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Although I have spent the last few years living and working in Asia, I had never made it to Laos. It is not on the radar for work projects as it is still far behind the more developed parts of Asia. That said, Laos has certainly been a place I've wanted to visit for ages, and finally made it earlier this year.
Corey and I spent the first few months of 2016 in Langkawi, Malaysia. There are previous blogs related to our stay. Please take a look. Langkawi is a lovely island and wonderful holiday destination, particularly if you are already in SE Asia. I was sorry that Corey's job opportunity came to an end but the down time gave us the chance to explore Laos while we reset our compasses.
From Langkawi we traveled to Phuket to repack and then flew to Nong Khai, Thailand. We were blessed to stay with a great friend, Fon, and her father, and stage ourselves for the journey into Laos. Nong Khai is across the Mekong River from Laos on the Northern border of Thailand. We also came back through Nong Khai to spend more time with Fon and our friend from Portland, Gene. If you want to see the 'Real Thailand,' skip Phuket completely and head straight to Northern Thailand. It is truly engaging, full of interesting things to see and do.
Thank you Fon, Pa, and Gene for everything!!
Entering Laos is quite straightforward as you can take a taxi or tuk-tuk to the Thai border, then a bus over the Friendship Bridge into Laos. There you process a Visa on Arrival for approximately $35 USD. It helps if you already have a passport picture in your hand. From the border you can then hire a taxi or take a bus into Vientiane which is about 30 minutes drive into the country from the border.
Vientiane is a lovely city with a strong colonial heritage. It is the current capital of Laos. We rented a no-frills room with A/C for less than $20 USD and enjoyed walking around in the older part of town. In particular, we viewed Wat Si Saket, a temple built in 1818 which hosts over 2000 Buddha images.
Starting in Vientiane we savored the French influence in Laos- with our stomachs, splurging one night for a French dinner at La Cage du Coq in Vientiane. If you are there, go!!!
We spent one night in Vientiane and then jumped on a "VIP Bus" to Vang Vieng.
The VIP bus turned out to be old, dingy, and slow, but it did get us there in about 5 hours of bumpy riding.
Vang Vieng felt like a town from the wild, wild, west. I can't think of a better description. The streets are mostly dirt and rocks and it has a rough and tumble attitude. The bus drops you at the local station and you can walk into town or take a tuk-tuk for an inflated rate as it's only about 1 km to the tourist area from the Southern Bus Station. From the Northern Bus Station it's worth getting a ride but ANY ride, service, or goods in Laos are worth bargaining over.
Vang Vieng has a reputation as a party town. It has calmed quite a bit as town's Achille's Heel was the tubing venue. Large truck inner tubes can be rented and used to float down the river for a few hours. In the past there were multiple bars that you could tuck in to for beers, shots, and more. This resulted in more then one injury and death of young back packers which then caused the government to put pressure on the town to tone it down. Currently, from where we were dropped off by truck to enter the river and float back to town, there are only 3 bars still open. It's a much quieter scene, or at least it was when we were there. The weather was H-O-T so the tubing was a wonderful way to cool down and enjoy the river. I would highly recommend it. Don't forget your sunscreen!
Food and lodging in Vang Vieng runs the gamut. You can rent a hostel room for a few dollars US or a nice hotel room for closer to $100 USD. Meals can be as cheap as 20,000 kip (8,000/1USD) for a massive french bread sandwich with a variety of fillings and more for hotel meals. We opted for a rustic bungalow across the river for $15/night. We had a bathroom with a western toilet and A/C for that price and a great view of the mountains from our hammock. We usually don't do A/C but the heat and humidity were stifling.
We hiked a straight up a limestone karst for a look out view of VV, explored a huge cave, and rented a motor bike to see the areas nearby including the Blue Lagoon. I really enjoyed Vang Vieng and it's rugged atmosphere. I could almost live there but it's a bit far from a beach.
We spent a few days in VV and then opted for the slightly more efficient minibus to Luang Prabang. The minibus was quicker and more nimble, which I appreciated as we careened over a mountain pass with no railings. The road was washed out at different points and many rocks and many small landslides littered the road. I have to admit I was keeping one eye on the hill alongside of us in case it decided to fall so I could brace myself. It was a spooky ride! To add to this story's intrigue, after we returned from Luang Prabang to Vang Vieng, I read in an expat travel advisory that the exact road we were on had recently been the site of attacks on busses and minivans traveled between the towns. The local hill tribe, the Hmong, were not happy about the "new road" and used AK47's to express their feelings, killing some tourists by shooting a passing busses and minivans. This happened only a couple of weeks before we were there! Ignorance is bliss I guess.
Luang Prabang ranks highly on my list of favorite SE Asian cities. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and lies 300 km (190 miles) North of Vientiane in North Central Laos. It used to be the capital of the Kingdom of Laos until the communist take over in 1975. The community was named Luang Prabang in 698 CE/AD when it was conquered by a Tai (not Thai) Prince. It is famous as a Buddhist spiritual center with many temples and monasteries. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Luang_Prabang
Personally, I loved the spiritual, artsy vibe it exudes from every ancient building, temple, and walkway. The oldest part of town is nestled on a peninsula between the Mekong and Nam Khan Rivers.
We spent a few nights in LP and rented a motor bike so we could explore nearby areas up and down the main road. Specifically, we rode the bike up to access a Pak Ou Cave Temple across the Mekong. It is built in a cave and is heavily visited by locals and tourists alike. We also motored to the nearby Kuang Si waterfall. There are also tuk-tuks willing to take tourists to all local attractions if motorbikes aren't your bag.
A TripAdvisor WIN was a search for restaurants "nearby" our guest house. Cafe Toui popped up as highly rated, authentic local food. We walked over one evening and it was closed. The next evening we tried again and are very happy to report that the food was spectacular! The cafe is an intimate place, located on the main floor of an old shophouse. Chef Toui visits your table and actually took our order as he wasn't busy when we arrived. Highly recommend this cafe in Luang Prabang for Laos specialties!
I truly enjoyed Laos. It is hard to get to but worth the bumps along the road. It is economical to travel around Laos and the people are very friendly. It is a communist country and any political discussions are strongly discouraged but in general the country is slowly developing and we found it very welcoming. If Lao has not been on your itinerary, it should be!
Thailand is kicking off its New Year's celebration, Songkran. I'm currently in Northern Thailand, Nong Khai to be exact, and have been lucky enough to experience the build up to Songkran with my local friend Fon, our mutual friend Gene, and Corey.
The last few days, Fon has been attending practice for a dance that is done to praise and honor Buddha. The dance is done by men and women, all dressed in traditional Thai garb. I've watched them practice, and every day more people have joined the dance. Tonight was the dress rehearsal for tomorrow's big celebration. What a spectacle! There must have been well over 1000 people filling the entire temple grounds and joining together in a wonderful dance.
During all the action I happened to notice these two boys holding hands. They were likely told to 'keep track' of each other in the crowd. It made me think a bit about life. It is wonderful to have someone hold your hand, to navigate life together, to feel like a team. If you lose that hand, you immediately feel adrift. You may feel lost, without a rudder. Even the strongest person may not know where to turn and may have a bit of fear. I believe that it is at these times that we can grow as we find our way. It's much easier to hold on tightly to someone's hand but if the grip is lost, you must remember all is not lost. Being lost can be an adventure, it's all how you perceive the experience.
Stay tuned as I travel to Rishakesh, India to attend yoga teacher's training. Hopefully I will have enough internet to write about a recent trip into Laos while I travel. The blogs may not match the timeline but the adventure continues.
Happy Songkran Thailand!
Living on Langkawi has had a few perks. One most definitely was my chance to go up in the skydiving plane for a flight over the island. People were planning to jump out, which is what they do all day, but I stayed in... and here are my pics!
Skydive Langkawi shares the hangar with the SAS Helicopter team. This is a beautiful flying machine! Captain Sean is available to whisk you along on a magnificent scenic flight.
Skydiving and heli flights! Two wonderful ways to experience the Magical Island of Langkawi!
If you visit the tropics, this is something to look out for. Seriously!
While walking the shelter dogs today, I finally noticed this sign. I'm quite sure it has been there and I was too busy hanging on to dogs that are soooo eager for their loop around the property I didn't see it.
Making friends during my stay on Langkawi has not been too difficult. My yoga teacher also works with the local shelter and thus my "in" to walk dogs and cuddle kitties.
It's a fun way to spend a productive morning.
If you are an expat reading this blog, have you done any local volunteering? What's been your favorite community opportunity so far?
Tourists and expats, look out for coconuts!
Corey and I have been living on Langkawi, Malaysia for about 2 months. Langkawi was not even on our radar of potential places to see in Southeast Asia. A conversation with an Aussie friend launched Corey into the “job of the moment” and me into a life of leisure.
First off, Langkawi is actually an archipelago of 104 islands of which 99 remain above water at high tide. There are only a few that are inhabited. Langkawi Island, is the largest in size and population. It is fast becoming a high-end holiday destination due to shrewd marketing and an ideal location. Tourists arrive from all over the world but it is a backdoor destination for Kuala Lumpur and Singapore. The short, direct flights allow for a nice weekend escape. New direct flights from Guangzhou, China are promoting access to a very fertile Chinese market. As part of Malaysia, Langkawi has of course, an Islamic focused culture. This feature is also attracting moneyed clients from the Middle East.
Living between Thailand and Singapore the past couple of years highlighted the difference between those two countries. Now living on Langkawi, we observe new contrasts between Langkawi and Phuket. Phuket, Thailand is a huge island with a truly excessive number of tourists. It has a few redeeming qualities but there are certainly many other much more enjoyable island destinations in Thailand. Singapore is a wonderful place. Very clean, orderly, and expensive. I found pockets of deeply rooted culture in Singapore but it is certainly not an “in your face” Asian experience. I would suggest visiting Singapore if you want to ‘ease into’ Asia.
Back to Langkawi! The primary island and waters, including nearby islands, have been named the first GeoPark in SE Asia. What is a GeoPark you might ask? It is defined as “a UNESCO-designated area containing one or more sites of particular geological importance, intended to conserve the geological heritage and promote public awareness.” This is very exciting as the island is striving to promote more ecologically friendly tourism.
Corey and I took a boat tour of the mangroves and GeoPark area. You can rent an entire boat, which we did, for two to five hours, depending on what you want to do and see. We chose the 2 hour tour (I’m hearing Gilligan’s Island theme in my head as I write). We were most interested in the mangroves, the Bat Caves, and the area famous for the local eagles. Langkawi is actually named for the local reddish-brown eagle. They are spectacular! There is also a local bald eagle. We were able to observe both in an open section of the mangroves. There are boats that offer the eagles chicken skin and chicken parts. This is very likely NOT ecologically sound but hey, we are in SE Asia. This is something that likely should be addressed locally. I was just glad to see the mangroves being kept relatively clean as well as the focus on the natural flora and fauna. FYI- we did NOT feed the eagles and I would certainly encourage anyone who visits to discourage their tour operator from doing so.
As we slowly coasted through the mangroves, the water shimmered and reflected the drooping tangled branches of the trees. The watery shallows revealed the mangrove roots or “knees.” We were lucky to have adventured out at low tide. Our boat travelled through a cave and also stopped on the gray mud flats to watch the bustle of activity. Mudskippers walking on their front fins and crabs carrying the “doors” to their homes, popping them in behind as they crawled down their holes.
Snakes are common in the mangroves and our guide’s eagle eyes spotted a lazy cobra in the branches. We got as close as we dared for a photo opportunity.
Another adventure found us on a ferry to a nearby Thai island for one night. Koh Lipe is 1.5 hours away from Langkawi and a million miles difference in everything besides distance! Koh Lipe is beautiful. It is a very small island with few roads and can be primarily explored by foot. It has crystal clear water and is ringed by cream colored sandy beaches. It was a nice distraction from our usual life on Langkawi. Langkawi finds the locals in conservative Islamic clothing for the most part and tourists stand out. Koh Lipe is the total opposite. More bikinis per square inch of island than I’ve seen in a while. Corey was very appreciative. We ate as much pork as we could get our hands on in just over 24 hours. We can get good Thai food in Langkawi but Thai style bbq pork is really hard to beat. You can only eat so much chicken…
Here are some pics of both Langkawi and Koh Lipe. Please open this blog in your browser so you can see the slideshows! I look forward to your comments, as always.
Expats and the Nomadic Gene
Webster defines an Expatriate simply as “a person who lives outside their native country.” While this is true in its basic definition, what drives a person to become an Expat? Are they chasing money, a dream, an ideal, or possibly a combination of these and more?
There are two types of Expats from my observations, Settled and Nomadic. Corey and I became expatriates in 2011 upon moving to Australia. This is the second time for both of us as we have lived outside the USA with previous spouses, both on sailing boats. Considering our histories and our plans for the future there is a high probability we carry the “Nomadic Gene.”
Some expats move to one place and settle in, creating “Home” where they land. Others, possibly inspired by the excitement of the process; the planning and creating a new life with friends and community, find their first landing becomes a spring board for the next. These people become the wanderers, always looking towards the next adventure. This could possibly be considered an addiction, similar to the adrenaline craving that an extreme sports enthusiast experiences. Many humans are immune to this affliction or just possibly do not carry the "Nomadic Gene." Others may not have not tested themselves but may have a niggling suspicion they are susceptible. These individuals may suppress their urges as the nomadic lifestyle is far from what has been set as Normal Life. Go to school, go to more school, get a job, buy a car, buy a house, buy stuff, get married, have kids… SETTLE DOWN! This is truly seen as the best and possibly only path to take. Is this bad? No, not if you can say you are truly happy and content, and I know many that are. Following your heart, not your head or the expectations of others can help you determine if you are "Settling" vs. "Settled." As someone who has the "gene" it can be a challenge to find balance and feel settled.
When visiting the USA, friends and family often ask when we will move “Home.” During Skype sessions we are often asked when are we “coming home.” Many expats, including myself, have often referred to their native country as “home.” Statements such as, “I’m heading home for a visit in a few months” in an expat community are commonly heard, and there is a universal understanding of what that means although most expats would say they have more than one "Home." Expats with the Nomadic Gene are especially challenged around the concept of "Home."
The best quote I’ve read to describe the beauty and the challenge of being a wanderer is this, “You will never be completely at home again, because part of your heart always will be elsewhere. That is the price you pay for the richness of loving and knowing people in more than one place.” Miriam Adeney.
As someone who suffers from this addiction, I’m often asked, “What is your favorite place of all you have visited?” This is truly impossible for me to answer. As the quote suggests, the experiences and relationships gained through travel are riches in themselves and all are equally exciting.
All this aside, do I miss family and friends left behind? Oh yes, very much! My heart aches to be closer when important milestones occur; a birth, a death, graduations, birthdays, even the loss of a beloved pet. My extended time in the USA this past year was such a blessing. I was able to attend our family reunion and two weddings, spend time with family and friends, hang out at our lovely beach home in Rockaway, snuggle as much as possible with Zoe and all the kiddos close to my heart, and love on my old dog Vela. All of these experiences and more, fill my heart and tide me over until I can return for more. That said, visiting with elderly family members and attending the funeral of my cousin, reminded me that tomorrow is not guaranteed. This year off of work is all about remembering that fact; nurturing my heart, my relationships, and creating experiences that will last a lifetime-- how ever long that may be.
Everyone isn't meant to wander. However, I would hope to inspire you to stretch yourself past what you think you may be capable of doing. Don’t find yourself "settling” for what you think may be expected of you if your heart is telling you to do something else.
My goal is to grow as old as I’m allowed, never looking back to say, “I wish I had…” I'm happy to succumb to the influence of the Nomadic Gene. It helps that Corey is also a carrier and fully addicted to the lifestyle. We enjoy our adventures as well as always looking forward to seeing family and friends, in the USA and abroad.
Stay tuned for more adventures this year starting in Malaysia. Here are some photos from our trip to the PacNW this past year (2015). Don't forget to click on the title of this blog to open into your browser. This enables you to see the slideshow below.
See you all online, back stateside, or where ever you may find us in 2016!!!
Cheers, Peggy and Corey
Living Island Style in Malaysia
After an amazing Fall and holiday season in the PACNW 2016 finds us living on an island in Malaysia called Langkawi. Corey is helping with a start up Australian-owned skydiving operation and I'm enjoying my leave.
I'm testing out doing a blog post on my phone so this will be short and sweet.
The picture above is where we currently live. It is a local style triplex with a wonderful view and a short walk to a small village area. I will post a few pics of what my typical morning is like. Don't forget to open this in your browser so you can see the slideshow.
As you can see, I have a functional kitchen and a choice of places to sit and enjoy my egg sandwich.
Hope everyone has a great day! More soon, stay tuned.
London, the final stop on our mini European vacation. Stephanie, Mom and I planned to take Steph's car to a train station out near their home, park, and ride the train into London. In theory, perfect. In fact, and for your information, do NOT count on a parking space at any and all train stations with extended parking in the English countryside. We drove to 3 stations, drove around their lots, and finally (and very luckily) spied an open spot. Whew! Driving and parking in London are challenging and expensive so the train was the best choice. Just a head's up that parking cannot be guaranteed, so don't plan a tight schedule upon arrival.
We had an amazing time. Our hotel, again booked through Booking.com was not too bad. It was clean but the room was very small for a triple. No space to put luggage and the bathroom reminded me of a cross between a airplane bathroom and a Japanese bathroom. So very tiny and efficient. If you put a shower in an airplane bathroom, that would be a good description. I was just happy it had hot water. We stayed in the Paddington area, an easy walk to the tube station. This is a reasonable location as you can get anywhere on the trains/tube. We also spent a lot of time walking which is easy to do in London.
Some of the highlights of London for me were Westminster Abbey, the boat tour on the Thames, and of course, Billy Elliot, the Musical. Best of all it was just grand to explore with Mom and Stephanie.
Westminster Abbey was so very interesting. It was founded in 960 by Benedictine monks who continue to worship there to this day. It has been the coronation church since 1066 and is the final resting place for 17 monarchs and over 3000 people, some of them the most famous in England's history. The present church was built in 1245 and is filled with paintings stained glass, tapestries, and more. Pictures were forbidden so you will just have to visit it yourself to appreciate the history contained within its walls. (some text from website: http://www.westminster-abbey.org) Westminster Cathedral is also impressive to walk through. We had hoped to get to the top of the tower for the viewing area but it was closed. If that is an option and you have a fairly clear day, I'd recommend it. If you don't feel like hiking up multiple stories, just viewing the cathedral's main floor is worth your time.
There are a few options for viewing London from the Thames river. This is worthwhile and we meant to get the hop on, hop off boat but ended up on an hour tour with a hilarious narrator. His commentary was worth the error and we laughed about some of his jokes for the rest of the trip.
Camden Markets is a unique and cost effective option to grab lunch or early dinner and do some shopping. There are many food booths, representing multiple nationalities. Some of the vendors are located in the Stables Markets which is an old stable area that has been handsomely remodeled to house the vendors amid the doorways and arches.
We all thought Billy Elliot was Fantastic!! The Victoria Palace Theatre was rebuilt in 1910 and is a classic building. The musical Billy Elliot has been playing there since 2005 and is also a movie so if you want to smile and laugh, rent and enjoy.
Don't forget to click on the title of the blog to open in your browser so you can enjoy the slideshow below.
Happy New Year and may 2016 find you just where you want to be, with a happy heart and a smile on your face.
Stay tuned for more adventures back in Asia as I will be returning there just after New Year's day to join Corey in Langkawi Island, Malaysia. This is a new location for both of us and should provide some interesting blog fodder.
Don't forget to open this blog in your browser so you can see the slide shows.
Our Euro holiday ended in London but for a few days prior we stayed with my lovely niece Stephanie and her hubby Alex, near Lakenheath. Mom and I took a train down from Edinburgh to Cambridge to catch up with Stephanie as Cambridge is about an hour's drive from their home. I had always wanted to see this famous collegiate town so we spent one night in a less than lovely hotel before heading back to Lakenheath. It bears mentioning here that I used the phone app for booking.com fairly exclusively while booking on the go and have decided that if you do not want to spend the time and effort cross-referencing reviews on Trip Advisor or other website do NOT expect much from a hotel on booking.com with less than an 8.8/10 review. When reviewing, I’ve noted that you really have to dish hard on a property to get them rated under 8.0/10 so I believe the reviews are skewed towards highly positive.
Cambridge is beautiful! We had a sunny, crisp fall day to wander about and enjoyed taking in the historical vibe of the city. To enter most of the college grounds and historical buildings there is a charge so that was a bit off-putting, especially with the exchange rate not in our favor. I was looking towards a few days in London and was feeling a bit pinched on the travel budget by the time we arrived in Cambridge. We did cough up the fee to walk around Queen’s College, founded initially in 1446 and “refounded” in 1475. Outstanding buildings and grounds! The back of the property had a wooden bridge across the Cambridge River. A great place to watch the Punters float by.
You might wonder, what is Punting? Take a look at the slideshow below to see the slender wooden boats guided by young men with long sticks. That is punting. We didn’t go, which is the one thing I actually think we should have done on the entire trip that we skipped. It was entertaining to watch and listen to the young men providing their narrative as they slipped under the bridge below us.
We also went into the Fitzwilliam Museum and ate lunch in their cafe. It has wonderful collections of everything from armor and paintings, to porcelain and more. Really worth the visit and it’s free.
From Stephanie and Alex’s place we took day trips around the area. We visited Cromer, a lovely seaside village. We toured the Surf Lifesaver building on the pier and walked through the shops. Again, we were lucky to have a cool, sunny day at the shore.
Stephanie also took us to Bury St. Edmund. I loved this charming village for it’s history and for keeping itself up so nicely for visitors. The Cathedral, St. Mary’s Church, and the ruins of the nearby Abbey were all excellent spots to explore. Bury (for short) also boasts Britain’s Smallest Pub--The Nutshell. I didn’t stop for a drink but then, there weren't 3 seats available! Some of the burial crypts in the ancient cathedrals have stone figures on top. A few looked quite a bit like Voldemort. I wondered if these figures inspired the artists for the Harry Potter movies.
Across the UK and Ireland; history comes to life. As someone who loves architecture, antiques, art, and all the rest, it was truly an exciting place to explore. We also visited an English Heritage site called Audley End. It is a massive house which was actually a palace all but in name. It started as an Abbey in 1538 and became a residence later in that century where King James l was entertained. It remains huge although much has been demolished. The gardens have an active stable built in the 17th century. The Kitchen Garden is run by an organic gardening charity. The home is full of paintings, books, and a bed the King slept in. It is well preserved and can be viewed on the self guided tour. The stable is well preserved as well and we enjoyed seeing the horses and playing around on the exhibit.
I hope you enjoyed this little section of our adventure. Stay tuned for the next chapter- LONDON!
Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to our readers. Please comment and share. Thank you!!
History lovers, head to Edinburgh, Scotland!
My mom and I traveled to Europe this past fall and had a blast! We spent time in London, Dublin and Southern Ireland, and then had a few nights in Edinburgh, Scotland. If you missed the previous blogs check them out if you have interest. If you want to hear about our little taste of Scotland, read on! As always, open the blog in your browser so you can enjoy the slide shows please!
I didn’t think I could enjoy a bone chilling city as much as i loved Edinburgh. Remember folks, I have been living in SE Asia for the past year, fall in the UK and Ireland was downright cold. No worries, we powered through and enjoyed every little dram.
I mentioned previously that I’m reading the Game of Thrones series. This only made touring another castle even more intriguing as well as hanging out in “Old Town” which was founded in 1130 A.D. Edinburgh’s Old Town area is quite literally an ancient city built around the castle. It is a maze of cobblestone streets with colorful storefronts, pubs, and churches as well as the occasional stone archway entrance to a dark close (alley). I was visualizing knights, ladies, and commoners all mingling and carrying on their day.
Edinburgh Castle is the primary feature of the city and the rock it is built upon has been inhabited since the Iron Age. The castle has been in place since the 11th century at least. It’s of course, a must see, even if you don’t love history and castles… but then why would you be in Europe?
Again, the Hop on Hop Off bus was a win in Edinburgh. We were able to visit all the sites, including the Britannia, while being entertained by live Scots narrative. Some were easier to understand than others. One guy, I swear was Mike Meyers. He sounded just like the father in “So I Married an Axe Murderer” and had a crooked grin like an older Austin Powers or maybe a skinnier Fat Bastard. It was keeping me in giggles to listen to him although we truly only understood one in every 5-10 words. We definitely got more out of other narrators but none were quite as entertaining.
In Edinburgh we stayed in a wonderful B&B. It is called “A Georgian Residence” and it is run by Florence Shanks. http://morayplace.co.uk We could not have felt more at home. The 4 level stone row house is full of antiques and topped with a skylight. Mom and I had a room on the top floor which added a bit more exercise to our day but we needed it to burn off the amazing breakfasts served by Florence and her helpers. Kate Summerscale, an author, stayed with Florence to research and write “Mrs. Robinson’s Disgrace.” The subject is a wife who lived in the home in the 1850’s. The book is next on my list, after GOT’s of course.
A visit to the Palace of Holyroodhouse is well worth the time if you find yourself in Edinburgh. It is the Official Residence in Scotland of Her Majesty the Queen. Summertime may find her in residence, but when the royals are not about, it is open to the public. The 12th century ruins of the Abby next door made for some very scenic photos as you cannot photography in the House itself.
The Mary King’s Close Tour is an interesting view of Edinburgh, basically from underground. The tour gives you an overview of what the less fortunate had to deal with as many lived in the layers of buildings below the main road, accessed by a Close. These families lived in filth, poverty and often disease such as the plague. On a more cheerful note, we also took the Scotch Whiskey Experience Tour. I don’t usually go for such things but this was very interesting and we learned a lot about whiskey. In fact, I’d like to think I am now a bit of a whiskey aficionado. The only negative part of the tour is that they only give you one taste for the lower level price which is what we bought. All in all, it is still worth the visit if you have an interest in whiskey or think you might. It might be worth spending up on the next level of the tour, depending on your pocketbook. One of our favorite meals was at Howie’s on Victoria Street. We both had Scottish salmon and I had a flight of whiskey tasters. Such fun!
We didn’t get further afield than Leith which is a Northern suburb, made somewhat famous by an 80’s band, the Proclaimers. If you remember the song, “500 Miles” - that is the band. We visited the Royal Yacht Britannia which is permanently docked there. It was once the Queen’s 'big boat' and is well worth the visit especially if you fancy boats like I do.
Lastly, we were told the story of Greyfriar’s Bobby as we passed the statue of the little dog along the bus tour route and we also visited GreyFriar's Kirk (Church). The faithful little Skye Terrier belonged to a policeman named John Gray. The common nickname for a policeman is Bobby, and somehow that became the pup’s name as well. John Gray would often walk Bobby up Candlemaker Row in Old Town, and eat at No. 6 Greyfriar’s Place. John was also known as Auld Jock and died too soon at the age of 45, due to tuberculosis. Bobby was only 2 years old when his master was buried at Greyfriar’s Kirkyard (Churchyard) and according to tradition he was allowed to the funeral. Bobby then visited the grave daily, only leaving to eat dinner at 1pm and often play with children along the street. The terrier died at age 16, having stood vigil at his master’s grave for 14 years and a Baroness erected a memorial to the dog, now located near John Gray’s grave in the Kirkyard. There are many renditions of this story, all as sweet as the last.
Stay tuned for the last blog about the trip! Hopefully coming along soon.