On Edinburgh

Although Edinburgh’s human roots date back to 8000 BC, the city along the Firth of Forth became chartered in 1125. Today, it is Scotland’s political, cultural, and commercial hub. We journeyed into Edinburgh twice – first on a bus trip from Greenock (on the west coast) for the Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo (previous post) – then several days later after our ship set anchor in nearby South Queensferry for encountering more of this Scottish jewel.

To me, Edinburgh was the most captivating of the cities we visited on this trip. The grand old stone buildings, the charm of Old Town, the Georgian and Victorian architecture of New Town, and being a city bustling with activity; – let alone the highly visible Edinburgh Castle sitting high on a hill above it all.

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With 5 major festivals in progress during August, the streets were not quiet – plus two cruise ships in town. I wonder how many of the people we saw were Edinburghers? But cheers to the many street performers!

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The Royal Mile (High Street) is Old Town’s main street. It’s loaded not only physical charm, it’s a vibrant area filled with shops, eateries, and establishments featuring adult beverages. Taking the long walk up the hill from our bus to the castle was a great introduction into Edinburgh. The feast continues by wondering nearby streets.

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As usual, our fee touched Edinburgh’s pavement many times on this day. This city is a visual feast – let alone filled with history. Greyfriars Bobby is an interesting story – a dog who faithfully stayed at his master’s grave for 14 years. Various people took care of Bobby during this time, and yes – he is buried a short distance from his master.

We loved Edinburgh and would like to return during a less-crazy time. We missed going into Edinburgh Castle because we chose to forego the long lines. Atop Calton Hill provides outstanding 360-views of the city, but I’ve shown enough pictures in this post. Besides the video shows it. Enjoy this 2-minute drone video tour giving you a taste of this fabulous city.

For those wanting to see more of Edinburgh, click here for a longer tour.

Next stop: Normandy France

For other posts about our time in the British Isles, click here.

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On the Scottish Highlands

Beautiful mountains, valleys, and rolling hills of the Scottish Highlands sets the stage for this post. After a day in Greenock, Scotland (on the west coast), we had a cruise day – and oh what beauty Scotland provided as we cruised.

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The following day we docked in Invergordon. Months before going we discovered that Invergordon itself doesn’t provide much, so we booked a tour with Gavin at Invergordon Tours –  and he provided a wonderful day that included quite a variety. He’s also quite the personality – and a very tall bald guy wearing a kilt.

Millionaire’s View provided our first scenic view of the area.

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The Falls of Shin was a scenic stop, but we didn’t see any Atlantic Salmon leaking the falls on their spawning journey. The water does drop again below where we took this picture.

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Dunrobin Castle is a 189-room castle overlooking Dornoch Firth with beautiful gardens below the castle on the way to the water.

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The castle tour was OK, but we loved the falconry demonstration.

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We spent lunch time in Dornoch, a quaint town. Dornoch Cathedral (Church of Scotland but originally Roman Catholic) is part of the town square.

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Scots are serious about their whiskey – so the tour included a stop at Glenmorangie distillery – famous for their single-malt whiskey, which stays barreled for 10 years. They also produce long-aged whiskies, plus other varieties that included 2 years in a different type of barrel – such as sherry, port, and sauterne. Good stuff!

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A video of images from the land to the strains of Scotland the Brave done by pipes and drums is a fitting way to end this post.

We recommend Invergordon Tours – so a shout-out to Gavin for a wonderful day.

Next Stop: An evening in Edinburgh

For other posts about our time in the British Isles, click here.

On a Box Now Checked

Embed from Getty Images

Some people call it a bucket list – others prefer to say wish list, dream destination, or whatever. On 23 August 2015 I posted about a place that was on both mine and my wife’s list. After monitoring the website at various points before our journey, on Wednesday, the 9th of August 2017, we checked the box.

About a month earlier at the golf club where I work, I met an English couple who were new members. I told him about our upcoming trip, including our plans for this location – to which he replied, Why? Once I mentioned the reason, his inquisitive frowning face changed to a smile.

We planned the day in advance. We knew when the ship docked in Liverpool, the location and distance to the train station, the train schedule, return times, and the essential information about our destination. We were on a mission for our time of dancing on one of the most famous ballroom floors in the world – the Blackpool Tower Ballroom in Blackpool, England.

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Blackpool is on England’s west coast, about a 90-minute train ride to the north from Liverpool. It’s a seaside resort that is very popular with commoners. Madame Tussauds, water parks, a carnival atmosphere, and more aren’t on my favorite things list, but the famed ballroom was our attraction.

Given the floor, the historic significance, and the ornate surrounding – absolutely Bucket List for us. Our ticket included a 90-minute tea with sandwiches, fruit, and tarts.

Image from Blackpool Tower website

Architectural elegance and charm from a time that has past define the Tower Ballroom (which dates back to 1894).

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Surrounding the large floor were the organists on a stage at one end; tables to sit at the opposite end; and settings for tea along one side.

Dancing to an organist (instead of recorded music) was a new experience. Two organists shared the duties, so music was continuous. One organ, the mighty Wurlitzer, makes a grand entrance being lifted to the stage from below … then lowers out of sight when the player’s shift concludes.

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We already knew to expect a different style of ballroom dance at Blackpool (American vs. International). Amazingly, for at least the first three dances we simply sat at our table thinking, We can’t do that! We never get a chance to dance because everyone on the floor is doing the same thing … the same steps/pattern.

I approached a couple near our table about what we were observing. They explained that the English and many Europeans dance sequences, which are set patterns that every does. The clue would be to listen to the organist because he would announce the name of the sequence and dance, so we should listen for the terms traditional or ballroom that will signal an non-sequence dance.

Sequences are fun to watch, but not if you are there to dance and you don’t know the sequence! We were surprised by the number of sequences … and dancers sat down if they didn’t know the sequence.

This is the Engagement Waltz.

We finally made it on the floor … and the first thing that we noticed was the amount spring in the floor – especially in the center. Our tea-table was almost in the center, and the movement made photography difficult – and of course I started wondering about potential motion sickness. Yes – the movement was that noticeable!

We stayed for almost 4 hours, and we were glad to check the box on our Bucket List. With the ship departing at 8 pm, we were fortunate to have a few hours in Liverpool (the previous post).

Here’s a short (90-second) promotional video showing the Blackpool Tower Ballroom. Enjoy … and you notice sequence dancing.

Next stop: Belfast, Northern Ireland

For other posts about our time in the British Isles, click here.

My past post about Blackpool’s Tower Ballroom

On Back in Cobh

Cohb is along Ireland’s southern coast. Given its large natural harbor, it serves the entire area, including Cork. After a day in Guernsey in the English Channel, the Caribbean Princess docks in Cobh to give passengers access to Cork, Blarney Castle, and the rest of southern Ireland. After time in Cork, we spent our remaining time wandering Cobh.

Although the area’s history goes back to 1000 BC, Cobh was first called Cove, but from 1849-1920 it was known as Queenstown, then the name change to Cobh (which is Gaelic for cove).

The first striking figure that is more than obvious is St. Coleman’s Cathedral (Roman Catholic) – a neo-Gothic structure towering over the waterfront.

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A statue of Annie Moore and her brothers greeted us at the dock. Annie Moore was the first person admitted into the US through the new emigration center at Ellis Island on January 1, 1892. Besides the Moores, between 1848-1959 over 2.5 million emigrated from Cobh in their search for new lives in new lands.

The town square is a short walk from dock – and an ominous statue greets visitors – the Lusitania Memorial Monument. On 7 May 1915 a German u-boat sunk the RMS Lusitania as it was en route to Liverpool – 1198 died and 700 survived. Because Cobh (then called Queenstown) was a base for British and American naval forces, rescuers brought survivors and recovered dead bodies to Cobh – therefore 167 are buried in Cobh.

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Three years before the Lusitania disaster, Cobh was the final port-of-call for the RMS Titanic (123 passengers boarded). The Titanic Experience is an attraction located in original White Star ticket office. When we arrived, tickets were sold out, but we heard good comments about it.

Up the hill we went to see the cathedral. The barricades are for a balls-racing-down-the-hill event, a fundraising effort we unfortunately missed.

It took 47 years to build (1868-1915) St. Coleman. An outstanding structure with a grand organ having 2,468 pipes and a tower including a 49-bell carillon.

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The plaza around St. Coleman provides excellent views of Cobh and the harbor region.

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Because of its maritime heritage, here’s a song by the Clancy Brothers & Tommy Maken about Cobh meeting the needs of sailors. Next stop: Dublin, Ireland

On Time in Cork

After a relaxing day in Guernsey, we arrived in Cobh, Ireland – the port for Cork – the main city in southern Ireland. We initially planned to visit Blarney Castle, but those plans changed (the night before) after discovering the day was a holiday. (A good decision because we eventually learned that Blarney Castle was packed with people!)

Cobh, Ireland is one of the main ports in southern Ireland. We initially planned to travel to Cork (by train) to catch a bus for Blarney Castle. However, we heard that the day as an Irish bank holiday, so we scratched Blarney because we thought it would be extra crowded. (We heard that was true).

Cobh’s train station is beside the dock, so a 20-minute inexpensive train ride took us to Cork.

Given the holiday, it seemed many of the 125,000 inhabitants we either elsewhere or inside. Many businesses were closed and the city wasn’t bustling with people. Although a quiet day, we still had a good day walking in the city founded by the Vikings in the 6th century A.D. along the River Lee.

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Because we suddenly changed our plans for this day, we stumbled across this gem early in our day. A church on a hill caught our attention, so we migrated that way – and oh what a treasure would await us.

Built in 1722, Church of St. Anne (Anglican, Church of Ireland) with its towers provides a striking landmark above the city. We walked the 132 steps to the top for a beautiful 360-degree view of the city and surrounding region.

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The Firken Crane is directly below – a name that caught my attention. 🙂 It’s history is tied to the butter industry, but today it the the Institute of Choreography and Dance.

St. Anne’s tower is well-known for it’s bells. Given its location within Cork’s Shandon district, the bells are also known as The Bells of Shandon. Famous enough to have a song written about them.

For us, the trip to the tower’s top provided an added bonus. The first stop along the narrow corridor was the bell ringing station – actually known as change ringing. They provided a songbook for visitors to ring. After ringing, we continued our journey to the top, which included passing very close to the bells – as they were ringing! – so visitors are required to wear devices to protect their hearing.

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Saint Fin Barre’s Cathedral (Anglican, Church of Ireland) is one of Cork’s must-visit locations. This gothic-styled cathedral built in 1879 is impressive.

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Elizabeth Fort sits on a hill south of the medieval town near St. Fin Barre. Built in 1601, its history includes time as a fort, military barracks, prison, police station, and tourist attraction. Actually unimpressive, but it has a historical role in the region.

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St. Patrick’s Street is a downtown shopping district that now includes pedestrian friendly streets. Unfortunately for us, many businesses were closed due to the holiday. That gave us time to return to Cobh to examines the quaint setting near the dock, which will be the next stop on this tour. Meanwhile, enjoy this 4-minute walking tour of Cork.

On Following the Titanic

Image from Wikipedia

Although everyone knows the its story is legendary, we were surprised how much we encountered the RMS Titanic on our recent cruise around the British Isles.

We visited Liverpool, the home of White Star Line and the location of Titanic’s registry.

Liverpool from the departing ship

We traveled on Princess Cruise Lines, which is one division within Carnival Cruise Lines – that includes Cunard Line, the company that White Star merged with following the disaster.

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We visited Belfast where the Titanic was built (the actual site is on this side of the silver building – Titanic Belfast, a museum dedicated to honoring Belfast’s shipbuilding industry that is located on the former Harland and Wolff shipyard that built Titanic)

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Our cruise started in Southampton, the same city that Titanic started.

We stopped in Cobh, Ireland (then called Queenstown) – which was Titanic’s last stop where 125 people boarded. (More about Cobh in a future post.)

Several years ago we had a cruise stop in Halifax, Nova Scotia (Canada) where 150 passengers are buried in three cemeteries

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… and I imagine many readers remember this in 1997 …

… but for me, the images of this video is what strikes me.

On a Vacation Primer

For those wanting some background music for the post, here’s some music from the land.

On to the post.

The image shows are 12-days of cruising. Keep in mind that we had 4 days in London before cruising, plus 3 days in Reykjavik, Iceland after the cruise. Both of these stops were independent of the cruise and done on our own.

I was struck by the fact that each of the major cities in the British Isles were quite different from one another.

  • The most grand: London, England
  • The most captivating: Edinburgh, Scotland
  • The most walkable: Dublin, Ireland
  • The most unexpectedly different: Liverpool, England
  • The most gut wrenching: Belfast, Northern Ireland

… and we didn’t just visit cities on the trip:

  • The most scenic countryside: Northern Scotland
  • The most solemn: American military cemetery at Normandy (Omaha Beach)
  • The most quaint: St. Peter Port, Guernsey
  • The most geologic diverse: Iceland

We walked a lot – averaging about 13,500 steps per day with over 25,000 being the most. When walking, my eyes are busy. For those who remember, when in Florence, Italy – I say “Look up!” Whether walking or passing by in a touring bus, these business signs on the trip caught my eye. Other than the obvious, any thoughts on what they sell?