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25 September 2012

Scotland Road Trip 3: Sunny Edinburgh, Lake District, and Total Exhaustion

It was the Sunday of our crammed weekend road trip to Scotland. After a full day of driving around the highlands and a night living up Edinburgh's nightlife, waking up at a decent hour was really not easy at all.

By some miracle we were up and ready around 11am. We left a few beers for our host with a thank you note scribbled on a paper plate, then we departed to do a quick exploration of Edinburgh itself.

Since I had visited Edinburgh previously (despite getting stranded in the city), I was the expert on the city and gave my friends the best 2-hour tour that I could muster. We started on the royal mile, not far from where we found a place to park the car (there was the Edinburgh Marathon finishing up that morning, which led to a lot of road closures and parking restrictions).

The warm and bright sun really contrasted the dark neo-gothic architecture of Edinburgh. It made it feel more like an amusement park than an actual city. Nevertheless, it is impossible to avoid being charmed by the history and Scottish culture around every corner.

We walked past St. Giles' Cathedral and all the way up to the castle itself. The castle was crowded with tourists, and we were strapped for time, so we didn't go inside. Also, the esplanade outside was largely roped off with construction as they were setting up large sets of bleacher seating. So, we walked down the stairs, passing by my previous hostel, the Castle Rock Hostel, which has a spectacular view looking directly upon the castle itself.

We proceeded down to the Grassmarket, where I explained the story of Maggie Dickinson. And then around to Greyfriars Kirk, where I told another great story, that of Greyfriars Bobby.

Not far from Greyfriars Kirk is the Elephant House, which proudly proclaims itself as the cafĂ© where J.K. Rowling frequently sat as she wrote the first Harry Potter book. Here's the view of the castle from the back window. Think it would inspire you to write a world-famous story of wizardry?

Maybe a brilliantly sunny and warm day isn't the best day to experience the expected brooding, dark atmosphere of Scotland. Nevertheless, in this part of the world, you simply do not complain when the temperature is 27˚C and there is not a cloud in the sky! So, after taking a quick peek in the National Museum to see Dolly the Sheep, we wandered over to the Princes Street gardens. There, we joined the growing masses of people to soak up the ephemeral Scottish sunshine!

I got a small ice cream and an order of fries (always a winning combination!) and we relaxed for a few moments in the gorgeous gardens. But we couldn't waste the rest of the day, we had a long drive back to London ahead of us. And we had a few amazing stops along the way.

Piling back into the car, we bid farewell to gorgeous Edinburgh and headed south toward England. There was more verdant countryside along the way. And, for some reason, we passed by dozens of VW camper vans all headed the other direction toward Edinburgh. Perhaps some sort of VW van convention?

Alas, we had no time to investigate. The countryside zoomed by, with rolling hills, sheep dotted pastures, gentle rivers, and modern windmills. After getting on the motorway, we were soon back in England, where we proceeded directly toward the Lake District.

As we entered the most scenic part of England, the roads became much more narrow and winding. It was an adrenaline rush approaching each turn, as cars (and buses!) appeared out of nowhere. We soon went upon most breathtaking drive of the trip: Kirkstone Pass.

The pass couldn't even accommodate two cars (unless they were both tiny), so we had to slow down and proceed very carefully whenever a car approached. This, on top of the steep gradient (up to 4% in places) truly made for an amazing and fun drive! (If only I could handle being behind the driver's seat!)

We obviously stopped to take in the spectacular view. This is the highest mountain pass in the Lake District after all. A few pictures, and then we proceeded into quaint and picturesque Ambleside.

We strolled through the town, but it was a Sunday and things were really quiet. (Or maybe we're just used to the bustle of London and Edinburgh?) So, to give us something cool to look forward to, I scheduled a visit to the Langdale resort, just a short drive outside the town.

A couple of us took a dip in the pool and jacuzzi to relax our muscles, cramped from the car ride. I greeted a friend who was there too. Unfortunately the clock was ticking, and the day was getting on, which meant that we had to get on too.

We drove through Windermere and headed back onto the motorway into Manchester. We bypassed most of the city and headed straight for a dinner place that Swag had highly recommended: Nawaab. It's a south Asian banquet hall that serves a huge buffet. And every item on the buffet was simply amazing, whether lamb, chicken, chick peas, curry, or dessert.

Naturally, we stuffed ourselves silly with food, since we hadn't really eaten a proper meal all day. And the day was already turning into night as we left the restaurant. With several hours on the road ahead of us, including a stop in Sheffield, we kicked ourselves ahead. To save time, we took the longer but faster route through Leeds (where Swag drove us around and gave a 2-minute driving tour).

Of course, it's England, and with that comes some sort of big inconvenience that you just have to deal with. This time, it was some sort of construction that jammed up the whole motorway. So we detoured onto side streets.

We were behind schedule, and it was close to midnight (or shortly past) when we left Sheffield. In the backseat, Kristina and Shash had long fallen asleep. I made it my mission to stay awake and to keep Swag awake with road trip games and conversation. I had also drank nearly an entire 2-litre bottle of Irn Bru, which kept my sugar levels up, but it had run out somewhere around Milton Keynes.

With our heads like zombies and the sun starting to burst over the eastern horizon, we arrived in London. Instead of driving home and dropping off the car in the morning, we somehow decided to drop the car off at Heathrow first so that we could just manage and catch up with sleep later!

The tube ride back from Heathrow to our house was excruciating, mainly because the train didn't arrive for 15 minutes. But once we sat down, we all instantly fell asleep. Somehow we managed to make the transfer at Green Park and survive all the way home. I don't remember ever being so exhausted in my life.

But that exhaustion was well worth it. The weekend in Scotland was yet another great trip. Can't wait for the next road trip!

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