being on the streets, looking at the shops and seeing the architecture. One secret is to look up! There are many building features like statues and gargoyles that are easily missed from street level.
We already posted a couple of site specific entries, but, as I mentioned earlier, we could have spent another week and seen more without ever repeating an attraction. We missed some biggies like Holyrood Palace, the Royal Yacht Britannia, several museums, and the Botanical Gardens. And that doesn’t even take into account the many other places to visit across Scotland.
Here are some specifics for anyone planning a visit to Edinburgh. (Note: this is based on just one visit, so there are likely many alternative approaches that a person might want to take.} I priced motel rooms in the central city and found them to be uniformly high priced. Instead, we opted to stay out at the Airport Premier Inn. The key to that location is that the tram (light rail) stop is just outside the motel. By buying online I was able to get us multiday tram tickets. Trams run every few minutes and, after a 20 minute ride, we arrived right in the heart of the city. Along the way the tram stops at both major train stations and, it just so happens, right at the Hop-on-Hop-off bus hub. We bought multi day Hop-on-Hop off bus tickets. There are three different bus tours included on that ticket. After riding and listening to the tour information on the entire route of a couple of them we switched to using the busses as our way to get around the city. By the way, we learned that this particular bus service gives you a real 24/48, etc. hour ticket. If you activate the ticket at 11:00 on one day it is good till the same time the next day. That gave us just enough time for the last ride we needed to get back to the tram after we visited the Castle.
As you can see, we had a good time in Edinburgh and highly recommend it to everyone. Just know that you will need to do some walking and some of it up and down hills. And, when you go, be sure to try some Irn Bru and a pork sandwich at Oink!
It is no exaggeration to say that Edinburgh Castle dominates the city. It sits on Castle Rock, high above everything. Historically, it has defined Edinburgh since the 1200’s where It has housed royalty and served as a military stronghold through the centuries.
The Castle is located at the top of the Royal Mile. The other anchor is Holyrood Palace. Both should be visited, but we had to pick one or the other for this trip. The walk up to the Castle isn’t long but it is quite steep. Then, once on the Castle grounds, the steep walk continues, on up to where you can see the Crown Jewels of Scotland. The views of the city are beautiful and there are many displays and museums. We saw a lot but didn’t see nearly everything on the site.
Edinburgh Castle is a “must see” for visitors to this city. Wear your walking shoes and come ready to explore!
St Guiles’ dates back to the 1200’s and has played a big role in the history of this historic city of Edinburgh, Scotland. Thousands visit this church daily, not so much to worship as to see the stunning architecture and learn some of its history. This church was ground zero for the Scottish Reformation and John Knox, considered the father of that movement, became pastor of the church in 1559. Thus began the Presbyterian church. Honestly, there’s tons of information on St Guiles’ on the internet so I’ll just leave you with a few photos.