Scotland is usually an overcast and foggy country but we seemed to arrive with clear and sunny skies. This is the only stop that we had a ship excursion scheduled because the 3rd party companies had sold out of the excursions we had wanted to go on. Our excursion took us to Loch Ness to get a look at Nessie (the Loch Ness monster). We saw plenty of Nessies around town created by the town’s people but none in Loch Ness. Oh well! The lake itself was very pretty and it is amazing how few homes and buildings you see around this large lake. We visited Urquhart Castle on Loch Ness and it had an interesting history of being constantly overrun by enemy armies. Eventually one army left in fear of being overrun again and decided to blow up the castle when they left so they wouldn’t leave it for their enemies. It was a pleasant trip and allowed you to see the countryside of the Scottish Highlands. We also went through the city of Inverness and had an opportunity to view the castle in this city and the cathedral. This would have been a nice town to spend a little time walking around.
When we arrived back to the ship we took a walk around the port town of Invergordon. This was a very small town with very little to look at although it had a nice church and there were a lot of wall paintings throughout the town that added a little character as well as beautiful flower arrangements.
We spend two full days in Edinburgh and could not have asked for any better weather. Each day we had 70 degree weather with no rain and sunny skies. This was a special stop for our cruise ship because of the Tattoo (military show) held in Edinburgh Castle. We elected not to attend the Tattoo but attend the festival activities. If we ever go back to this city again in August, we will get tickets to see the show. This city also has the Fringe Festival that goes on throughout the month of August. This brings a lot of tourists to the city to see the street performers and actors. Throughout the city there are many plays going on in the afternoon/evening time frame. Some of these are very strange plays and the actors are walking the streets prior to the shows trying to entice people to come in and watch their play or musical. Some of the street performers are very good and attract large crowds. Some of these performers make good money while others don’t look like they make very much at all. It is certainly a very colorful time to see this beautiful city.
There are so many beautiful sights in this city with the castle, churches and memorials all around. You can walk along the Royal Mile from the castle to the palace on a very nice cobblestone road. The pubs and restaurants line these streets along with some interesting shops. After viewing many of these sights with a quick walk around, we headed over to Queens Ferry where we had arranged a boat tour. The boat tour was interesting and we were able to view the old red railroad bridge that had been built many years ago. They also had a suspension bridge like the Golden Gate Bridge that carried all of the car traffic. These bridges spanned several miles across the bay and were quite impressive. A new bridge is also being built that is even more impressive and is needed because there is more traffic crossing over the suspension bridge than it was originally designed for. It is really strange to look at this bridge with three huge supports and the bridge section attached hundreds of feet outside the supports without being connected to each other. Right now it looks like three different bridges on one support leg each which are not quite connected to one another. During the boat ride we saw an old fort that was important to fight off the Vikings originally when it was built and later used in World Wars I and II to protect the city against the Germans. The first bombing of the UK by the Germans was actually done in Edinburgh when bombers flew over and sunk some naval ships in the bay. We also saw a monastery on one of the islands which was several hundred years old. There were a few sea lions visible as our boat made its way around the bay. It turned out to be a very nice tour.
The next day we walked over to the ocean terminal to view the Royal Yacht Britannia which was used by the Queen to tour the area many years ago. There was a nice mall there and we actually did a little shopping. We took a public bus into the city and stopped off at Calton Hill which provided a wonderful view of the city! On top of this hill is an old observatory and a memorial that was built to look like the Parthenon in Athens. After taking many pictures we walked down to the city and went into Edinburgh Castle to tour this impressive structure. This is the largest castle in the world and is really much more impressive inside the castle than looking at it from the outside. Inside you can see why it was an impressive fortress that was difficult to conquer while still being an eloquent residence for kings and queens. It currently has a large memorial inside the castle for Scottish soldiers that were killed during various wars. It also has a prison that has been used for 100’s of years up to World War II that you can walk through. There are at least two museums within the walls. From the castle you can get some great views looking down at the city. After leaving the castle we walked down the Royal Mile to the palace which you cannot enter and is not overly impressive from the outside. We viewed a few more sights and headed back to the ship on a public bus. This was a truly enjoyable city to visit and we hope we will make it back here again sometime.
Bruges was someplace we had never been but we were anxious to try some Belgium chocolate. We actually docked at a port called Zeebrugge and took a shuttle bus to Bruges which was a beautiful little town with many medieval buildings and churches. It was a great little city to walk around with some many different shops to visit. When we first entered the city you were greeted by the many swans that swim through the canals. The churches were truly spectacular with some very tall spires on two of them in particular. There are several canals that go around the city and we were going to take a boat tour but we decided that we were walking along the same canals the boats were going on and could see everything and more that they could. The main Market Center was really amazing with their city hall and other ancient buildings surrounding the square. We stopped at one of the street vendors and got some twice cooked french fries which were a specialty of the area. Supposedly fries were invented in Belgium. Who knew? Not long after we ate the fries we couldn’t help ourselves when we (Greg) passed this shop that sold waffles on a stick dipped in any sauce and topping you wanted. We had one dipped in dark chocolate with coconut sprinkled on it. It was great! We had to stop at another street side vendor selling his own waffle specialties that was recommended by a local walking tour guide we ran into. We had a waffle with ice cream and chocolate this time. Of course after that we had to sample some of the chocolate. It truly was a unique little city and a lot of fun to visit. This was the last port stop of this cruise and tomorrow we start our next leg of the journey doing the Baltic itinerary up to St. Petersburg.