Tuesday 19th, October. It was early when we got into Euston Station in London. The sleeper train from Edinburgh wasn’t what we had imagined it to be. The cabins were cramped and the beds weren’t very comfortable. Not to mention the fact that there were no private facilities in the cabin. The ride down was a stop start affair which didn’t help us to sleep, so we were feeling rather poorly by the time we disembarked the train. My original plan was to put our luggage in storage at the station and then go sightseeing till we could check in at the Sofitel St James. But after the previous night where we had been charged a huge price to store our stuff we thought better of it. We changed our minds and decided to go to the hotel now, around 7am, and at least get our bags stored there for the day. We headed off the platform in search of the exit and a taxi cab. We took a few wrong turns again which was no fault of ours, the signs were just poor. Anyway we got our cab and headed for the Sofitel St James.
We arrived at the Sofitel St James looking quite rough around the edges and went to check in, of sorts. I didn’t expect to get a room till the normal check in time which was 2pm, but the staff were wonderful and told us they could have a room ready for us around 10am. In the mean time they offered to take care of our bags and said we could go and have breakfast. We took them up on both offers and enjoyed a very nice breakfast to start the day. We ate breakfast in the main dinning area. There were other guests in there eating and all of them looked clean and refreshed. We on the other hand looked unkept and rather dishevelled, but we were still afforded the same service as everyone else.
After breakfast I went and got my camera out of storage and we headed down towards St James Park which was only a short walk from the hotel. The weather in London was spectacular with the sun out and very little wind. It was fresh in the morning, but we couldn’t have asked for better weather. The park was beautiful and it was rather quiet at that time of day. We wandered along and looked at the birds in the pond and watched the squirrels running around in search of nuts to eat. St James park lead us right to Buckingham Palace. We walked through the Australian Gates to get to the Palace. As we passed through them I saw my first Aston Martin driving past. I got a quick photo of it and I was happy. The Palace is huge with very ornate gates. It looks a little bland from the road but I’m sure it is quite opulent inside. There was no changing of the guard today but we still got some shots of the guards that were there. At one point I was taking Kim’s photo and I was a little too close to get the shot I wanted so I move back a bit. A couple of other tourists took this as their opportunity to move in closer to the gate, I wasn’t too impressed with that.
It was just after 9pm when we left the pub so we headed for the train station to grab our gear. We then proceeded to our platform and made ourselves at home in the lounge. The guy on duty in there was surprised to see us at such an early time, but what else were we going to do after a long day of sightseeing. We still had several hours to wait till we could board the train so why not sit in the comfortable lounge and watch TV. The movies playing were Hot Shots, which Kim couldn’t believe I had on DVD. And we got to see a good portion of One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest. I had never seen it before and was sad to have to leave before it finished.
The train eventually got there and we started loading on. The hallways are very narrow and I found it hard to get the luggage along them. We got to our cabin and was rather surprised. I had thought that a private sleeper cabin would be similar to what you see in the movies. Sure the beds would be small and there wouldn’t be a lot of room in the cabin, but you would at least get your own toilet/shower cubical. This wasn’t the case! Our cabin was two bunk beds with some shelving and hooks for coats and that was it. I could lay in the bed and my feet were hard against the wall of the train. I could also reach the other wall from bed without stretching. It was quite cramped in there. The idea that we would be able to sleep on the train on the way to London, then be able to get up and face the day refreshed, was a fantasy. We might have got a good night sleep if the train didn’t keep stopping along the way to pick up different things. They also joined another few cars onto the train at one point or changed engines, as there was a fair bit of shunting around going on. Either way we made it to London the next morning looking quite the worse for wear.
Once we returned to the apartment we still had some time before we needed to checkout, so we relaxed a little and got our bags ready to travel. Once we checked out I called the taxi cab company and they had a car to us in no time. He took us back to the train station and we found our way inside. We did take a couple wrong turns which meant we had to walk further than we wanted to, but we got there in the end. We grab our tickets from the ticket machine, but they didn’t tell us which platform the train was going to be on. We were so early that our train didn’t even come up on the boards. We were taking the overnight sleeper train to London from Waverly Station in Edinburgh. We managed to get some answers from a help desk about where we were meant to be later that night, but the lounge we were looking for wouldn’t be open until 9pm. We had several bits of luggage with us and we really didn’t want to be lugging all of that around while we waited. We found the bag storage area and they wanted $7 pounds per item. We gave then 3 of our bags to store and we took the other 3 with us (two backpacks and a multi use type handbag).
We headed out onto Princes Street to try and find somewhere to eat and to fill in time. We walked along the street and made it to Carlton Hill Park, which we thought we would check out. The day had improved at this point and the sun was shining down on us. There were some nice monuments up there along with a very good view of the city. One of the monuments was a partially built replica of the Parthenon called the National Monument. It was only partially completed because they had run out of money and they never got around to finishing it. We also caught the sunset while we were in the park. Kim got a very nice silhouette of the city and the spires with the sun in the background. It was the best shot of that type either of us took. She says it was because I told her what would look good in the shot. She also took another shot that showed more of the city along with the shadows cast by the sunset. The jpeg of the file didn’t look fantastic, but I have since extracted a much better photo from the raw file.
As the sun went down the day became very cool again so we left the park in search of somewhere to eat. We walked back down the street in the direction of the station and came across one pub that was promising, but upon entering we found it not to our tastes. In fact, we should have been tipped off by the guy standing outside the pub smoking, who didn’t move to let us enter. Anyway we walked a bit further down the street and found a little side road and followed that. Just up that road we found The Guildford Arms. This was a nice up market pub with a lovely feeling to it and a beautiful intimate restaurant upstairs. We had a Bru downstairs then headed up to get a table. There wasn’t a lot of space up there, which meant there weren’t a lot of people there. We had a small choice in seating and we choose a nice little spot with a booth type seat and normal seat on the other side. (Kim took the booth seat) We had plenty of room beside us to store the gear we were carrying with us. The meal there was wonderful with very good service. I rated this to be the best pub meal I had while we were away!
We left the Camera Obscura and headed down the hill off the Royal Mile towards the centre of the city. The walk was nice if not a bit steep in places. We made it down to Princes Street Park, which is right next to the train station. The train station is at one end of the park and the art gallery is at the other. About halfway through the park is the Scots Monument, a tall gothic looking thing that towers above the nearby buildings. Apparently they started to clean it in 2009, but they found the monument was falling apart because of the cleaning so they stopped. It is now predominately black in colour except for the cleaned patches all over it. The day was getting on by now and we still had to checkout of our apartment so we decided to head towards the train station and grab a taxi. We saw another Piper busking near the station. We didn’t stop this time but he was getting plenty of people who did. Before we caught the taxi we had a look in the shopping mall next door. There wasn’t anything of interest in there so we grab the cab and went back to finish packing and checkout.
As you leave Edinburgh Castle, at the start of the Royal Mile where the buildings start, there was a woollen mill shop. We had a look around inside the store which had a working mill inside the shop making various types of tartan dress. It seemed that once you went in you had a very hard time getting out. It was all geared around people spending money for clothing or getting their photos taken in traditional dress. After walking through the entire mill we came out into the store again. We finally got out of there without spending any money.
Our next stop was the Camera Obscura. The Camera Obscura was constructed here in the late 1700’s. The way it works is it takes the available light from outside seen through a periscope and transmitted onto a flat white surface. What you get is a real time view of the world around you but in reverse. It is best used during bright days where the light comes in much better, but it is still effective to some extent in overcast conditions. The Camera is at the very top of the building. The rest of the building is taken up with strange optical illusions that boggle the mind and the senses. We made our way through the building floor by floor on our way up to the camera. We did have a specific time to be there, but we had plenty of time up our sleeves.
One of the more funny things that happened while we were looking around was in the mirror maze. There is a sign at the start of it that says not to rush as it can be dangerous. Kim went in first with me behind her. All of a sudden this little kid comes rushing in behind me and pushes past my leg. No sooner had he got past me we heard him go thud into a mirror and stagger backwards. All Kim heard from me was ha, ha, ha, ha! The kid was a little stunned but otherwise fine. The next thing we tried was the spinning tunnel. The tunnel doesn’t spin but the lights inside it give the illusion that it does. We both walked in and to begin with it was okay, but the further we went the more we felt like we were about to be turned upside down. It is quite trippy! Kim got a low light shot of me as I exited the tunnel and the black lighting makes me look evil. The image didn’t come out great but it shows a little of what Kim saw.
There were several other parts of the building that were fascinating and fun. I particularly liked when I suddenly got long hair thanks to Kim. The bathrooms were also interesting as each toilet seat had a different comical theme to them. Kim got a photo of one of them, which looks like a block of Swiss cheese with a mouse in it.
At the top of the building we had a short wait to get into the camera. We were waiting for the group before us to finish up. While we waited more and more people for our time slot turned up. I was beginning to think we wouldn’t all fit in, but we did. There was another couple there next too us which I kept an eye on. The guy seemed to be a little weird and at one point I think he got mixed up and thought Kim was his partner. He stood behind her and made some bizarre facial expression as if he was about to bite her. I kept an eye on him for the rest of the tour. Inside the camera observation room Kim and I had to stand at the back on the upper level so that all the kids could see and get a closer look. There wasn’t a lot of room back there, but we did have a rail we could lean against to see over the table. At one point Kim started playing with my bum so I decided to do the same to her. I put my arm up to go behind her and proceeded to ram my elbow into the wall behind me which made a rather audible thud. I managed not to swear or make any other noise, Kim found it hard not to burst out laughing at me.
Monday 18th, October. It had been a while since I last shaved so I felt like I needed a shave that morning. This was the first paid accommodation in the UK and I found that there were no normal power sockets in the bathroom. I ended up shaving in the kitchenette with a hall mirror propped up so I could see what I was doing. While I was shaving Kim had a shower. She called out to me to see if there were any towels in the storage cupboard, but there were none. The towels supplied to us were no bigger than a hand towel. Drying ourselves was like a scene out of Planes, Trains and Automobiles where Steve Martin has a face washer to dry himself.
Today we were going to Edinburgh Castle. It was another easy walk from our apartment up to the Royal Mile and onwards to the Castle. In front of the castle they were deconstructing the stands from the Military Tattoo. I was surprised that this was the place it was held as it is quite steep. It doesn’t look steep on the TV. It also explained the sign I saw at Mary Kings Close titled “Tattoo Office”. I thought it was an office for tattoos, I didn’t realise it was referring to the military tattoo.
The day was overcast with a little rain but it didn’t stop us. There was quite a line up of people waiting for tickets to get into the castle, which we completely bypassed because we had the heritage passes. We spent quite a lot of time looking around the castle and grounds. I found a good photo op in the cannon area which I would have loved to take, but I couldn’t get a clear shot for a couple stupid tourists. They were trying to get a photo of the Scottish flag but they were useless. They were nearly ready to move off when more stupid tourists turned up so I gave up on the shot and moved on. We went into the war memorial which covers all the conflicts over the years. There was a policy of no cell phones in the building, which was a very good rule, but there was one moron who didn’t turn his phone off. His phone rang and he answered it. That could be excused as a simple case of forgetting it was on, but he started talking to the person on the other end of the phone. The architecture of the building caused his voice to echo throughout the interior so that everyone could hear his conversation. He was asked to leave by security.
We had a nice lunch in the cafe and we were served by an Australian. It was his first day and he seemed to know what he was doing. We also took some muck around photos while we sat there. I was using the G10 again as I was liking the limitations it put on me which made me think about the shot more. (I still used the SLR everywhere else) I tried to take a big panorama of Edinburgh. I have no idea how many shots I took but the two times I tried the light changed on me so some of the shots were in the sunlight and others were in overcast conditions.
Kim wanted to show me the Scottish Crown Jewels, which are housed in the castle. It was a long and slow walk up to see them as the route twisted and turned through the building and there were plenty of tourists getting in the way. Unfortunately no sooner had we got to the Jewels that Kim had to leave to answer the call of nature. I stayed for a little longer but soon followed her out. I ended up sitting in the courtyard waiting for her while freezing my butt off. Once she came back we left the castle. Of course as we left the castle, we made a stop in the castle gift shop and bought some souvenirs. We found a great Highland Coo hat but we didn’t get it. That was a shame as it really suited Kim. She looked so cute in it.
We got to the Mary Kings Close tour office early so we stayed outside on the street for a little while taking photos on long exposures. Kim took a really nice shot of St Giles Cathedral with people walking in front of it but, they are blurred because of the slow shutter speed. She had no idea how she did the shot but, she was very pleased with the results. In the tour office/gift shop we spent some time hunting out what we would like to buy when the tour finished. That is where I came across Ronald the Rat. We also liked the music playing so we spied out the CD and got that later on as well. The CD was Lightweights and Gentlemen by the group Lau. These days when I hear Lau’s music, particularly Twa Stewarts or Gallowhill, I am instantly transported back to Edinburgh.
While we waited for the tour to start we were able to see the other people that would be on our tour. One particular person had a really bad wig on or a very bad hair cut. Kim thinks it might be a real hair wig that hadn’t been washed for some time. We also think that the man’s wife heard us talking about it as we think she was sitting to our right.
The tour was very good and our guide was wonderful. The guides dress up in period costume and present themselves as someone who would have lived there in its day. The Close use to be open to the air but there wasn’t much of an opening, only the gap between the buildings. Eventually they wanted to build another building there so they just covered the existing buildings over and built on top of them. The Close stayed in use however, as many people still lived there. Eventually it became a place for the sick dying of the plague. For the most part the tour was good, but there was one room that got under both our skins, Kim’s in particular. It was just a bad feeling in there that we both sort of picked up on. At the end of the tour we had our picture taken with the infrared camera mounted in the walkway (the original ally way). It was a good image except for the dust ball that seemed to appear over Kim in the shot.
The walk back to our apartment was fine, but Kim was a little worried about being confronted by someone as we walked past the pubs. I kept myself between Kim and the pubs as we walked but as we crossed the last road we had to walk between some tourists. That was the closest I felt to being in danger, and we weren’t in any danger at all.