Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Castle Day

Today, we are visiting castles. Our first stop is at the top of the Royal Mile, for a visit to Edinburgh Castle. It is truly an awe inspiring place - the northern stronghold of the monarchy. 

In all the time the English/Scottish royalty has resided here, the castle has only fallen to invaders 3 times; not bad considering it is nearly a thousand years old!
The views from the walls are spectacular. 

The castle has been rebuilt repeatedly from the earliest of settlements on this hilltop to the current fortifications. It has been used to guide ships from sea, and as a clock to synchronize timepieces of both sailors and townspeople by firing a cannon once a day. Though most places might have had a sounding of noon, the frugal scots sound but once as it saves on powder! 
After our visit to the castle, it is time to walk the entire length of the Royal Mile. Oddly, the Royal Mile is actually only a touch over a half a mile long. Along the way, we visit the 'holy land' for economists: Adam Smith's grave in the small graveyard where Riccio (Mary Queen of Scot's confidant, who was murdered right in front if her by her husband Lord Darnley) is also buried. 

However, we wend our way down the built up lava flow of a long extinct volcano, down to the HolyRood House, an official residence of the Royal family. As a matter of fact, the queen was here just last week. We even saw some of 'the chosen few' as they entered the grounds for one of the queen's garden parties during our bus tour a few days ago. Here are the royal gates, as the rest was off limits to photography. 

The palace is pretty incredible, especially to think the royals were in residence so recently!

After our tour of HolyRood, we took a local bus to Craigmillar Castle, a local ruin that has also existed from the time of Mary. This castle, however, required a bit of a walk through pastureland. 

We were rewarded however with the ruin, in all it's glory. 

Though it no longer has a roof ('topless' as it were, lol), it is still pretty cool.

The following day was devoted to Gladstone's Land and Georgian House, examples of the living conditions of the aristocracy of the day up through the reigns of the early 'Georges'. 

On Thursday, however, were back to royalty and a visit to Stirling Castle. It is the most fully restored of the medieval castles, a glorious sight. We had a wonderful four with a very entertaining guide.
The restored halls were beyond impressive, as they were redone using only original materials and techniques. The hall had NO metal nails or screws, only wooden pegs and great engineering. 

We couldn't help it, lee and I played the part if royalty. 

We also enjoyed looking at the royal apartments with fully remade tapestries:

There were even hired actors to answer questions and add ambiance. 

After all that, it was almost a relief to hike up to the William Wallace Memorial. 
Though some of us were pretty proud to even MAKE it to the top. 

A long, but very fulfilling couple of days touring the royal experience of both the English and Scottish monarchies! 

The next day was final exams in the morning followed by the more modern powers of Scotch. A visit to the operating distillery of Glenkinchie.

The trip home was, happily, uneventful and even on time. The end of our time together was bittersweet, but most of us agreed it was good to get home. All in all, though, a month we will never forget!

Thank you for following my blog! 

Friday, July 5, 2013

Weekend Travel

We rearranged a few things, let lectures run long (don't they always?), and managed a free weekend, but only on the condition that students do something educational and write two papers on it (one for each class). 
Four of our students headed for Stockholm, several jumped on a plane for Dublin and I took the opportunity to grab a cheap, last minute flight to Prague with my son. Since arriving, we took a dinner cruise on the Vlotava. 
The history and scenery here is amazing. 

And, it is even better from the river as some things can only really be appreciated from there (one of the castle walls, for instance, that one would just not appreciate from other perspectives).

We also took your basic bus tour, which was rich in historical information. Like that the bridge in the picture was built in 1357, with the corner stone set in May 13, 5:31 am. 
Then, just for fun we took a Segway tour! 

On this tour we saw "other" treasures of Prague. The John Lennon wall (he never visited here, by the way):

The "babies"

And then, there was this interesting fountain...

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Edinburgh Day Trip

After a few hours of my fascinating musings on the economic and social development of Great Britain (ok, that just means we had class and I lectured for a few hours) and we had our fill of the gory deaths of William Wallace, Edward II, and the maudlin periods of the great famines and plagues, we headed off to Edinburgh. We jumped onto the hop on hop off bus tour.

We will be revisiting several of these sights in the coming days, including a full tour of the castle, Holyrood Palace, and a few others. 

The students had a sort of scavenger hunt worksheet through the Royal Museum of Scotland, so after one full rotation of the hop on hop off tour, e bade goodbye to our very using and informative guide. 

We got off at the Royal Musuem for a trip through this recently renovated, and seriously cool, museum. As an example, one question asked about the large item in the Victorian main hall that looked like a flashlight, can you guess what it is?

After searching high and low, students were free to find supper before meeting at Mary Kings Close for a spooky, but absolutely authentic trip back in time to one if the most famous 'closes' of Edinburgh. It was covered over and used as a foundation for a government building  but was recently reopened for tours. It was a great day. 

Sunday, June 30, 2013

Dalkeith at Last!!

We arrived, safe and sound, in Dalkeith a town 6 miles outside Edinburgh on Thursday. This is our new 'home away from home' as from here we only take day trips until our departure for home on July13. Dalkeith House is an imposing palace; it has a very important place in history as kings and rulers have been here often since the first dwelling here was noted by William the Conquerer back around 1069. It was thoroughly rebuilt (though on some of the same foundations) back in 1701. 

The accommodations are pretty amazing, even if we are packed 4 to a room! 
Friday we had a full day of class lectures (and here you thought it was all fun and games) but followed it up with a pizza party hosted by some local friends of Lee. They even created a quiz bowl game for knowledge of Scotland. I would like to point out that I won with 25 correct out of 30, but the winning prizes went to the best undergraduate team with 19. Lee's team also had a score of 19 (wink).
We have had a walking tour of Dalkeith and our first trip into Edinburgh. This weekend some of us went golfing, some went to Loch Ness, and most of us enjoyed finally being settled in one place. The coming week will bring many new sites to visit and classroom time; students have already been given assignments for both classes. There really is actual academic learning going on! I should know, as I will be grading soon enough (unhappy face)...

Thursday, June 27, 2013

York: Old, not New!

Arrived at York yesterday in time for a very informative walking tour.

We saw Roman ruins, the Shambles, bits of Royal history, and heard tales of life, death, and betrayal. 
We had time for a group shot in front of Clifford's Tower, the site of a horrific persecution of the Jews in 1190, leading to group suicide and 'walls that bleed' on the anniversary of the tragedy. 

We also saw the shortest street with the longest name in our stroll around the Shambles.

After a break for lunch, 

We met up again for a ghost walk with our guide Chris, a 'right' scary bloke. 

The evening ended in the Shambles...

This is a preserved medieval street, an incredible site as our evening came to a close. 

A Second Day in York

Our second, and last full day, in York began at the hostile with a crowded breakfast. Our group assembled and walked to the York Castle Museum for an interesting look at the history of York from the Victorian period onward. 

After the serious stuff, there were places to play...

After a short break we met at York Minster for a tour. 

Several of the students took the 275 step, 25" wide stairs to the top of the tower for the spectacular view. 
We met up again for a very scary trip through York Dungeon-the scariest part was that they depict actual events, such as the hanging of Dick Turpin, the Blood Eagle, Witch Burning, the Plague, etc in a very realistic manner. Ask Kristy, Leah, or Joe how it felt, as they were singled out by the actors to play parts in the grisly scenes-not to worry, as the place has a saying "fear is a funny thing"!
We went our separate ways for dinner, though some if us went to the Golden Fleece Pub, known as the most haunted pub in York. Notice our fellow pub patron 

Also, don't worry as it is quite alright to have supper in a pub without drinking beet or even being over 18. Below is a pic of my dinner- the local speciality- giant Yorkshire Pudding with roast beef and gravy. An awesome way to end our last night in York. 

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Things Got Interesting...

We had a water incident at the hotel this morning; a student managed to leave the faucet running when he got up to use the 'loo' at 3 am. Unfortunately, the drain got plugged and the sink overflowed, running into the neighboring room, down to the floor below and even the floor below that. The neighbor alerted management at 4am and at that point, the 'joy' began. By the next morning we had run up quite a bit of damage!

Even with the excitement, we got our hired coach at the appointed time. When arrived at our Cambridge hotel, the rooms were not ready. That was not unexpected as we arrived at 9:45am, however, we had booked a walking tour to pick us up at the hotel lobby to while away the time...but we found ourselves waiting, and waiting, and waiting. The tour guide finally arrived at 1pm! 

The walking tour was ok. Cambridge is a pretty incredible city, founded by some academics that left Oxford several hundred years ago. There are now 31 separate colleges, each with their own specialities and 'personalities'.  

King's College chapel was spectacular. 

From the chapel we want on a punting tour (that was also late, though only 15 minutes or so). 

From there, the rest if the day was free. 

As it is Sunday, the pubs are serving roast beef with Yorkshire pudding - a dinner fit for kings indeed!