Edinburgh Summary

Four nights: Tuesday, July 10 to Saturday, July 14

After leaving York, we headed north to Scotland. It was about a four hour drive to Edinburgh and the scenery was great! This was partly due to the fact that we routed ourselves through the North York Moors National Park. We stopped off at the visitor’s center which also has a gallery with exhibitions of art inspired by the regional landscape. The rest of the time, we just enjoyed the views as we drove along, while avoiding the sheep on the road.

Speaking of which, driving in the UK is getting a little easier. The open road is fine and roundabouts are manageable. However, driving trough villages or in cities can be a little harrowing. I was happy our Edinburgh apartment was on the edge of the city, near Holyrood park. However, due to some questionable Google Map data, I ended up taking some wrong turns and found myself in the middle of Edinburgh! After navigating by gut towards the southeast, we eventually hit a road on our map and made it safe and sound to the apartment – and only 25 minutes late. Adventure!

As for our visit, we had a pretty low-key stay in Edinburgh. The highlights of our three full days were checking out the Old and New towns (including the Royal Mile), hiking the impressive Holyrood park, checking out the excellent National Museum of Scotland and getting our hair cut. Notably, there were three things we didn’t do in Edinburgh: visit Edinburgh Castle, enjoy a wee dram of Scotch or tuck in to some haggis. At least one of these got remedied at out next stop.

As for food, one principle we adhere to when staying at an apartment is that on any given day, only one of lunch or dinner is eaten out. The other meal we prepare ourselves in the apartment. The primary reason for this is so we don’t gain 100 pounds (or 7.14 stone) by the end of the trip. Anyway, we ended up having a really nice lunch out at a contemporary restaurant called Iris, plus two pub lunches: one at The Tron and the other at The Beehive Inn. The Beehive was pretty good, if a bit touristy. The Tron was pretty bad, but I liked the name.

York Summary

Three nights: Saturday, July 7 to Tuesday, July 10

In a bizarre coincidence, we found ourselves in York on July 9, 2012. Exactly 800 years earlier, King John had granted York the right to self governance via a city charter. The resulting “York 800” festivities were happening all weekend – there was even a regatta planned along the river Ouse. Unfortunately, the recent heavy rain had resulted in a high river level and some minor flooding, so the regatta was cancelled. There was one strange way that we we impacted by the festivities: when we were visiting the Yorkshire History Museum, there was a huge police presence that developed, including bomb-sniffing dogs. This was a little scary, but then we found out that they were just preparing for a visit by the Duke of York.

We took a free walking tour of the city, which was good for getting some historical context. Later, we decided to walk along the city walls (or at least 2/3 of them), which is always fun and often leads to good views of the city and surrounding environs. And speaking of tours, we also took a spin by the York Brewery. It was small, smelled like a brewery (i.e. good and malty), the tour was fun and the beer samples in the taproom were tasty! Favorite beer name? A bitter called the Yorkshire Terrier – it has a bit of a nip to it!

Finally, we have continued to sample the range of fine British cuisine. With a huge number of pubs, it was relatively easy to find new places to try out. I’m still planning to keep the UK Pubs & Ales dedicated to the beverages, so here are some samples of the food we enjoyed during our stay in York:

Full English breakfast! Fried egg, bacon, hashbrowns, beans, black pudding, grilled tomato and mushrooms.

Rumpsteak with peppercorn sauce for Donna, fried scampi with chips and mushy peas for me.

Lamb shank for Donna, chicken and mushroom pie for me.

Curry night at The Hole in the Wall

 

York, England

In York’s city walls –
Snickleways, ruins and the
Imposing minster

Snickleways!

The Shambles, one of York's Snickleways

Clifford's Tower

Clifford's Tower

York Minster

And York Minster


Yorkshire Museum
Romans, Vikings and Normans
Now bomb sniffing dogs

Yorkshire Museum

Partway through our visit, we were surprised to see an explosives sniffing dog and his handler systematically searching each room.

York 800

We noticed an increasing police presence throughout the day and later figured out that it was in preparation for Prince Andrew's visit to mark York's 800th anniversary that day.


At North York Moors Park
Heather, peat and rolling hills
The sheep own the place

Sheep on road

They aren't kidding

Sheep near road

Sheep, adjacent to road

Hills and sheep

View of the hills, with yet more sheep

 

Bath Summary

Three nights: Wednesday, July 4 to Saturday, July 7

Time to leave continental Europe and hit the UK! Originally, we were planning on taking the Eurostar train trough the Chunnel from Paris to London and then purchasing additional train tickets as needed to travel around (our Eurail pass does not work in the UK). However, after comparing the cost of the Eurostar reservation as well as the cost of train tickets vs. weekly car rental rates, we decided to instead rent a car and book an EasyJet flight directly to Bristol (near where we’ll be visiting Donna’s friend Suzanne at the end of our time in the UK). With an evening flight into Bristol, Bath was a natural choice for our first stop since it’s about 1/2 hour drive from Bristol’s airport.

Speaking of driving, it’s a bit freaky here due to the cognitive dissonance of driving on the left side of the road and having the driver’s seat on the right side of the car. I prepared a little in advance by reading up on UK driving regulations as well as how to navigate roundabouts. So far, having driven from the airport to Bath and from Bath to York (four hours), it’s not that bad. Unless you consider that one thing I did, which we will not discuss here.

Anyway – Bath! Bath is a scenic and historic little English town. Everything is very Georgian and neoclassical. Due to its compactness, it was pretty easy to cover it all on foot, which we did as part of a walking tour as well as independently a few times. One of the highlights, of course, is the eponymous Roman bath complex. The museum built around it was much more extensive and impressive than I expected. The bath complex was very interesting to see and reminded me a lot of what we saw in Pompeii.

One a different note, at the suggestion of our apartment hosts, we took a scenic walk along a nearby canal. Despite the occasional drizzle, the weather largely cooperated and we really enjoyed the canal views and the surrounding scenic countryside. Conveniently, we even passed by a pub that made for a great lunch stop!

Speaking of pubs and food, they abound! We’re already enjoying “tucking in” to some traditional English fare and I have some odd notion of visiting an obscene number of pubs on this leg of the trip. Donna may have to steer me back from the brink. At a minimum though, I will be documenting my “extended pub crawl” on the new UK Pubs & Ales page on the blog. Stay tuned!

Bath, England

Pubs, meat pies and rain
Steering wheel on the wrong side
Welcome to England

Pub visit

Tasty English food at the Crystal Palace

Bath Rain

Rainy day in Bath

Jeff driving

Driving the rental car


Taking the waters
Is Bath’s historical thing
Tastes a bit funky

Roman baths

The Roman baths

Tasting the water

Sampling the water from Bath's hot springs - tastes funky with a grainy aftertaste (and texture)

Paris Summary

Five nights: Friday, June 29 to Wednesday, July 4

Before this trip, we had visited Europe twice previously: our honeymoon in 2001 (Italy, Paris, London) and a vacation in 2009 (The Netherlands, Belgium). One goal of this trip has been to see entirely new cities. That’s exactly what we’re doing, but with two exceptions: Amsterdam and Paris.

Paris is a great city. It’s visually stunning with its grand boulevards, monumental architecture and sheer scale. It’s culturally pleasant with great food, friendly people and world-class museums. Overall, we enjoy Paris and for this visit we spent most of our time simply getting out and about in the city.

That said, we did make time to hit a a few museums. While intrigued by the quirky Le Musée des Égouts de Paris and Musée de la Contrefaçon, we ended up using our museum time to visit The Louvre, Musée d’Orsay and the Pompidou Center. Strangely, we saw none of these during our original visit.

Speaking of our original visit, we took a spin past our old hotel and surrounding neighborhood. It was interesting to see how much we recognized from 11 years ago, including a fancy chocolate shop on the corner. Most bizarrely, it still has a chocolate model of a Dremel tool in its display, just like it did in 2001! I wonder if it’s the same one…

Paris, France

First day in Paris
Jeff suggests the sewer tour
Way to treat a girl

Eiffel Tower

It is bright and sunny at the Eiffel tower

Jardin des Tuileries

The Jardin des Tuileries smells lovely

Musée d'Orsay

And I didn't spot a single rat in the Musée d'Orsay


Hiked to Sacre Coeur
Saw the church and sweeping view
Ran from all the crowds

Sacré Coeur

View of Sacré Coeur basilica

Sacré Coeur crowds

A small sample of the vast number of people visiting Sacré Coeur that day


Browsing through the shops –
Of all the goods in Paris
Pastries are the best

Paris Pastries

Pastries are an art form in Paris

Dijon Summary

Three nights: Tuesday, June 26 to Friday, June 29

Working our way west from Switzerland, we decided to stop for three nights in the capitol of Burgundy, Dijon. Our apartment was well located just off the main plaza in front of the Ducal Palace. We did o walking tour (heavy on the architecture, though a good way to get acquainted with the city), plus spent some time following a self-guided tour along the “Owl Route”. The tour was named after a carving of an owl found on a church, which apparently grants you wishes if you rub it with your left hand. A quick empirical test seemed to dispel these claims. Overall though, the city was quaint and had some interesting historical buildings and was a good place to stay for three nights.

It was good to be back in France from a culinary perspective. Our very first (and affordable, compared to Switzerland) lunch started off with appetizers of salmon terrine and escargots. Even our supermarket-based meals were outstanding (pork rillette, local mustard, oozy reblochon cheese).

Given that we were in the heart of Burgundy, we decided to take a wine tasting tour to the nearby city of Beaune. It was a small tour: just us, a couple of older Swiss ladies and the guide. It was interesting to get a little more context about the Burgundy region and its wines. One of the highlights was a stop at the vineyard famous for the world’s most expensive wines – something like €5000 per bottle – and you’re required to purchase a bottle as part of a case containing 11 other wines. The tour was interesting and we tried some good wines, though I’ll be happy to stick with tasty Northwest-style ales.