Friday morning, we woke up a bit early and hit the showers before most everyone else in the hostel was awake. Bazpackers (www.bazpackershostel.co.uk). is an awesome place, a true hostel experience with an incredibly welcoming lounge that everyone hangs out around the fire. I actually heard a few people say that the fireplace was the clencher when deciding on which hostel to book. Excellent place.
So, we left early, and it was still quite dark. We were headed to Stirling and it was slated to take about 2.5 hours, but part way along the route, I heard reports of heavy freezing fog, black ice, and an accident that I believe was on our route. I saw a sign for a scenic route to Stirling, and having not eaten any breakfast, I decided to head that way. It seems that no one in Scotland eats breakfast except on the weekends and only after 10. I was very difficult to to find anything to eat, and in Karen's opinion more importantly we couldn't find coffee. We stopped in this little village that had 3-4 coffee shops as we drove through. Nothing was open, except the least appealing looking coffee shop, and their menu was so small and nothing looked appealing. We went to the Co-op and bought a few pastries. We stopped by the coffee shop and got Karen a cup of coffee that she described as mediocre. Back on the road!
I wanted to reach Stirling by 12:00, so even with the detour and the long stop looking for breakfast, I was happy to arrive just at 12:30. We drove by the Old Bridge a few times to get some pictures of it; unfortunately, we could not find a way to get to the bridge to get any stills, nor was there any parking nearby. It was pretty neat to see though.
(this picture is the NEW bridge)
After passing the bridge a few times, we headed to the National Wallace Monument. IN-CRED-I-BLE! This thing is cool as heck. I had no idea that it was 150 years old! Seeing the tower itself was really cool, but we decided to head up to it. After a fairly steep 10 minute walk up to the monument, we headed up the stairs. Karen had missed the sign saying that the monument had 246 stairs in it, and I had no idea that 90% of them are tight and small spiral stairs. It was pretty intense, the passages were really tight, and there is only one way up and down. The tower is 4 and a half levels highs, and each level is quite high. You would go up about 40 stairs in this amazingly tight spiraling corridor hoping that no one would be coming down and then quickly dart into the room for that floor to get out of others way. The first floor has William Wallace's sword in it as well as a history of his life and the battle of Stirling. The next level up was the Hall of Heroes, which contained a bunch of busts of people important to maintaining the Independence of Scotland. I have no idea what this room was really about as you pretty much had to have the audio supplement for this part of the part. Fortunately, the book we bought has pictures and descriptions of everyone in this room.
After this room, Karen's began to get very claustrophobic and creeped out by the heights we were at. She decided to go back down and I headed up. The next level was a room showcasing the history of building the tower and places around the world that had tributes to William Wallace. I spent the most time in this room reading about the history, it was intriguing. I then pressed onward to the roof top area. The first level of the roof pops you out onto an outer terrace that has these holes in the wall to glance around Stirling. The next level up is a large platform that has a great view of Stirling and the surrounding areas. The view of the river is amazing, but it was quite cold!
I made my way down to ground level again and quickly checked out the gift shop. After a quick look around, Karen and I walked back down to the parking lot and checked out the gift shop here. We got a few things, and got a stuffed Highland Cow to accompany Mr. Prickles. They are part of a threesome of friends, also including Nessie! I think we are going to bring Mr. Prickles along to find regional friends from now one.
By now, it was about 1:45, so we headed to the hotel to check in. We got checked in, dropped out bags and went to grab some lunch. There was a big restaurant next door called the Eating Inn. It is apparently part of a chain of restaurants/pubs that are more geared toward families and have two large play areas. I was actually quite surprised, I was afraid from the moment we walked in that I wasn't going to like it. They didn't have a bunch of vegetarian selections, but I settled on the veg lasagna. Karen manned up...... She got HAGGIS!!! It took a long time for our food to come, and I think Karen wanted to strangle two of the kids seated near us, but the food was pretty dang good. My lasagna was nice and light, with a good salad, and filling. Karen immensely enjoyed her haggis. It was served with mashed potatoes (not great) and bashed neeps (mashed turnips) that we bought thought were pretty good. Desert was apple pie for me that was fairly decent, and sticky toffee pudding for Karen. The pudding (which is a cake covered in sticky sauce, not pudding as in America) was AMAZING. I wish I had tried this before, it was great. I can now say that the Haagen-Dazs ice cream from two years ago was amazingly close in taste as well!
We went back to the hotel and I crashed for a few hours. Karen relaxed and then got ready for Hogmanay before waking me up. We left the hotel around 8-8:30 and headed toward the castle and downtown area. We found a decent parking space and headed to a restaurant called the Filling Station. Karen ordered a lasagna that she said was okay, and I had a tomato, mozzarella, and basil sandwich. The sandwich was also okay. Karen ordered garlic bread to go with her lasagna, and ended up being a 10 inch pizza crust with butter and garlic. It was really tasty. On to Hogmanay!
Walking up the hill was a bit of a relief for me, as we were eating dinner, there was an amazing number of young woman dressed in the most embarrassingly revealing clothing, and I was really concerned that I was getting us into something that we had no idea what it was. Fortunately, the crowd moving to the castle was significantly different, and more normal with exception of the awesome kilts, and the girls were all headed to the clubs. As we got onto the castle grounds, Madnish (www.madnish.co.uk), billed as the best Madness tribute band in Scotland (there is more than one?!!?! AWESOME!) was playing. Each band was only given about 30-35 minutes on stage, so I think we saw most of their set and they were great! Baggy Trousers, Our House, Night Boat to Cairo and more awesome classics. It was great!
The next guy that came out is this somewhat controversial guy that was on this Idol style show called X-Factor. His name is Wagner Carrilho (or something like that) and he is a Brazilian living in England, a retired gym coach. He has a unique look, long hair and a goatee, neck bracelet (traditional Native American style) and generally wears tight pants. He is a singer and a bongo player, and in my opinion, not very good. Apparently, he was sort of like William Hung on X-Factor, but some people actually like him. It was weird, and we were both glad to see him off the stage. The next band was this guy Darius Campbell that is a cheesy lounge singer, apparently he is somewhat popular as well. Didn't really care for him. The last band, on stage to welcome in the New Year was a Scottish fusion band mixing traditional and rock called Skerryvore (www.skerryvore.com). They were great, we both liked them immensely. Excellent mix of new stuff and old stuff, great mix of instruments, and a pretty good singer. They had a fiddle player, accordion player, and another accordion player that also played bagpipes. Great show.
As midnight struck, everyone counted down and then an awesome fireworks display was launched from the castle. People all over the city began launching Chinese lanterns, it looked like some sort of alien assault and was amazingly beautiful. Everyone sang some traditional song that I recognized and Karen actually knew some of the words, and these awesome dances broke out everywhere. Large groups of people would cross there arms and then link hands in a huge circle and they would dance into a tight circle and expand back outward. It was great to see so many people having fun, grabbing strangers and swinging them and having so much fun. It was awesome. Skerryvore got back on stage and finished up their set, and then we took off back toward the car. Loads of people were on the streets, wishing New Year out of windows, and having a good old time. The nice thing was that I saw only a few truly drunk people. It was a great way to welcome the New Year. I hope to Celebrate Hogmanay again some day.
Tomorrow we are headed back to London.
More pictures from today: http://s290.photobucket.com/albums/ll256/sandalscout/GB%202010-2011/Dec%2031-Stirling%20and%20Hogmanay/?start=all