Monday, December 30, 2013

Contiki England and Scotland Day 4: From The Lake District to Edinburgh

Contiki England and Scotland

Day 4
The Lake District to Edinburgh

The fourth day on tour was largely spent on the bus watching the storm clouds pour rain over the rolling green hills of the English countryside as we would intermittently stop at a few point-of-interest places along the way. For some reason I don't remember being in a particularly jovial mood at our first stop of the day, Gretna Green. The Scottish town is historically home to blacksmiths and is an age old wedding destination for star crossed English lovers who were too young to be legally married in England and  would then flee to the first Scottish town across the border, Gretna Green to tie the knot.

For any Downton Abbey fans who recognize the name of the town, that's because **Spoilers if you haven't watched the show before** Mary stops her sister Sybil from eloping with Tom and half mockingly questions whether or not she plans to elope with Tom to Gretna Green, but I digress....

So the night before going to Gretna Green, Roxy gathered up the group to essentially play the dating game to find a couple who will "get married" on the ever famous anvil at Gretna Green. After getting off the bus, the lucky couple gets a quick rehearsal before donning some standby wedding attire and the rest of us stand behind to watch the vows go down. After getting hitched, a group photo (at an additional cost) is taken and then we were free to roam the museum briefly, before hopping back on the bus. 

Compliments of a tour mate who shared this later on Facebook.

The museum was pretty neat. There were several letters written from newlywed couples who were informing loved ones and friends what they had just done. This was part of a letter written home by a 16 year old girl who had just eloped. 


After a short nap on the bus I was woken up to the cheerful voice of Roxy's Wakey Wakey, grabbed my umbrella, rain jacket and scarf and headed out the door of the bus to make my way up to Hadrian's Wall and to the historic Roman fort along with the rest of the tour. 

Now, at first the rain didn't seem too bad, but as we got closer and closer to the wall, it was made worse by the driving wind and the sudden drop in temperature. This day was by far the soggiest and coldest on the tour, but the history geek in me didn't let weather stop me from nerding out. Hadrian's Wall was originally constructed by the Romans who were tired of fighting off the Scottish clans and constructed it as a protective divider between the two territories. For my fellow Game of Thrones fan-nerds out there, think of Hadrian's Wall as the The Wall and similar to Castle Black and the Shadow Tower, there were installments along it to keep men garrisoned there to make sure the Wildlings of Scotland didn't come over.

Unfortunately the fort that is at this particular spot along Hadrian's Wall is not very well preserved, with mostly just foundation stone that marked where Roman troops once slept.


After exploring the former Roman Fort and seeing the Wall, we had a few minutes to relax before heading onto the bus and making our way to the border.

Goodbye England...

And hello Scotland!
This was probably the coldest and windiest place on earth; I was freezing.

This time our hotel was a lovely modern Holiday Inn just outside the main city center of Edinburgh, which was easily accessible by public transit or via a short taxi cab ride. My cousin and I were fortunate to have a wonderful view of the Royal Mile skyline from our room. After checking in, we were given a few hours to relax before getting partially gussied up for an optional Scottish night out, where the adventurous could try the traditional Scottish staple of haggis, while being serenaded by a live bagpiper who told some great stories. 

I have to say, if you're on the Contiki trip, definitely do this optional activity as it was a great way to spend your first night in Scotland. The bagpiper, which I sadly can't remember his name at the moment, was hilarious and played fantastically and the food here was amazingly delicious, I myself had the vegetarian haggis (I'm a no red meat kind of gal) and tried my first sip of Irn-Bru (a Scottish soda that's more popular than Coca-Cola or Pepsi in Scotland and tastes like someone made a carbonated orange pixie stick in a can - it's beyond sweet with loads of sugar). 

After the dinner was done, Mark, the bus driver made a pitstop in the city of Edinburgh to drop off the party crowd before driving the rest of us back to the hotel. Here's a short and not all too interesting video of the drive back, but it shows Mark's great driving through small, twisty Medieval roads.

Extra tips:

* Make sure to at least have a small handy umbrella with you while on tour, as well as a good rain jacket. 

* If you choose to do the optional excursion of walking up to Hadrian's Wall, watch your step; the sheep graze        all around it, and the walk up to the wall is covered in, let's call them, landmines.

The next blog post will be about my fourth day on tour in the Scottish city of Edinburgh. 

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Contiki England and Scotland Day 3: From York to the Lake District

Contiki England and Scotland

Day 3 
York to the Lake District

I guess I've been putting this post off because I don't really have too much to write about visiting the Lake District while on Contiki, since we weren't there too long. After leaving the not-so-great Holiday Inn in Leeds, we were off to Lake Bowness-on-Windemere for a sightseeing cruise along the lake. Again it was a pretty short drive, so before we knew it, we got our Wakey Wakey call from the ever cheerful Roxy who gave us our map for the area, some quick tips on what to see and do, and directions for the privy (we had to pay a few pence there, so have your change ready) and the boat. The cruise around part of the lake was nice enough, however it was rather windy and the overcast sky made the venture a bit more on the chilly side,

Now Lake Bowness-on-Windemere is the home where Beatrix Potter wrote her ever famous Peter Cottontale stories, so naturally there's a museum and a few expensive shops .... 

After a couple of hours on our own, it was time to go back to the bus for the second half, a little more adventurous day in the Lake District. I should back peddle though. On the first day of the tour, the TM (tour manager) handed us a sheet to check off the additional tours and activities we'd want to do throughout the rest of the tour. While at the Lake District we had the option to take the lake cruise for a small additional fee, and we also had the option to either do your own thing, go on a hike, do a high ropes course or archery. I chose the latter. Now to be honest, I felt like the second half of our day in the Lake District was like going to summer camp, but with gorgeous scenery and loud bleating sheep (I take photos for a Girl Scout camp every summer where the top activities are archery and high ropes). 

After our bus pulled in to the Keswick Climbing Wall and Activity Centre, we were divided up into the different activity groups; archery seemed to be slightly more popular as we had to be divided up into smaller groups again. We received a small amount of instruction from our laid back instructor and went at it. As time went on though tour mates started to create challenges, which then evolved into some fun and interesting contests. 

After our archery time was up we were given time to explore the surrounding area, which was nothing short of spectacularly beautiful views and a plethora of bleating sheep.

After the high ropes folks got back, it was time to head back on the coach and make our way to the next hotel, the Crown and Mitre hotel in Carlisle, Scotland (the hotel, by the way is a very charming and nice hotel with incredibly comfy beds) before going to the beautiful and historic Edinburgh.  

Extra Tips:

* I know everyone says it, but seriously keep a journal, you'll find that after all is said and done you'll lose 
  track of your days and what happened when.

* Don't go overboard packing extra things to do for fear of being bored on the bus or having too much down time, 
  because you'll most likely end up sleeping on the bus and there is no such thing as down time while on Contiki.

*If you're on a budget for a night out of drinking, the night out in Carlisle is definitely worth it, with pints at only £2, 
 at least on the night we went. The main bar there is also only a short walk back to the hotel.

The next blog post will be about my third day on tour from the Lake District to Edinburgh.