Blog Archive

Sunday, September 12, 2021

Edinburgh, The City

 August 19 to 23, 2021.  

When traveling, I'm not normally one that is attracted to big cities, in fact I tend to avoid them. Perhaps this is due to the fact that most of my experiences traveling to big cities has been in cars, where driving and parking are difficult and stressful. 

OTOH, when we've traveled by cruise ship and have been dropped off in older European cities that we explored by foot, I found them very enjoyable. Edinburgh is a big city, yet I found it very enjoyable!  Rich in history, culture, art and friendly people who (mostly) speak English. It is a very walkable city, and we parked the car and didn't use it again until we were ready to leave. The only public transportation we needed, was a tour-bus that gave us an overview of the layout.  

The brightly painted facade of Old Victoria Street

The image above is of the shops and restaurants on Old Victoria Street. Cars do go on this cobblestone street, but not so many.  

Nearby was the historic Grass Market area of Edinburgh. This was on our daily route between the main part of the city and our rental flat. This area is filled with sidewalk cafes, pubs, shops and an outdoor market. 

Pedestrian outdoor malls and sidewalk cafes of The Grass Market

Not all the streets are so wide nor flat.  The town is centered on the big hill that is topped with the castle, so many streets, alleyways and walkways are very steep and are covered with stairways.  These pedestrian routes save time making a more direct route up the hills, but they are not very friendly for strollers (prams), wheelchairs or those with limited mobility. 

Narrow side streets (alleys) with steep stairways

Most places around town have some view of the castle. This serves as a landmark that helps with navigation and general orientation.  

The grandeur of the big castle on the hill is visible from most everywhere. 

Every town has the oldest pub. The White Hart Inn claims that title in Edinburgh, but there are older buildings that were operating as pubs or taverns before this, but there is the old debate about continuously operating, versus continuously licensed, versus continuously held by the same family or company. You should probably have a few pints and discuss this further with the locals. 

Every town has it's oldest pub. The White Hart Inn was established in 1516

If you admire the medieval Gothic style architecture, there are plenty of great examples here. The St. Giles' Cathedral (below) has a fascinating history. It was founded by Catholics in 1124, was converted to protestant in the Calvinist tradition under John Knox, who had studied under John Calvin in Geneva and was named the first protestant minister at St. Giles in 1559. 

Today, the public square in front of the cathedral is used for various street fairs, celebrations and gatherings.   

St. Giles' Cathedral (Presbyterian) Square

Another dramatic example of the Gothic style is the Tolbooth Kirk which has the highest tower in Edinburgh (240 feet) and another recognizable landmark. It's not actually medieval, but was built in that style during the Victorian era. It is no longer operating as a church, but has a cafe.  

Tolbooth Kirk, built in 1844

Visible from the other side of the Tolbooth Kirk, you can see the sign for The Witchery (below).  This was a highly rated restaurant we wanted to try, but was all booked up on the days were were there. 

Sign for The Witchery restaurant

The main street (Lawnmarket) that goes up to the castle is a called the "Royal Mile" and is a center for pedestrian traffic, shops, cafes, markets and many street performers. Park your car and walk this street, to get a real feel for Edinburgh. 

Pedestrian area of the Royal Mile

Among the various street performers you might spot on the Royal Mile include magicians, jugglers, singers, balloon artists, characters from Harry Potter, of course there will be bag-pipe players and you might even spot Elvis Presley!  This is a party place, so expect to see a party.  

Even the walking tours of Edinburgh are a party.

Click to hear the bag pipes of Edinburgh

Click to hear Elvis! 

Now there are plenty of great food choices in Edinburgh. The trick is to find something unique to the area, and not just your usual British fare.  We noticed that the fish and chippies often featured fried bananas or even deep-fried Mars bars!  We didn't feel like clogging our veins with this stuff, but it was interesting to see and might be fun for the youngsters.   

Deep Fried Mars Bars!  

Something that is local to Scotland is the haggis.  We tried some at one of our restaurant stops and really enjoyed it.  But you know the British fascination of making meat-flavored crisps still applies, so we found some haggis-flavored crisps too!  

Delicious meet-flavored potato crisps! 

There was one bar that was on our way back to the rental flat that always had a very long line of customers queued up down the street. Of course any place that serves hand made chocolates and fresh churned Gelato and has a line down the block must be on our list. One day as we were passing, light rain was falling and the lines were shorter than usual, so we took advantage and went in for treats. 

Gelato flavors for the day of our visit

Two happy boys enjoying nothing better than a cone on a rainy day

Another somewhat surprising fact about Scotland is they have their own currency. It is still denominated in pounds sterling, but the bills are printed by various banks in Scotland with their own designs. I found three different £10 notes, from different banks with different designs.  While it is supposed to be considered legal tender in all of UK, we found that many shops in southern England refused to accept it!  

Bank Note from Royal Bank of Scotland

There are many famous Scotsmen besides the royalty who lived in castles. Edinburgh has long been a focal point for culture, science, economics, philosophy, engineering and invention. Adam Smith (1723-1790) is commemorated with a statue on the Royal Mile.  

Statue of Adam Smith

Scottish philosopher David Hume (1711-1776) is also commemorated with a statue on the Royal Mile. 

Statue of David Hume

In modern pop culture, we saw that J K Rowling, author of the Harry Potter series lived and wrote much of the popular works from Edinburgh. As a result there are many active tributes to the characters and locations of the books throughout town. 

Harry Potter's invisibility spell

Traditional Scottish bag pipe performer

The White Unicorns

Statue of James Watt
Another Scottish Engineer and inventor was James Watt, inventor of the first commercial steam engine.  Statue is located in the Scottish National Museum.  

Oldest Color TV in the World: GE950

Scottish engineer and inventor John Baird invented the first color television and the first 3D television systems. We saw this historic color TV in the Scottish National Museum. 

Finally, I end with a few of my 360 panoramic images.  

Edinburgh, Royal Mile - Spherical Image - RICOH THETA


Edinburgh, Royal Mile - Spherical Image - RICOH THETA


National Museum of Scotland, Edinburgh - Spherical Image - RICOH THETA


Saturday, September 4, 2021

Edinburgh Castle, Scotland

The longest portion of our trip to Scotland was spent in Edinburgh. We were there from Thursday evening (Aug 19) through Monday morning (Aug 22). This proved to be a very ideal time to come. The weather was (mostly) fantastic and there was so much activity going on. The first thing on our agenda was to tour the Edinburgh Castle

The main approach to the Castle from the Royal Mile. 

Our vacation rental was situated just a block away from the base of the castle. 

We had pre-reserved tickets for the first thing Friday morning and the sun was shining. We were among the first to enter the castle that day and got well ahead of the crowds, thanks in part to the short walk we had from our rental. 

Waiting to go in the Edinburgh Castle

Panoramic views from the castle show the city in in all directions. This castle was built on a natural high spot for the defensive advantages. 
This view from the castle is toward the northeast, looking at the "new" section of Edinburgh. 

The one very modern building that looks like a spiral of ribbon on the horizon near the center is the brand new W Hotel in the St. James Quarter. Apparently there was quite a bit of controversy over the approval of the modern design. At the top of the hill to the right is the partially completed replica of the Parthenon on the top of Carlton Hill also known as the National Monument of Scotland. 

Aiming view for one of the cannons of the castle.

One of the cannons appears to be pointed at the iconic ribbon building, just to the left of the Sir Walter Scott memorial tower in the photo above.  And speaking of cannons, there were plenty on this castle. 
Half Moon Battery of Cannons providing defense for the castle.

Boys are always attracted to big guns.  The exhibits were hands-on, so the boys could get up close.  View the cannons in 360 degrees below. Use the (+) / (-) buttons to zoom in and click and drag to look around. 
Edinburgh Castle 360-1 - Spherical Image - RICOH THETA

And one of the largest cannons ever made (10th largest in history) was on display at this castle. The Mons Meg has a bore of 20.5" (520mm) and could fire a 330 lb stone up to 2 miles away!  
The Mons Meg Cannon

Some parts of the inside of the castle were also available for our tour. We saw the Prisons of War Vaults, but it was too dark for photos.  We also got to see the Great Hall. This room was competed in 1511 and was quite impressive with the swords and the suits of armor. 

The Great Hall of Edinburgh Castle

View the Great Hall in 360 degrees: 
Edinburgh Castle 360-2 - Spherical Image - RICOH THETA

We were also able to see the Crown Jewels and the Ancient Stone of Destiny in the Honours Room, but no photography was allowed. You can see ancient stone and the oldest crown jewels in all of UK worn by Mary Queen of Scots in 1540 from the links. 

We also walked through the Royal Palace section. The rooms were mostly empty, but the architecture was inspiring. 
A room from the Royal Palace

See the full room in 360 degrees below. 
Post from RICOH THETA. - Spherical Image - RICOH THETA

One final highlight (suspense) of our visit, was the emergency alarms that went off during our visit. Just a couple of days before our arrival a group of protesters "seized" Edinburgh Castle in an attempt to "take-back the castle and restore the rule of law under Article 61 of the Magna Carta." as seen in the protester's video below. 

Needless to say, the security was still a bit on edge and when the alarm sounded during our visit. The guards quickly herded all the visitors and staff of the castle into one assembly place while they resolved the issue. We never did learn why the alarms had gone off during our visit, but it was nothing this dramatic. The final 360 image shows the group of us gathered and waiting for them to release us. 
Post from RICOH THETA. - Spherical Image - RICOH THETA

Another view of the main gate to the Castle. 

A view out the main gate, looking toward the Tolbooth Kirk on the Royal Mile. 


Wednesday, September 1, 2021

Sourdough, the Bread Pet

By now, and all the great travel posts that David has recently blogged, you have probably surmised that we are back in England. Still stressful to travel but we made it safe and sound to our sweet little 400 square foot flat. It was also so wonderful to once again see our grandchildren our son Kenny, who is now back from deployment, and our lovely daughter in-law Kim.

So, Kenny and Kim have been experimenting with sourdough. This is a great skill to have for baking. It will allow baking without yeast and is better for the digestive system. I have been meaning to learn this myself but as of yet have not done so. The first day of our arrival, I am handed a jar of doughy goo, aka a sourdough starter. I was told to feed it and take care of it. In return, I was promised yummy baked goods. How sneaky of them. I didn't know it at the time, probably due to jetlag, but they had too much and felt bad just throwing some away. 

Sourdough Starter

Let's be straight. I know quite a few tricks with baking. I feel like I know my way around the kitchen but I really didn't know anything about sourdough other than it made bread more sour and some people had starters that went back generations. I also vaguely remember as a child, my mom was given a starter. I believe my mom also made some bread but mostly I remember it living in the back of the fridge only coming out for feeding. Kenny did explain that I could keep it in the fridge and I needed to feed it once a week. Really, that is all the training I got. Maybe he said more but I had been traveling for almost 24 hours and I don't remember much.

After some sleep, I started researching how to keep my new pet alive. I started with Pinterest. I figured I would just look for a recipe and follow the instructions. I found a honey wheat bread that strongly resembled one of  my favorite breads, except it had no  yeast in this recipe. 

Again, let me say, I make bread all the time. I understand that it can take time but a normal loaf of bread, with yeast, takes somewhere between 3 to 4 hours. Sourdough takes anywhere from 3 to 4 days. You don't wake up on morning and say, I think I want homemade bread today. Also, there are all these strange terms like, autolyse, feeding, discarding, bulk fermentation. Still, I was determined. Kenny and Kim had already done the hard part of getting a healthy sourdough starter.

Day 1. Take the starter out of the fridge and feed. This all sounds easy. I vaguely remember Kenny saying add 150 grams of flour and water and then let it double. What I didn't completely process was that when you feed a starter, you need to have equal amount of starter, flour and water. Any leftover starter should be used or discarded. I didn't do this so I got some rise in my starter but probably not enough. 

Day 2. Make the dough. This was an elaborate process of mixing, kneading, stretching and finally proofing for about 4 hours at room temperature. The dough is then placed in the fridge overnight for a long cold fermentation.

Day 3. Shape the dough, proof again and bake. Of course by now I am dreaming about this bread that I have been working on for two days. I get up early to get the dough shaped and proofing only to remember that although I own several loaf pans back in Washington, I do not actually own a loaf pan in England. Too late to back out, I decide to make this loaf a boule shape, or free range bread. After proofing for at least 3 hours I put it in the oven to bake.

Free-form sourdough ball and ingredients

I still consider myself a novice baker in my new kitchen and I don't feel completely at home with my new oven. There are so many choices on the knob for baking. I have the owners manual handy and have referred to it often but I still feel like I am guessing on which mode to bake on. Anyway, after baking for almost an hour, which was longer than the recipe said, I decided it was done baking.

Mode selector control of the oven

 Unfortunately, the bread was a bit of disaster. I was still under-cooked inside. Whether this was from the starter not being fully risen, no loaf pan, not enough rising time or a combination of all three. It had a good taste, that is the edges that were cooked but so many other problems. This was discouraging since it took so many days but not giving up I decided to try again.

Free-form Sourdough Loaf  #1

Attempt number 2 was much better. I ordered a loaf pan, tried to be very patient with the proof time and cooked it longer but something still just seemed not quite right. I decided to go back and do more research before attempt number 3. 

I took the time to read what it took to make a good starter and it was then that I realized that I had been feeding my starter incorrectly. I now understood that I had to measure out 150 grams of starter and then feed it equal amounts of water and flour. The extra was then discarded or used immediately, which is another topic. For some reason, I had this silly notion that people discarded starter because it was outgrowing its home but apparently, there is some real science behind the amount of starter and feeding.

Attempt number 3! Same recipe, I did have one hiccup at the very end. My dough was shaped, in the loaf pan and almost ready to bake when I was needed to help watch the grandkids. My son picked us up in the car, so I could carefully take the rising loaf to his house to bake. That was an interesting car ride to his house. I was trying so hard to protect this rising dough. I had spent 3 days getting it ready to bake and I was not going to lose it now. I held this loaf like a mother protects a child. Anyway, the bread made it, was baked and tasted delicious. 

What next? I have already "pinned" several recipes that I would like to try. Waffles, breadsticks, even donuts but first I have to figure out what to do with all discard! I can't just throw it out.


Tuesday, August 31, 2021

Hadrian's Wall

Hadrian's Wall at Birdoswald Roman Fort, August 19, 2021
This was a road-side stop on our way up north to Scotland. The weather wasn't ideal, but the rain held off for a quick walk around the grounds. 
"Outside the Roman Empire..." Construction on this wall to protect the Roman settlement of Britannia began in AD 122. 

Excavations at the fort.

The Drill and Exercise Hall.

Part of the Roman Fort

The longest section of Hadrian's Wall.


Monday, August 30, 2021

Isle of Wight & Osborne Palace

Pictures from our day trip to Isle of Wight, August 16, 2021. We took the Victoria of Wight Ferry over early and stopped at the beach before breakfast.

(Click any image to see it enlarged.)

We stopped at our favorite Garlic Farm and enjoyed some breakfast and some Black Garlic Ice Cream (Yummy!).  

Then we headed over to the summer home of Queen Victoria known as Osborne Palace.  It was a stunning place inside and out! 

Here are some of my 360 Images of Osborne Palace:
(Hint- PC: Use mouse to drag image or zoom in,
Mobile: Touch and drag with your finger, use + / - to zoom.)

Osborne Palace 360-1 - Spherical Image - RICOH THETA


Osborne Palace 360-2 #theta360 #theta360uk - Spherical Image - RICOH THETA


Osborne Palace 360-3 - Spherical Image - RICOH THETA


Osborne Palace 360-4 - Spherical Image - RICOH THETA


Osborne Palace 360-5 - Spherical Image - RICOH THETA


Osborne Palace 360-6 - Spherical Image - RICOH THETA


Osborne Palace 360-6 - Spherical Image - RICOH THETA