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By and large doing well. My feet are about walked off. I can’t imagine how many miles a day I’ve walked. I know I won’t be walking for the rest of the week when I get back. I don’t think today will involve quite as much walking since I’m not taking a train anywhere (walking to/from train station), but I am going to see Edinburgh castle and more of actual Edinburgh today, so who knows.

Of course, tonight is the big New Year’s celebration. Keep your fingers crossed for good weather! Last year’s was canceled as a result of bad weather. Apparently that was the first time since they’d started having an organized celebration.

Yesterday, I took the train to Stirling. It’s nearly an hour away but well worth it. I could totally envision just spending a few days there. So much to see and the city is quite accessible. Within a few blocks of the train station, there was a touristy district that was packed with places to eat and an actual mall. I did walk through the mall just to see how it compared to back home. I was most struck that there was not a real food court, but the Princes Street mall here has a food court, so maybe it depends on the whim of the people who design them.
Walked straight away up to Stirling Castle. And I do mean up in every sense of the word. That was a heck of a hike. Any invading army would have been winded by the time they got there. Like Edinburgh Castle, it’s built on the remains of an extinct volcano. The castle is, of course, beautiful. It was actually in use by the military into the 1960’s, but Historic Scotland has been working to restore the place. What they have done is amazing. I managed to get there about an hour before a guided tour, so I walked around for a bit and saw some on my own and then came back for the tour.

I noticed one thing during the tour – I have a harder time with the Scottish accent than British. I can understand as long as I concentrate, but if my attention wanders at all, I’m probably lost for the rest of the sentence, so I lost track during some parts of the tour, especially if I took my camera out to take a picture of something he was talking about.

I read before I came here that you could see all four seasons in a day here. I believe it now. I haven’t seen Summer yet (I hope), but I came close yesterday. I was cold when I left in the morning. By the time I got to the Castle, it shortly started to rain.. got colder.. sleet… occasional flurries… then it stopped for a bit and there was a rainbow (tried to get a picture – I hope it shows up well!). The sun came out for a few minutes, and then a persistent drizzle started that pretty much continued the rest of the day.

After the castle, I walked down to check our Argyll’s Lodings, also owned by Historic Scotland so covered by the Explorer pass I purchased. I might not have gone otherwise, but it was quite a place. It’s considered a “townhouse” by 17th century standards. While my townhouse might have more modern amenities, it’s by no stretch as impressive as this townhouse was. I think I may have seen some early Scottish thrift upstairs, though, in the grand dining room. They painted the panelled walls and columns on plain flat walls! Did a grand job of it, mind you, complete with shadows and all, but probably cheaper than all of the carpentry work.

I had wanted to go see the Wallace Monument. I got a couple of good pictures of it from the Castle, but I was talking to the guide at Argyll’s Lodging and the place closes at 4pm this time of the year. She suggested getting a bus if I wanted to make it. It was a little past 2:30pm at this point. She couldn’t suggest a particular bus number as so many apparently go in that direction… So, I went down to town centre again. I asked three bus drivers if they went that way. The first two were a bit on the rude side and just said no. The third driver was kind enough to tell me that a bus number that would be by in about two minutes went that way. I looked at my watch after he left… almost 3pm… I don’t know how long it would take to get there, but I decided I didn’t need to see it so bad as to have limited time there. I know that even the bus doesn’t drop you off there, that you still have to walk up the hill to it. So, I decided that will be another trip someday.

I left the bus stop and found lunch at a Subway (yes, I am in an American rut food wise). The funny thing was I asked for a meal deal that was on the menu over their heads… stunned silence… “what” – so I pointed at it… uhm… has no one ever ordered a value meal here before… Strange! She still didn’t seem to get it. So, I ordered the individual components in the value meal… Rang up to the right price anyway… Afterwards, went across the street and found a bakery. Wanted something sweet for the train ride back. I forgot the name of what I had, but it was kind of a short-bread cookie with jam in the middle and the top was iced. This is how the lady behind the counter described it when the dumb American asked what it was. I may have forgotten the name, but it was scrumptious!

The train ride back was quiet. I pulled out my MP3 player the first time since I’ve been here and listened to some music and nodded off some of the way. The train terminates in Edinburgh, so I didn’t have to worry on that front.

When I got back, I did a little souvenir shopping and then went on a “Ghost and Ghouls” tour of the vaults beneath the old bridges in Edinburgh. Apparently, the city long ago built these bridges and the city more or less built up around them until you can’t even really tell the bridges are there in most places. When the bridges were built, some of the barrell vaults had rooms in them. Mostly used for storage, but some were used for pubs and such. Apparently some poor may have lived there at one point. It was very near a slum in that period that was overcrowded. Supposed to be one of the most haunted sites in Britain. I had heard of them already and planned to take a tour, but I also saw a spot on them on the Travel Channel not too long ago. It was quite fun. The tour guide was excellent. He did some general macabre stories of old Edinburgh. In one, he used two people from the group as demonstration victims to show how Edinburgh used to torture people guilt of crimes (circa 1600s). I was one of the victims who was chosen from the group Victim #1 (me) was flogged and then had both ears cut off and ear drums punctured… nice… Victim #2 (another guy) had the same flogging but his mouth cut and his tongue exploded… (the way they did that is kind of hard to explain – kind of a torniquet situation). I now know the original meaning of “grinning ear to ear” – I may never use that term again. I’m not sure which of us got off lighter.

Afterwards, wandered over to the “Night Afore International” – this year’s them is France. So, it had a certain Cirque De Soleil (sp?) feeling to it. At one end a band was playing. I listened to a couple of their songs and then was distracted by the street performers. First they had these large animals that were elephantesuqe but kind of fantasy based – the faces were very like puppets. I only got a couple of pictures because my battery was running down. Afterwards, I saw this big musical display with these people on stilts dressed all in white. Their outfits expanded (by fans and air) into these giant bubble headed beings with glowing heads. They danced around these other giant balls and eventually they lighted up and flew. Another giant balloon that was blimp like had a person strapped to the bottom who circled the crowd flapping these wings and throwing out confetti. I’ve done a woeful job of describing this but I did not piece together all the meaning. I think the giant glowing heads gave birth to the two glowing balls but I’m not sure what the blimp-deal was. It was still fun to watch.

At this point, my feet were protesting and I was a good bit damp and decided to call the day quits.

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