The Vatican Palace, Part I

We went to the Vatican as part of the speed tour, so I would do it again, but differently.  A tip from another traveler suggested that the end of the day, roughly two hours from closing is the best time to see the Vatican.  She said she got the tip from Rick Steve’s or Fodders travel books on Italy.  I had Rick Steve’s, so I must have missed that page.

Seeing the Vatican the way we did was a major deal, and not in a good way.  The line was unbelievable, and the same method once inside of practically sprinting through was annoying to say the least.  The only respite came when a ten year old in our group (who did NOT want to be there) ran off.  The whole place came to a stand still while all the guards and police searched for him.  I would not recommend this tour for kids that age unless they really like historical Rome, but if you do, rest assured, they have an amazing system in place for finding lost children.  Not a single person was allowed to move ’till he was found–quite a feat considering how many people were in there.

The Vatican Palace was built between 498AD and 514AD during the reign of Pope Symmachus on the left bank of the Tiber River in Rome.  It contains some 11,000–yes thousand, rooms on 13.5 acres and in 2003 the property was worth an estimated $1.21 billion not counting the art.  I can’t imagine the dusting and vacuuming.

The Vatican is now used mostly for religious and administrative meetings.  There are many priceless works of art housed within the Vatican and it’s five museums; The Museo Pio-Clementino, the Galleria Chiaramonti, the Braccio Nuovo, the Egyptian Museum, and the Etruscan Museum.  Some of the art is in the form of sculptures, like the ones below.

And some in amazingly detailed paintings on the walls and ceilings.

The museums within, and the art they contain, and the art on the building’s walls and ceilings are breathtakingly amazing.  So amazing that words cannot do them justice.

Edradour and Stirling Castle

The Outlander tour from Inverness was the highlight of Inverness.  I truly wish there had been more time.  As much as I liked Edinburgh, I loved Inverness.  There was a quieter feel to it, a little slower and more relaxed.  I could have spent two weeks there, taking my time seeing the sights.  I was truly sorry to leave, but our time was up.  We said our goodbyes and began the long drive back to Edinburgh.

The drive was beautiful.

At the last minutes we decided to try to stop at a whiskey distillery, and we chose Edradour in the hills above Pitlochry.  It was great fun, and low-key.  Pitlochry is 75 minutes north of Edinburgh, and is a major stopping point off of the A9 for travelers.  This is a place I would like to see again.  Since we had to be back in Edinburgh by the end of the day, and we wanted to see Sterling Castle we did not walk the town but only visited the distillery.  This is a mistake.  Just driving through I could tell I would regret this, but choices have to be made and when extending your stay is not a choice among them you have to be content knowing you’ll just have to return.

We started with a wee dram, tasting it neat first, then with the addition of a bit of water to experience how it changed the whisky.  Not a huge whisky drinker myself, I was impressed with the way it tasted, and it felt like velvet in my mouth.  Then we took a tour of the process.  Edradour is the smallest distillery in Scotland, and is run by only three men.  They are not automated, and most of the equipment is as old as the distillery itself.  Here is a link where you can read about the distillery.

After we finished at the distillery we headed to Stirling castle after getting gas.  One of the things we found throughout the trip was how scarce petrol stations are, so when you find one, it’s best to fill.

Within an hour and a half, we were at Stirling Castle.  The road to the parking if very narrow and winding, up an incline.  I don’t know if I was just getting better at driving, or not, but it didn’t seem that bad.  There are a lot of buses, so you just have to keep an eye out for them.

This is known as the Bowling Green, and it is on the lower level of the castle.  The tour guide claimed it was used as a yard for children to play in, and the guardsmen would sometimes use it to bowl.

Inside, there is a model of the castle to give some perspective.

This is Wallace Monument which is visible across the way from one of the courtyards in Stirling Castle."Stirling Bridge"

Stirling Bridge, between Wallace Monument and Stirling Castle.  Below, interesting architecture within Stirling Castle.

The Castle Kitchens were quite big, as needed to accommodate the military troops.

I took this picture of the ceiling in the dining hall, when the tour guide said they somehow knew it took 800 trees to create.  The trees came from a forest miles away, and were carted to the castle.

This statue of Robert the Bruce Stands at the entrance to Stirling Castle.  Robert the Bruce led the Scots to Victory against the English’s Edward II in 1314.  It was quite and achievement given that they were so greatly outnumbered, reflecting Bruce’s skill at commanding an army.

This is the cemetery on the backside of Stirling Castle, in Stirling.  Our tour of Stirling Castle was at an end, and it was time to move on back into Edinburgh.  This time we stayed out closer to the airport at a B&B called Strawberry Bank House in Linlithgow.  The rooms are fairly spacious as are the bathrooms, the Breakfast was good, and it had its own parking.  It is 11 miles from the Edinburgh airport, so the location is perfect.  We checked in and took our last walk down Scottish Streets of Linlithgow to a pub for dinner.  Scotland is a wonderful place for vacation, and I look forward to returning.

Spynie Palace and Elgin Cathedral

The morning after arriving in Inverness, John asked us what we planned on seeing.  He then asked if we were fans of the Outlander series books, to which I said yes, Robyn not so much a fan was more tentative.  He asked if the next day we might be interested in joining an organized “Outlander” tour with another family staying at Ardconnel House.  We told him with some trepidation that we might be interested, but we didn’t want to trespass on the other family’s outing.  He pointed out that the more people that go the cheaper it would be, and thought we’d be a good match.  We agreed to let him negotiate the deal, and he could let us know that evening.

We did a self guided tour of Culloden and Clava Cairns, but since we would end up going back the next day, I plan on covering those in the next post.  Spynie Palace was built in the 12th century on  Spynie Loch and is 36 miles East of Inverness. It served as the Bishops seat for the Bishops of Moray for 500 years.  It was a fortified dwelling, and was referred to as Spynie Castle.  There was unrest about it’s location, as it was far from market and difficult to defend, hence the added gun holes in 1500.  Eventually it was moved to Elgin Cathedral 2.5 miles west to the city of Elgin.  Here is a link to read more about Spynie Castle.

There were two things that amazed me about this place.  The first was that it had been on Spynie Loch–a lake–where now there is none.  Over time the silt and earth filled in the Loch naturally creating dry land.

The second was the kitchen space, which was amazingly large, and sufficiently impressive to allow them to entertain any number of important people over the years.  James I, James II, James the IV and Mary Queen of Scotts all have stayed at this place that must have been quite impressive at one time.

I found photography difficult here with the camera I had brought with me.  I used a Sony PAS, with a really good zoom and panoramic capability.  I had thought at the planning stages that it would be easier than my Cannon EOS 50, because it’s lighter and easier to travel with, and the panorama function is so easy.  While the photo’s are not bad, I didn’t have a lot of flexibility in my shots.  Wide angle was out of the question, and while panorama is a nice feature, wide angle for some of these might have been a better choice.  Just another reason to go back with the right camera.

I found the same pangs of regret at the next stop, which was Elgin Cathedral in Elgin.  A very wide, flat open space, it was difficult to photograph to my liking.

As I mentioned earlier, Elgin is 2.5 miles from Spynie, and we were pleased that when we arrived it was still open.  I had been continually surprised by the short summer hours of most things in the UK, closing promptly at 5:30 when there is still so much daylight left in the day.

Upon arrival and parking, which turned out to be really easy as we were able to park at the curb right across the street, we were amazed at the entrance.

The first church on this site was built in the 13th century, but burned with much of the town in 1390 on the orders of Alexander Stewart, Wolf of Badenoch.  For the next 200 years it was slowly repaired until it fell in 1560 during the reformation when the congregation moved to Saint Giles in Elgin and the lead roof was stripped and the bells were taken.  It is known even now as The Lantern of the North.  Without a roof, it’s degradation became more rapid, until 1807 when a cobbler took measures to halt further decay.

They have a wonderful gift shop on the premises where the employees were willing to help us with anything.  This included pulling out a map and showing us wonderful places to drive and see.

“If you take this road here, it is the most beautiful drive.  You won’t be disappointed,” the young girl behind the counter said.

Robyn and I squinted at the tiny road on the map that most certainly did not look like an A road or even a B road.

I cleared my throat.  “Um, those aren’t single track carraigeways, are they?”

The young girl looked up, nonplussed as if this shouldn’t matter.  “Well, yes they are.”

We smiled.  “I think we are done with anything that doesn’t have two lanes.  But thank you for the suggestion.”

She truly looked disappointed.  Maybe I’ll give a try the next time I’m there.