What we REALLY did on New Year’s Day

   Posted by: MB   in Daily

16 January 2016


Addendum to entry from 1 January 2016

Kyle and the Babes 2015.

After two weeks of anxiously watching Facebook and my text messages, the news finally was released to the public, yesterday. Our dear friends, Christopher Buehlman and Jennifer Schlitz are engaged to be married!

This is excellent news for anyone who knows and loves either one of them, and doubly so for those lucky enough to be friends with them both. And, as our little group of travelers through Britain were fortunate enough to be a part of the proposal process, we’re on Cloud 9 to finally be able to share the news with everyone else. So, here’s our version of the story.

Kyle and MaritaBeth had barely acclimated to the new time zone when we got a message from Chris saying he was looking forward to seeing us in Edinburgh and giving us a “heads up.”  He wrote that he was planning to propose to Jen while in Edinburgh, and that he would really like for us to be there. In fact, he indicated, he might need our help in managing the details which were to include a vocal soloist and a song at a predetermined place and time.We were thrilled to hear the news and honored to be “in the know.” We congratulated him as enthusiastically as possible over electronic messaging, and we helped him narrow down place options based on our experiences in the past, promising that we’d be there, where ever and whenever he chose.

The next days of our holiday trip included Christmas markets and stone circles, castles and castle ruins, pub crawls and charming village inns, and even a toe-dip in the North Sea.  Ten days or so later, we arrived in Edinburgh on the 29th of December, checked in to our Edinburgh home with Erlend and Helene, and eventually met Chris and Jennifer for drinks after dinner. During a ladies’ room run, Chris confirmed plans with those still at the table, that he’d decided on January first as the day, thereby getting the Hogmanay festivities out of the way first, and ultimately starting the New Year with a new and wonderful purpose. Perfect!  He’d picked the ruins of Holyrood Abbey as the place and four o’clock as the time.  The venue was open on the day–he’d checked all that–and that allowed plenty of time for us to get there around 3:30, do a bit of a tour of Holyrood, be in the Abbey by 4, and make eye contact with musicians (not just a soloist but a guitarist and fiddler, as well) to kick off the big moment and be done and out of there before they closed at 4:30. The plan seemed sure and secure.

The next couple of days were full of more pubs and more shopping, the torchlight procession, giant crowds, great music, and fabulous fireworks.  By January first, the city is partied out, and that day is fairly quiet.  Especially with it falling on a Friday, I think, there was even more calm to the day than there would have been on a weekend day, or a day immediately to be followed by a work day. So, our relaxed morning at the house, and a later start than normal seemed just right.  World's EndWe had arranged for the four of us to meet the two of them at 2 p.m. at World’s End Pub, a lovely little pub, often not as busy as most, located about a third of the way down the Royal Mile.  We all enjoyed a round of adult beverages and then donned our jackets and scarves for the walk to Holyrood Palace at the bottom end of the Royal Mile.  We had all discussed that we wanted to do the tour of the place, Kyle and I mentioning that we’d never actually done it before, so we were looking forward to it.

As I recall it, we arrived at 3:29.  Right on “schedule.” The six of us happily entered the welcoming vestibule between Palace entrance and gift shoppe and approached the ticket counter. Chris, no doubt a bit nervous, took the lead and went right up to the counter and informed the woman sitting behind the desk that we were six to tour the Palace and Abbey.  Her response was a very reserved, “We’re done selling tickets.”

Oka-ay … that wasn’t the expected response. So, undaunted, we tried again, this time, I’m not sure if it was Chris or myself who spoke: “We are here to do the tour, and you’re open until 4:30,” politely pointing at the sign behind her head clearly stating such.

“Oh, yes, we’re open ’til 4:30,” she said, “but we’re done selling tickets for today.”

Now, I know it was me who said, “What does that mean?” And she, finally realizing our confusion, explained that they sell the last ticket at 3:15, to allow all guests to make their way through the site by the 4:30 closing time.

“I’m crushed,” was Chris’ response.  I’ll never forget it. “I’m completely crushed.”

Quickly realizing the slinky was horribly kinked, Roxy and Mandi swooped into action–someone asked if we could at least visit the gift shop, they were told yes, of course, and the two of them herded Jennifer and Kyle into the gift shop.  At the same time, Chris was asking the woman behind the counter to come to the side, so he could speak with her privately.  I stood there, hoping there was a way to get around this ridiculous, unpublished curve ball–still feeling strangely confident.  He whispered some things to the woman, and as she raised up from the quiet consultation, I heard her say, “No, I’m sorry, we just can’t. We sell the last tickets at 3:15.”

So, now, Chris is not only crushed, he’s at least a little bit mad. He went outside, phone in hand. Heaven knows he had checked and double-checked times and we’d looked it up, too.  Nowhere had any of us seen anything about the ticket sales closing earlier than the venue. And, if we had known, we’d have simply walked down the street fifteen minutes earlier! It was all so silly it was maddening!  I have no idea how much Chris spent on the amazing romantic touches of music that were to be a part of his proposal, but it was surely not nominal.   Now, he was seeing his carefully laid plans implode, and having to contact those three people who were no doubt already parked and walking toward us, to alert them to the new development, and make some snap decision about a change of venue–on the fly–on a holiday–with only half an hour ’til “go time.”

I followed him outside, and verified that he was able to reach his musicians.  I did my best to calm him and was already hatching a plan in my mind. “Just tell the musicians to hold on for a moment or two. Don’t change anything, yet,” I told him.  He said okay, and I went back inside.

With an undying romantic streak, I decided the woman simply could not have understood the magnitude of the situation. So, I walked right up to her, and leaned really far over her ticket counter. Her eyes got wider and when I knew she was tuned in, I asked her if my friend had fully relayed the situation to her.  She responded by saying he’d said something about musicians and 4 o’clock, but that there was nothing she could do … I stopped her mid-excuse and said something very much like this:  “Of course, I suspected he didn’t make it clear enough. So, here’s the real situation: The six of us are visiting Edinburgh from the United States … Texas, Florida, Colorado … all over. We converged here today, on your beautiful spot, because it’s the spot that wonderful man has chosen to be the backdrop for his proposal to that beautiful girl in there. (pointing in two directions as I spoke.) He has hired musicians to meet us here and make the moment even more spectacular. When he says to you, he’s crushed, he means crushed. As in devastated.  (by this time, I’m a little choked up) I’m not sure what he’s going to do if this plan all falls apart … we didn’t know about the 3:15 deadline, but we knew we’d be all done by 4:30.  We can skip the whole palace and art gallery bit … is there any way you can just let us get into the Abbey and let this beautiful proposal thing happen?  Please?”

She had obviously begun to melt. She blinked and said she really hadn’t understood.  She asked me to wait just a moment while she went to get a supervisor.  Seconds later, she re-emerged from a side door with another young woman in tow.  “Tell her all about it,” she said.  I gave a somewhat briefer version of our story, and the young woman, obviously primed before meeting me, said, “Absolutely!  We can do this!  I’ll take you right on in there, myself!”claire-3_23504993724_o

I’m pretty sure that’s when I breathed out for the first time! I thanked her profusely and asked her to give me a moment to “herd my cats!” I ran outside to tell Chris, we were in! I introduced him to the young woman taking charge, and he made arrangements for the musicians while I went inside the gift shop to perform one more little bit of theatre. I went to where Mandi was apparently, we later learned, blithering on to Jen about lavender and all her supposed experiences with it (making shit up to keep Jen distracted), and told them that my “tourist-fu” was strong today!  I’d talked to the girl at the desk and told her how much I’d been looking forward to coming here and how badly I just wanted to see the Abbey and take a few pictures and how I was here all the way from Texas … and I might have cried a little (that part was true) … and that they were going to let us in to see the Abbey after all, but someone was going to walk us in there and we had to go right now…We gathered ourselves behind the nice young woman and followed her through giant doors, she had to knock and use her power to pass through, across the beautiful Holyrood Palace courtyard, and right on around to the amazing abbey ruins. She left us there, wished us good fortune and refused to allow us to pay anything for either entry or her services.

So, there we were! The place, we’ve already talked about and shared  photos of—although these are the photos we wanted to share!

The vocalist, who’s name, I believe was Claire, was magnificently talented and her voice rang through the sculpted ceiling of the abbey. She sang Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” at Chris’ request. And she sang it from the heart.  And she made many people cry with the beauty of it. And, if there were dry eyes as she sang, that likely changed as she finished her song, and Chris dropped to one knee in front of his beloved Jen, and held out the small black velvet box containing a diamond ring.

... marry me?Although she may have thought this moment might happen on their wonderful vacation, Jen seemed to truly have no idea that this was to be that moment.  Her moment.  As she realized it, she drew in a breath, pulled her hands to her face, and although we could not hear the words either of them spoke, the result was him rising, her arms encircling his neck and a beautiful passionate hug and kiss. Then, Chris’ words, let’s go the pub were the cue for the guitar and fiddler to begin to play a lively jig that they continued all the way out of the Abbey, past a gruff-looking guard, and right on up the Royal Mile to the Jolly Judge.Will you ...?

As we processed we enjoyed comments from other guests at the abbey that indicated how magical it was to have been a part of and how their engagements hadn’t been nearly so romantic! At the Jolly Judge there was champagne and cider and beer and photos (the photo at the beginning of this post is of the guitarist, Chris and Jen, and the soloist Claire) and then we went on to our dinner reservation, all carefully pre-planned by that thorough groom-to-be. (Those who received a postcard from us postmarked in Edinburgh: those were mailed during that procession up the hill!)Mail PostCards ... Check!

The drama of the plan taking a sideways turn will forever be one of the most fun stories of the trip.  We were so honored to be there, and so glad to have had a small hand in making things turn out so well.  Our best wishes for a happy forever for our friends Jennifer and Chris.



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Pounds to Dollars

   Posted by: MB   in Daily

Tuesday, 5 January 2016



Kyle and the Babes 2015. Day Twenty.

The hardest day of all is the day you zip shut the suitcase for the last time.

We headed out very early (we were on a bus for the airport at 7:30 a.m.) and got to Heathrow with plenty of time to get checked in and through security before our gate was even announced.   We hugged Roxy farewell (Mandi’s flight was later, so she took a separate, later bus) and sat down to our last English breakfast.  We had managed our cash usage pretty carefully, so we’d be out of British currency just before we left. But, with “ones” being coins, it is almost inevitable that you end up with pockets full of jingly coins after very few transactions. So, we solved that problem by paying for breakfast with coins!  I’m not sure if the restaurant folks loved us or hated us!

By the time we finished eating we knew what gate to head to, and by the time we traversed hallways, and people movers, and escalators and elevators and a tram, our flight was boarding when we arrived.  The giant maze of jetbridges was amusing, and of course, the seats were small and storage was at a premium, but we were on board and headed home.

At that point, I have no defense mechanism against the sad, except to focus solely on the good things on the other end of the flight:  good friends many of whom are chosen family, the cat and the dog, and high on the list–our incredibly comfortable mattress!  I had already cried during the drive south from Scotland, and leaving London isn’t quite as hard, but still … Texas is never our favorite destination.

Luggage CarouselWe watched a couple of movies on the flight, had a couple of mediocre meals, read a bit–all those things you do to attempt to make the miserable time pass.  I am most decidedly NOT a British Airways fan. All in all it was, at least, an uneventful flight (just the way you want them to be) and our pass through customs and border security was, as well. The biggest hitch was a sizeable delay in luggage showing up at the carousel, but our dear Scott waited patiently for us, and delivered us straight to our favorite Tex Mex restaurant!

A couple of margaritas and some enchiladas and suddenly Texas is a whole lot more palatable. So, here we are … back in the Lone Star State. Bring on 2016!



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   Posted by: MB   in Daily

Monday, 4 January 2015

Labels at The Harp

Kyle and the Babes 2015. Day Nineteen

A bittersweet veil covered our last day in London. It’s time to go home, but it’s never going to be time to leave. We awoke in our little hotel in Southwark and had breakfast in the below-street-level bistro of the hotel, which is beautifully decorated in Persian style to match the personalities of the wonderfully kind family who owns and operates the place.  We couldn’t dally long, though, because we needed to get on the road to drive across town.  We carefully timed our journey from northeast to southwest to fall after rush hour traffic and yet well-before our noon deadline to turn in the hired car, and therefore coincide with the new hotel check-in time.

Kyle dropped off “the Babes” and we settled into our rooms while he did the round trip to the airport and returned the car.  When he got back, we all boarded the bus to the airport tube station, and rode the Piccadilly line from zone 6 all the way to zone 1 and Leicester Square. We had a banking errand and then a post office stop, and then we were free to do as we pleased. Unfortunately, we missed the start of the walking tour the girls had scoped out. So, we were all disappointed about that. And, we verified that the merchant we were seeking at Covent Garden was indeed not there on a Monday. Two strikes.

That’s when we decided we needed to find a pub.  And Kyle had spotted one he really wanted to check out—a huge and beautiful place owned by a Dublin Brewery—The Porterhouse. We had snacks, including our last real Fish and Chips meal, and some good beer.  And, as we defined our hopes for the day, we realized that our best plan was to split the group in half and pursue our own goals—and turn this final day into more of what we all wanted it to be.  Roxy and Mandi went off in search of souvenirs and Persian food.  MaritaBeth and Kyle headed back to enjoy the antique market and the pub culture of Central London. One of those pubs we visited was The Harp, a favorite from previous trips, with the distinction of having great swaths of wall space covered in the beautiful tap labels that are common all over the U.K. I cannot go in there without taking pictures.

At six o’clock, we all converged again at The White Swan where we were meeting a friend from days gone by at renfaire. Faith had moved to London for her man nearly seven years ago and we rarely get to see her when she comes to the states because her family is in the Houston area. She had been watching our travels via Facebook and reached out to us to try to get together so we could catch up a little and meet the husband.  They live in Kent and work in London, so they each caught the tube and came to a place we knew.  We are so grateful for them taking the time to do that and so glad we got this fun evening with them. We talked everything from sports to Iris and Rose, and took turns buying rounds. They send their love to friends in Texas, especially The Blazing Sun gang. And we all look forward to our next visit, where I suspect we’ll take them up on their offer of a place to stay and tickets to an Arsenal game!

We did have to finally part company with an eye on an early morning flight. We said our goodbyes, and headed for the station, but soon realized we were hungry. So, we went into one more pub, and had a marvelous little fish sampler platter and a pint and still made it all the way back to the hotel before midnight.

Finished the packing … planned the travel day wardrobe … and … zzzzzzz…






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Back in London

   Posted by: MB   in Daily

Sunday, 3 January 2016

Ordering Beer

Kyle and the Babes 2015. Day Eighteen.

We left our little four-room inn in Wetherby by noon, and drove south toward London.  We’d conferred during breakfast and booked rooms in an unknown little hotel, sight unseen–always a bit dicey, but especially so in a giant city. So, we were hoping to arrive before dark, but heavy holiday-weekend-ending-traffic prevented that. The worst part of the drive was of course, after we hit London—some crazy zig zagging happened! But we finally made it to The Bridge Hotel. As it turns out, we’re in a nice part of town, and the rooms are adequate and clean, and the staff here is very nice.

After we settled in a little bit, we headed to the nearest tube station–Elephant and Castle, and took the Bakerloo line in to Picadilly Station. There, we switched to the Picadilly line and got off at Covent Garden. We’ve gotten to where we’re almost good at the whole underground thing. And, it’s fun!

At the beginning of the trip, we had tried to get to the market stalls there, and had arrived just as everything was closing.  Kyle has a very specific purchase he wishes to make from a vendor/craftsperson we’ve bought from before, so we had a mission. Today was our second chance.  But, between the rain and the traffic today, and earlier closing time on Sundays (that isn’t a part of the information we could find online), we missed her again, today. Sometimes, it seems the plans one makes are just not meant to be.  Mondays at the market are completely different–the venue becomes an antique market one day a week–and while I’d be thrilled to check it out, our crafter we want to see will almost surely not be there.

We popped into Punch and Judy’s for a snack and yet another beer we hadn’t had before, and then went in search of a little Tapas restaurant Mandi had located online.  It was a unique and mostly delicious meal of meats and cheeses and breads. We found two more sweet little pubs before finally entering the Leicester Square Station and heading back to the Bridge Hotel.

As of right now, we can get everything into the suitcases we brought. (But, I confess, we shipped a box of stuff from Edinburgh.) I simply don’t seem to be able to not bring at least one too many sweaters and probably more than I really need of just about everything else. That means any new aquisitions need to find a way home.  The last trip, we actually bought an extra suitcase! But, this time, we’re on British Airways and the extra baggage charge is crazy, so shipping seemed the better answer.

Someday, I’ll pack lighter and allow for the extra stuff that we accumulate … I obviously need more practice!  Time to plan the next U.K. holiday!


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A Scotland-shaped Hole in Our Hearts

   Posted by: MB   in Daily

Saturday, 2 January 2015

Our Last View of Edinburgh Castle

Kyle and the Babes 2015. Day Seventeen.

Saddest. Day. of the Trip. Time to head south.

But, first, we planned to tour Edinburgh Castle.  Kyle and MaritaBeth haven’t done that since 2008 … and Roxy and Mandi had never been there, before … so after breakfast and packing, off we went.

We did get there later than we’d hoped and while the girls went on inside, Kyle and MB opted at the last moment to forego the castle itself and spend more time in town.  So, we walked and shopped and worked our way a couple of blocks down the High Street, had a beer in the Albanach Pub, and then walked back up the hill to rejoin the girls. They seem to have had a good time there, despite it being too short a time.


Erlend and Helene

We were all packed before we left the house, so the departure was easy … except for the goodbyes, themselves. We have (even Roxy and Mandi) come to absolutely love Erlend and Helene. Our first stay in their home was incredible.  The second stay was ten times more!  If ever our friends and readers find themselves in Edinburgh, we HIGHLY recommend “2 Cambridge Street” as the perfect place to call home.

As we write and post photos tonight, we sit in the lovely little pub at the Swan and Talbot in Wetherby. We are about halfway back to London–we’ll do the rest of the drive tomorrow. Tears were shed as we crossed the border into England. A piece of our hearts remains in Edinburgh … in Scotland. Until the next time.




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New Year–New Beginning

   Posted by: MB   in Daily

Friday, 1 January 2016

Goofy Kyle at Holyrood

Kyle and the Babes 2015. Day Sixteen.

Sleeping a little later was the first order of business today … followed immediately by another marvelous breakfast by the Clouston kitchen.

We met Chris and Jennifer on the Royal Mile at The World’s End. From there we visited Holyrood Abbey … a truly beautiful ruin I will elaborate upon later. I still have photos to upload!

The walk to Holyrood was all the way to the bottom of the Royal Mile, and so the walk back up was long and our arrival at our destination was staggered … but we got to the Jolly Judge for a round of drinks and then went back to the Devil’s Advocate for an incredible foodie experience. We enjoyed such dishes as Braised Ox Cheek, Baked Cod, Confit Duck Leg, Lamb Burger, and one of the most lovely Cheese Boards I’ve seen. The drinks there are wonderful, too and the evening was over far too quickly.

Mandi and Chris and Jen attempted to take a Ghost Tour, but, got there to find it sold out, so they joined Kyle and I at the Secret Vodka Arcade Bar, where we had stopped for our nightcap.  We were all very tired and still had packing to do, so we bid one another goodnight and safe journeys and allowed our final night in Edinburgh to come to a close.

Tomorrow, we plan to visit Edinburgh Castle and begin our journey back toward London.  I must steel myself for the heartbreak of leaving Edinburgh.  I am not ready.




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Hogmanay Joy

   Posted by: MB   in Daily

Thursday, 31 December 2015. Hogmanay. New Year’s Eve.


Kyle and the Babes 2015. Day Fifteen.

What an incredible day!  Another beautiful breakfast by Erlend and Helene started our morning.  Then, a lovely walk through the nearby St. Cuthbert’s Cemetery, appreciating architecture and stone carving and trees and … life.  We took some photos along the way and eventually got to the Edinburgh Christmas Market. On Princes Street Roxy had decided she really wanted to visit the National Gallery, so she left us there and we enjoyed shopping, tried most of the drinks (especially the warm ones) that they had to offer, and at about three or three-thirty we made our way to the Guildford Arms.

The Guildford Arms is an absolutely beautiful Victorian pub in a style I’ve seen referred to as a “gin lounge.”  It is fairly large and very impressive, as is its beer selection.  They have a small restaurant on the second floor.  We love it on New Year’s Eve day, because we have found it’s just far enough off the beaten path that it’s not as busy as most, and if we get there early enough, we can get a table and pretty much take up residence until we are ready to venture into the fray. Today was no exception. Roxy met us there and we enjoyed some beer and cider and chips, and I wrote post cards and we relaxed, until it was time for the Street Party.

We were really hungry by then, so our first objective was food.  MaritaBeth was determined to have her Angus Burger, so we headed that way, met Chris and Jen at the Christmas Market and got the food we needed to get us through the night.  We enjoyed the general ambiance of the Street Party for a while, watching the crowd continue to build.  Chris and Jen had Ceilidh (pronounced kay-lee; means big musical party with set dancing) tickets, so we said farewell to them and we headed to the stage where we knew we wanted to spend most of our time.  Ru-Ran was already playing and was a very pleasant new treat.  Mandi and Roxy went off to have their own adventures, while we stayed put.  We had a great time listening to Peatbog Fairies and Shooglenifty–two bands we’re very fond of, after seeing them for the first time at the Milwaukee Irish Fest.  We made our way (that was interesting in the crowd of thousands) to meet Roxy and Mandi at the appointed place just before midnight, and we were all together for the AMAZING fireworks to welcome the New Year. My bonus (and my favorite) photo of the day is of Roxy and Mandi and Kyle during those fabulous fireworks. Hogmanay Joy I was enjoying them myself, and happened to turn around and see all of them looking up with childlike faces full of joy–it was too precious not to capture. We sang Auld Lang Syne, smooched, and then waited a bit for the throngs to disperse a bit.  We went back to the stage for a few minutes, but the cold won out and we didn’t last long.

Number 2 Cambridge Street was a welcome sight after all evening on our feet. We got comfy, opened a couple of bottles to share, and were visiting in the library when Helene and Erlend came home from their NYE event and joined us for a little while.

We are rather pleased to see 2015 end.  2016 holds promise and excitement.

To all our friends and family we wish you a joy-filled new year!

Happy Hogmanay!


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Christmas Lights and Torchlights

   Posted by: MB   in Daily

Wednesday, 30 December 2015

Christmas Tree in an Edinburgh Close

Kyle and the Babes 2015. Day Fourteen

I can hardly believe it’s been two weeks since we got here.  The time is flying by so quickly, it’s completely incredible to me.

We slept a little later than usual this morning, and got up in time for a delicious breakfast created by our hosts.  Kyle and I had a fabulous omelette topped with salmon and creme freche. Breakfasts here are truly beautiful.  Served in the library, the coffee and tea, sugar and cream are all in gorgeous silver.  Salt and pepper are in tiny cellars with tiny spoons. The china is blue and white, Delft-style, and the table linens are spotless and perfectly white. And, when the candles get lit, the whole scene sparkles.

Roxy awoke not feeling well this morning, and so missed breakfast and bowed out of the first outing of the day. But, she was already hungry before we left the house, so we are sure she’ll be back on track, soon.

Our first destination today was the Brew Dog Pub on Cowgate.  And, in making that plan official, I realized that my favorite little hat shop–Fabhatrix–was right along the way.  So, we stopped there first…Mandi and Kyle waited for me and offered their opinions when I asked, and then I encouraged them to go on ahead without me, while I made my final decision. I ended up adopting a fabulous little burgundy wool hat that is charmingly asymmetrical; I added some wonderful little tartan embellishments, and I love it!

I joined them at the pub and helped finish a beer or two, and then we went in search of the Italian restaurant that one of Mandi’s friends had very highly recommended–Ecco Vino. We each had a delightful meal and were thus fortified for come what may! We went next to Deacon Brodie’s–a very popular pub on the Royal Mile.  It was like pretty much everyplace we saw–crowded.  But, we knew that the longer into the evening we wandered about, the more crowded everyplace would get, so we went on in, ordered pints, and waited for our chance to snag a table.  That chance came when a random older gentleman who had gone for another pint, returned to his seat and instead of sitting, he offered the chair to MaritaBeth.  After the usual “where are ye from?” conversation, the man told MaritaBeth she had “style” … and that’s why she had a chair!  There was much laughter. Those folks left soon thereafter, and Mandi and Kyle took seats.  We were hoping Chris and Jen would join us, but we kept missing each other and soon it was time for them to line up for the procession–yep, they decided to buy torches and do the two-mile walk.  So, we made plans to meet later in the evening.

When the procession started, we finished up in the pub and walked along with it for a while … taking a few photos and stopping to marvel at the spectacle and just the incredible number of people with torches!  We had magical memories of our first Hogmanay in Edinburgh in 2008, and how the lit torches wind through town and create what looks like a river of fire.  And, again tonight–magic! There is no way that photographs (especially mine) can ever do it justice.  We walked all the way to Princes Street and nearly half way to the foot of Calton Hill.  The torch bearers, of course, go all the way behind and then up onto the hill.  There were so many people walking this year that an announcement was made that Calton Hill had reached capacity and that torch bearers should stop moving up the hill. As the street filled and compacted with light, we made our way back off Princes Street and onto the North Bridge where we knew we’d have a good view of the fireworks.  When the last torches had moved far enough up the street, the fireworks show started.  We watched it, and then headed back to the High Street and eventually made our way to a restaurant to meet Chris and Jen.  (They had walked the whole procession all the way to the top of Calton Hill, extinguished their torches and walked all the way to the High Street to find that some folks were still waiting to start the walk!)

Dinner was very good, except for a few missing oysters (ask Chris sometime about his almost oyster-less Beef and Oyster Pie.) After dinner, we were of course, not really ready for the evening to fully wind down, so we all headed to the World’s End Pub, so named because it sits on the site of the original city wall and as such, was quite literally the end of the world for many people for centuries.

We had a couple of rounds there, and then walked up the street a ways together, finally allowing the night to end with hugs and promises for tomorrow. Tomorrow is the big Hogmanay Street Party! Tonight we sleep!

My photo today, incidentally, is actually from yesterday… I was too busy living today to remember to use my camera!



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2 Cambridge Street

   Posted by: MB   in Daily

Tuesday, 29 December 2015

Our Host, Erlend

Kyle and the Babes 2015. Day Thirteen.

We’re home .. or so it feels!  Edinburgh has long since been our favorite large city on the planet.  And tonight, we sleep within her walls.

My photo is of our charming host, Erlend Clouston, who with his lovely wife Helene, owns Number Two Cambridge Street, here, in the shadow of the Castle and Castle Rock. We stayed here in 2008, the first time we came to Edinburgh for Hogmanay.  In 2012, Erlend referred us to another wonderful B&B because his house was not going to be taking guests for that season. We did get to have a lovely afternoon tea with Erlend and Helene on that visit, and we knew it wouldn’t be our last.  So, when we started earnestly planning this trip I reached out to them, not really expecting it to work out due to our need for two rooms.  But, the nearly immediate response was a resounding  “yes!”  They would absolutely book two rooms for us on our four days in Edinburgh.

Our drive down from Dundee was absolutely lovely. The Kingdom of Fife, as it is called, is an area where we have never spent time, and we were quite impressed with its beauty.  Lots of rolling hills, farmland, and sheep, like much of the country; and the little towns we saw were all lovely. We took one small detour into the town of Falkland to see the historic Tudor era Falkland Palace. Although closed to tourists at this time of year, we took a few photos and logged it in our memories as a place to visit again during the open season.

On down the road, we had a luncheon date planned with friends of Roxy’s … so we made our way to a retail park in Dumfermline and located a Marstons’ restaurant with potential called The Sweet Chestnut.  Moments later, we were introduced to a lovely family who even brought us presents of cute little stuffed British critters (mine is a hedgehog named Hamish who will most certainly take up his Texas residence upon the dashboard of my truck). We enjoyed our lunch, took pictures of the bunny outside our window, and began the last leg of the day’s drive–across the newly re-opened Firth of Forth Bridge and into the City of Edinburgh.Bunny

After arriving at 2 Cambridge Street, and having a delightful “spot of tea” in the library while catching up a bit with Erlend and discussing plans for our time in Edinburgh, we ventured out and up!  Out to the Grassmarket area (which is actually down)…where we popped in and out of some of our favorite pubs: The Beehive Inn, The Last Drop, Biddy Mulligan’s, and then up the hill to The Bow Bar. All of the pubs were very busy and in the last spot we never were able to even score a table.  So, we headed on up to the Royal Mile and began to look to our food options.  Roxy and Mandi ended up choosing an Indian restaurant, and Kyle and I found a new spot that impressed us a lot–Whiskey Dram.  It is a narrow doorway on the High Street leading to a flight of stairs down to another door.  Inside that door, is a very small, beautifully decorated restaurant of perhaps twelve tables, with a bar at one end. We were very quickly greeted and upon learning that we did not have an advance booking, the young man said he’d check on table availability.  He returned momentarily and told us he had one table for us, but only for an hour and fifteen minutes.  Since we really had less than an hour until another arranged meeting time, we said that was perfect and followed him to the last table in the back corner.  He took our order for starters and drinks–Kyle had venison haggis and I opted for smoked trout–and we were both delighted with the service and the food that came. We were able to finish quickly enough to be only a minute or two late to our next spot: The Devil’s Advocate.

Another place that is new since our last trip here, this establishment is a fun mix of old and new. It’s down the wide steps of the Advocate’s Close and housed in one of the High Street’s centuries-old buildings.  But, inside, it is dark and spot-lit in modern fashion.  The tables are old wood, but hand-crafted recently … the bar and bar back are shiny and black and glass.  The stairs up and the terrace outside were industrial metalwork, and the tables there were modern fabricated metal. The bartenders were amazing and although the place was packed to the gills (we sat outside in order to sit at all), they were polite and kept their act classy.

We might have discovered it on our own, of course, but we were there because we were meeting our friends Chris and Jen, there, and Chris had chosen the spot.  They’ve been on holiday about as long as we have this month, but they have spent their time until now in Paris, Bruges, and Prague.  They arrived here in Edinburgh yesterday, as we did, and the plan is for the six of us to pal around together while we’re here. Making great memories is what it’s all about!

Outdoor liquor licensing here is additional to the regular bar licensing, so we were moved indoors at 10 p.m.  We finished our drinks and thought we’d move on to another pub, but, between the day’s travels and the large crowds, we didn’t find a place that beckoned to us.  We walked up the hill a-ways, and ultimately hugged our goodnights with plans to meet again tomorrow. Our little foursome did stop one more time as we had to walk by it anyway, at The Castle Arms for one last round, before going down, over, and up again, to our little home away from home.

Tired and happy, now–first sleep in Edinburgh.


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The Farthest North Ever!

   Posted by: MB   in Daily

Monday, 28 December 2015

The North SeaFishing Boats

Kyle and the Babes 2015. Day Twelve.

On the Fourth Day of Christmas, my true love gave to me … A Lifetime First …the opportunity to go farther north than either of us had ever been before!  Parts of Alaska are farther south than we were, today!

We left the lovely Newburgh Inn and headed truly due north.  Kyle battled extreme winds all day as he drove and was amazing behind the wheel. Our first milestone stop was in Fraserburgh. If you look at a map of Britain and notice that there are two bulges on the northeast side … the top one is a summer time-only trip, and we hope to do that someday.  The second one is where we were today!  Aberdeenshire, the county in that corner of the world, is wilder and rougher than most parts of Scotland we’ve seen.  With the wind we dealt with today, it even seemed more exposed and untamed than the parts of the Highlands we’ve visited in the past.  No big hills or mountains … just fields and crags … and at the end of the road north: The North Sea.  The town of Fraserburgh seems to be mostly a world of boats and fishing.  I think we saw every type imaginable of businesses having to with boats. And so many boats in relatively small spaces that it must be like a game of Tetris at the end of the fishing season, to get them all safely situated like what we saw today.  But, the highlight of the adventure was the Kinnaird Head Castle Lighthouse.  Built in the 16th century for the Fraser family, the lighthouse was added to the castle in 1787. Unfortunately, the information we had found online was incorrect, and the place was not open for tours today, after all.  But, we enjoyed a self-tour of the outside and the grounds … which included a fairly up-close and personal look at the cold North Sea.

Without traveling far to the west, there is no farther north we could go, so we turned and headed back south, but this time along the coast, instead of up the center of Aberdeenshire.  That meant a slightly smaller road and the ability to take a detour for milestone number two: a dip in the North Sea!  Not our whole bodies, of course; I looked it up and that water was 9 degrees centigrade, today.  But, despite the temperature and the wind factor, we found ourselves a lovely little beach in a tiny town called Cruden Bay and I put my fingers in it!  Mandalyn was even braver–she was hell-bent on putting her foot in it and dunk that foot, she did!  Another bucket list item checked!

After that we attempted a visit to the ruin of Slains Castle, but realized after a long and lovely, if not windy walk, that we were not even halfway there!  And, the second half of the walk was going to be across a wide-open, wind-swept field of tall grass …did I mention it was cold and windy? There was some photo-taking from afar and the satisfaction of achieving at least some of our goals for the day. We walked back to our car and quickly found a lovely little hotel pub that was open (today was the banking holiday for Christmas and the last of a four-day weekend for many Brits) for a drink and a snack before continuing south to our overnight stop in Dundee.

Dundee proves to be a big enough city that finding a quaint little hotel like we prefer was nigh to impossible without more expertise on the area. So, we found a lovely Doubletree by Hilton that incorporates a beautiful old manor house as its bar, restaurant and administration offices. Dundee has a history of being one of the top producers of jute in the world and in the mid-nineteenth century when that industry was in its heyday, one wealthy mill owner built this place for his bride.  It became a hotel in the 1930s and though it has seen many changes over the decades, it’s beauty is respected and maintained.

We took a brief trip into the little suburb of Invergowrie and visited a couple of spots, one for dinner where I had a nearly perfect plate of haddock and chips, and the other just for a pint.

Tomorrow, we’re headed in to our favorite big city in the world:  Edinburgh. It feels like going home.



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