Her Majesty’s Royal Yacht Britannia

Stephen F. Dennstedt

Her Majesty’s Royal Yacht Britannia. Supposedly the Royal Yacht is the number one tourist attraction in Scotland (some say in all the United Kingdom). I would have thought Edinburgh Castle would have claim to that title.

Her Majesty’s Yacht Britannia, also known as the Royal Yacht Britannia, is the former royal yacht of the British monarch, Queen Elizabeth II, in service from 1954 until 1997. It’s open to the public for £16 GBP or £14 GBP for old farts like us.

Royal Yacht Britannia was home to Her Majesty The Queen and the Royal Family for over 40 years, sailing over 1,000,000 miles around the world. I will cut to the chase—it’s a beautiful ship and extremely interesting to tour. It is a self-guided tour and every person has an audio device that describes the different numbered points of interest—the entire route is very well organised and easy to follow. You can go at your own pace but on average the tour takes about 1½-hours to complete. It covers all decks from the bridge to the boiler room and everything in-between.

Her Majesty’s Royal Yacht Britannia – Edinburgh (Leith) Scotland (Internet File Photo – Not My Photo)

Joel and I both felt it was a very good value and time well spent. From our hotel on Hermitage Place to the port via Great Junction Street it’s about a 30-minute walk and the weather yesterday was spectacular. The Royal Yacht opened at 9:30 a.m. and we strolled down early—the sun was shining brightly and the high temperature was warm at 19°C/67°F with a modest wind. It reminded us very much of a cool morning Santa Ana wind in San Diego, CA. We each left our parka, down vest and hat in our room and just enjoyed shirtsleeves and sunglasses (yes we were wearing pants—sheesh).

Beginning of the Tour Before Crossing the Gangplank to the Ship

The Wheel House

Our Latin America and Southern California tans are but a distant memory and we returned to our hotel with red sunburned noses, cheeks and arms. It felt glorious and energizing—we had almost forgotten how good warm sun can feel and what it does to your mental outlook. The folks at the Royal Yacht were very friendly with big welcoming smiles on their faces (kind of unusual in itself). I guess everyone was loving the sun. We bought our tickets, grabbed our audio devices and we were off and running. We started on the forward top deck with its bridge overlooking the bow and moved towards the stern.

The Queen’s Stateroom

Prince Charles & Princess Diana’s Stateroom

The Queen’s stateroom is rather small and equipped with a small twin size bed (one person only). Our audio device explained she chose the smaller bed to accommodate the linen inherited from the previous Queen. Sounds like a pretty lame excuse to me if I do say so myself. Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh is the husband and consort of Queen Elizabeth II and sleeps in his own stateroom (with its own bed) down the passageway from the Queen (sorry about that old chap—I know the feeling). Prince Charles and Princess Diana shared a room (at least for a while).

Dining Hall For the Ship’s Officers

Great Dining Hall For Onboard State Dinners (Seats 96 People)

As on most ships there are different comfort levels aboard the Royal Yacht. The Captain (an Admiral in this case) has private quarters. The ship’s officers have shared quarters for sleeping, dining and partying. The crew, both Navy and Royal Marines, share cramped quarters below decks. For anyone who has served in the military you know the enlisted personnel ALWAYS get the shit end of the stick—especially the Marines. In 1970 the Royal Navy even abolished its cherished tradition of serving a daily ration of rum (or tot) to the crew. As young U.S. Marine in Vietnam I got two beers a day when behind the wire.

The Royal Family’s Sitting Area

The Royal Marines Berthing Area

Although many Americans (like us) find the monarchy interesting we also hold it in some disdain. We’re not big believers in being born to privilege—the American credo has always been to work hard for personal success. Unfortunately that credo seems to be changing but old dinosaurs like us still hold it in high regard. Work hard for what you want in life and kowtow to no man. American corporate and military hierarchies still try to create class systems within a no-class system form of government but we’re still a rebellious lot as a general rule. Maybe we’ll revolt against our idiot President soon—one can only hope.

Ship’s Sick Bay & Dispensary

Ship’s Laundry

The Royal Yacht even has its own sick bay & dispensary below decks as well as its own laundry facilities. It’s really like a small city floating on the water. There was no explanation on our audio device about why the Britannia was eventually decommissioned in 1997 but it seems a shame. I suspect it had something to do with operating cost and public perception of extravagance among the Royals. It’s tough for the many trying to eek out a decent living for themselves and their families to watch the extravagance of the privileged few. It’s especially true when the privileged few didn’t earn their privilege they inherited it.

I Think This Is the Captain’s Gig for Britannia

Racing Yacht Bloodhound

Exiting the Royal Yacht we had a last glimpse of the ship from the outside. Tied up along side was the Racing Yacht Blood HoundIn 1962 Bloodhound was purchased for the Royal Family at the request of Prince Philip. In February she was sailed from Plymouth to Gosport to be refitted by Camper and Nicholsons and the work was finished by June. Prince Philip sailed Bloodhound with Uffa Fox at Cowes Week in August of that year. During royal ownership Bloodhound would accompany The Royal Yacht Britannia in the Western Isles when the royal family had their one true family holiday every year.

Field Notes: I had to use an internet file photo to show you the entire yacht. I couldn’t capture it from Portside and I couldn’t get on the water to photograph it from Starboard. I captured the rest of the photos with my Canon EOS 5D Mark IV DSLR and EF 16-35mm f/4L IS USM ultra wide-angle zoom lens. Much of the time I was shooting through glass and under less than optimum lighting conditions. My 16-35mm gave me the extra FOV I needed and it has great IS that helps with shooting handheld in low light. Not the best photos but at least you can see what the inside of the yacht looks like. SFD



Dr. Bell’s School in Leith (Edinburgh) Scotland

Dr. Bell’s School Built in 1835

Dr. Bell’s School at 101 Great Junction Street is almost next door to our favourite cafe Up the Junction in Leith (Edinburgh) Scotland. I can’t find too much information about it other than it was built in 1835 two years after Dr. Bell’s death in 1832. From the street it seems to be constructed of dark stone (like so many buildings in Edinburgh) but upon closer inspection it is actually made of wood blocks. Walking right up to it you can see the grain on the end of the blocks. Over the years it has apparently weathered to look like stone—that its survived all these years is a wee bit amazing.

April 21st: This is an update to this post after revisiting Dr. Bell’s School. I was tipped off by a “local” that it was probably made of sandstone (a typical building material in Edinburgh that often looks like it has wood-like grain visible). He was absolutely right—I gave the structure a good rap with my knuckles and it’s solid stone. It’s amazing how much stone can look like wood at times. In Arizona (USA) there is a National Park called the Petrified Forest with fossilised wood and you would be hard pressed to tell the difference between wood and stone. Thank you Scott. SFD 

Dr. Andrew Bell (1753-1832) was a Scottish Educator of some repute. He was educated at St Andrews University where he distinguished himself in Maths.  At the age of 21 he decided to seek his fortune further afield and emigrated to America. From 1774 – 84, he was tutor to the children of plantation owners in Virginia. He saved £800, returned to Scotland, and decided to enter the church. He lived in Leith from 1784 – 1787, and then set off for India, in the service of the East India Company. Dr Bell returned to Britain in 1797, because of poor health.  He founded schools in Leith and elsewhere.

Dr Bell’s School in Leith was taken over by Leith School Board, and became a primary school in 1892.  The building now houses Dr Bell’s Family Centre, Stanwell Nursery as well as private flats. It’s an interesting building and I wish that I could find more information about its construction. I might go back to get a closer look to confirm that it’s really made of wood blocks—I’m 99% sure but that remaining 1% kind of bugs me. Anyway, we see really interesting stuff like this all over Scotland during our daily walkabout. In the next day or two we will probably walk down to the port to tour Her Majesty’s Royal Yacht Britannia.

Stephen F. Dennstedt

I’m a Leither She Proclaimed Proudly

Stephen F. Dennstedt

So this morning we’re having breakfast at Up the Junction our favourite little cafe. It’s about a ten-minute walk from our hotel, towards the port, at 127 Great Junction Street and serves a great breakfast at a reasonable price.

We were just finishing up with our meal when an older lady (meaning younger than us) asked if we minded her sitting at the table next to us. Mind you the cafe was virtually empty with only one other sit-down patron (another woman).

What were we supposed to say—hell yes we mind? I instantly quipped: no problem but you owe us £5. She frowned and said no way before noticing the smile on my face. Where are you guys from she asked—we gave her the quick & dirty: we’re brothers (not gay), retired and expat refugees from the USA (the land of Donald Trump) and we’re starting our seventh year of travelling around the world. I asked (it only seemed polite) if she was originally from Edinburgh. She glowered and said I’m a Leither. I said I thought Leith was the port district of Edinburgh. Legally speaking she said with attitude.

She informed us that there was a referendum in 1920 to incorporate Leith into greater Edinburgh but that Leithers voted no in large numbers—but they did it anyway she said. We’ve been taken with the fact that many Scotts have a low opinion of their neighbouring cities—Aberdeen doesn’t like Edinburgh and Edinburgh doesn’t like Glasgow and so on and so forth. Now we were seeing the same thing within the City of Edinburgh—those from Leith resent Edinburgh and vice versa (it even seemed increasingly important where in Leith a person lived).

It’s like the rivalry between the five boroughs of New York City: Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens, the Bronx and Staten Island. Our new lady friend continued to warm to her subject and was quickly joined by the only other patron in the cafe—now we had two older women in animated discussion only inches from our table. In our dotage Joel and I are both confirmed bachelors—having fought the gender wars in the 1970s (and lost) we have retreated from the field of battle, forever. Frankly, non-stop female chatter usually pisses us off but we rolled with the punches this morning.

We tried to hold our own in the discussion but if you’ve ever been in this situation with two older Scottish women you will appreciate the futility of that effort. We couldn’t get a word in edgewise—watch the American television show The View sometime and you will know exactly what I’m talking about. I made a half serious joke about Scottish women being tough and assertive and the woman quickly informed me it’s because they have to put up with Scottish men. Wow. No wonder Scottish men are taciturn, dour and in the pubs by 7 a.m. in the morning.

So there we were, two crotchety old and confirmed bachelors and two old single ladies, crammed into the corner of this quaint little cafe. Oh—and all the while the owner of the cafe (a younger guy) was behind his counter cracking up and enjoying the spectacle taking place in front of him. We probably made his day. I excused myself (leaving Joel to fend for himself) and made my way to the counter to pay the bill and to shut the owner up. When we finally left the cafe the two women were still jabbering a mile a minute and probably didn’t even notice that we had left post-haste.

Field Notes: As is often the case this post is in large part tongue-in-cheek. Oh—it all happened alright but wasn’t as traumatic as I made it out to be. Both ladies were nice enough and kind of interesting and it’s a rare thing for a Scott to come up to you and start a conversation. It was fun to hear their stories about Leith and Scotland in general. It’s just that we felt trapped and couldn’t wait to get out of there. We’re both pretty taciturn and dour our own selves—and to be perfectly honest women kind of drive us nuts these days. We pretty much fail when it comes to inane small talk (and have zero interest in romantic hookups). 

Our Time in the Tropics Is but a Memory

Stephen F. Dennstedt

We’ve been in the UK for almost three months and the tropics are a distant memory. Joel and I spent over 5½-years in Latin America (Mexico, Cuba, Central America and South America) before returning to the Northern Hemisphere.

Iceland, the Irish Republic, Northern Ireland and Scotland are much different from the tropics. Hot and humid days, monsoonal rains and shirtsleeves are now cold days of rain, sleet, snow requiring five layers of clothing. Not bad just different.

But that’s part of the travel adventure (especially world travel), experiencing new places with different weather patterns. Having spent months at a time in tropical jungles and rainforests with their stifling humidity, bugs and snakes we often longed for a cooler clime. Now that we’ve literally frozen our butts off in a cooler clime we look back on our travels in the tropics with fondness. The human condition I’m afraid—always wanting what we don’t now have. This is somewhat tongue-in-cheek because Joel and I enjoy our varied and unique travel experiences very much.

Me in the Jungles of Lago Yojoa in Honduras (2015)

Me Relaxing in my Jungle Hammock on the Rio San Juan in Southeastern Nicaragua (2015)

In the weeks, months and years ahead we will continue to zigzag our way eastwards towards India and Southeast Asia stopping in as many places along the way as we can. Eventually we will find ourselves back in the tropics and we’ll probably start bitching about the heat, humidity, bugs and snakes. The one challenge for full-time trekkers like us is packing for different weather contingencies—from blistering mind-sapping heat to frigid incapacitating cold and everything in-between. Keep in mind, unlike a two-week holiday, everything has to fit into one rucksack carried on our back for years at a time.

Me Braving the Elements in Perth, Scotland (2018)

Me in Reykjavik, Iceland (2017)

When simply going on holiday a traveller tends to pack season and activity appropriate. When you’re location-independent (homeless) like us everything you need to survive Mother Nature’s extremes you carry with you on your back. It’s like being a turtle or crab with your home riding on your shoulders. There is great freedom in this mode of travel but it does take some planning and discipline. When travelling in warmer weather your parka, down vest, fleece gloves, hat and jacket get buried at the bottom of your rucksack but is still carried with you nonetheless.

From our point of view the location-independent slō-travel lifestyle is well worth the effort. We live simple, we live cheap and we live free. Free is the operative word—we spend our remaining time on planet Earth the way we want to spend it. The most valuable thing we have left is time and we’re not about to piss it away doing what others expect of us or what society deems appropriate. It’s our time and we will spend it any way we see fit. That was our motivation in spending a month exploring Cuba in 2014 before the American State Department said it was okay. Life is too short for nonsensical rules.

The Muppet Brothers (Steve & Joel Dennstedt)

Field Notes: We are brothers—we call ourselves the Muppet Brothers. Our adventure began in 2011 with our decision to quit the USA to travel full-time. Me to photograph and write and Joel to write and publish novels. We left San Diego, CA in early 2012 and we are beginning our seventh year on the road doing what we love to do. All our personal gear fits into rucksacks carried on our backs and my photography kit rolls beside me in a Pelican case. We are location-independent (homeless) slō-travellers (see less experience more) who live simple, cheap and free. We wish you well. SFD

Is There Life After Death

Stephen F. Dennstedt

Is there life after death? A profound question—probably the most profound question that one can ask. Certainly greater minds than mine have asked it for millennia. Let me state from the outset that I don’t have a definitive answer—I only have my experiences, opinions and beliefs.

However, as the years continue to pass I’m getting closer to experiencing the answer for myself (the answer will come to all of us eventually). Until then we will continue to interpret most posited opinions and beliefs about life & death through filters: religious, cultural, scientific and empirical.

Regardless of the language you speak (religious, cultural, scientific or empirical) there appears to be many commonalities of thought when addressing the universal message—that there is something beyond our mere fly speck mind-body existence on planet Earth. For many years I have explored the question for myself using all the languages (input filters) mentioned above. The result is an intuitive feeling and not an absolute answer.

I hesitate to share my intuitive feeling publicly because it might only serve to invite criticism and debate—neither of which am I overly interested in. Lao Tzu (a 6th-century BC Chinese philosopher) said it perfectly: Those who speak do not know, those who know do not speak. Lao Tzu  and the Tao Te Ching introduced me to Eastern Philosophy and Taoism where my studies eventually led to the practice of Zen Buddhism (which I practiced formally for over fifteen years). Eastern thought spoke to me in a way that Western philosophy and religion never could. It made sense of chaos.

I’ve always had an insatiable interest in science (though I don’t really have the brain for it) and found in my reading many parallels between Eastern thought and quantum mechanics. Wisdom teachings fascinate me, religion per se not so much. Jesus was not a Christian, Siddhartha Gautama was not a Buddhist and Mohamed was not a Muslim. I think they would be appalled at the travesties carried out in their name. I like to read, study and learn but ultimately I make my decisions based on empirical evidence (my filter of choice)—what I see and experience.

So what is my intuitive feeling? I feel that we are part of something bigger than us. I hesitate to call that something God (and certainly not a personal god in the Christian sense). I feel that some part of us (our soul) transcends physical mind-body death to be reunited with the Universal Oneness (back into the quantum soup). I feel there is power within intent (call it the power of prayer if you wish). I feel that when our mind-body physically dies we transcend to something else and we will know the truth. I do not believe in heaven or hell and am a bit dubious about reincarnation (though I’m keeping an open mind).

The video below explores the question of life after death so if you have the time you might be interested in watching it. It’s a scientific look at the question based on fifty years of research at the University of Virginia. You’re free to comment on this post if you like but keep it civil and positive. People have their own belief systems and opinions and we don’t need any cyber-bullying challenging those beliefs and opinions. I will say that my subscribers are very well-behaved and I have eliminated the very few who weren’t. So thank you for that. No updates to this post with the real answer after I pass on. Sorry.

Scottish Girls and Their Black Tights & Short Skirts

Scottish Girl and Her Black Tights

Hey it’s cold in Scotland for much of the year. I get that having experienced it firsthand. So you don’t see any bare legs especially during the winter months. Well, there is an exception to that among some travellers—moronic young men who insist on wearing shorts even when it’s snowing typically coupled with a Man Bun. The only thing dumber than a Man Bun is some old fart like me with a pony tail. Girls and women in Scotland and Ireland wear black tights to keep their legs warm—often paired with short skirts and boots. I like the look—you don’t see many skirts and dresses in the USA anymore.

Scottish Girl and Her Black Tights & Short Skirt

In the States it’s mostly ripped jeans and t-shirts with profanities emblazoned on them. I spent six years in the Marine Corps so I can handle profanity but it doesn’t mean that I like to see it on display publicly—but then it goes with the trash mouth many young women seem proud to project these days. Yeah, I know I’m an old fart but I find women attractive because they’re feminine (and different from me) and not because they can be as lewd & crude as most young guys. Just me—I’m old-fashioned when it comes to public decorum. I understand you have the right ladies but just because you can doesn’t mean you should.

Scottish Girl and Her Black Tights, Short Skirt & Boots

Scottish girls and their black tights, short skirts and boots remind me of the 1960s—a complicated time but in many ways a more innocent time. Shortly after my wife and I got married in 1968, at 20 and 19 respectively, I bought her a smoking hot outfit. Keep in mind she was almost 5’11” in her bare feet, had long blond hair hanging straight to her butt, a peaches & cream complexion and dazzling blue eyes. I bought her a powder blue micro miniskirt, white tights, a white high collared English lace blouse, Go-Go boots and topped it all off with a Bonnie & Clyde cream coloured beret. She got the looks.

Scottish Girl and Her Black Tights, Short Skirt & Boots

I must admit I’ve always had an eye (and appreciation) for beautiful women—now I’m old and harmless but I can still look. And I do. The look of black tights, short skirts and boots appeals to me much more than ripped jeans and profanity laced t-shirts. In addition to reminding me of the 1960s it also reminds me of the look you might see in the Pacific Northwest—up around Seattle, WA. To each his own I guess but this heterosexual male likes seeing women in more feminine garb. Call me sexist if you like but I’m not changing anytime soon. Scottish girls keep doing what you’re doing and guys lose the shorts and Man Buns.

Stephen F. Dennstedt

Our Arrival in Edinburgh (Leith) Scotland

Stephen F. Dennstedt

Yesterday was a day of backtracking until we arrived in Edinburgh. We checked out of our hotel in Aberdeen at 11:15 a.m. and walked the short distance to the bus terminal. The bus station in Aberdeen is a bit of a cluster-f@#k.

Mass confusion on a grand scale—little to no signage and even the local Scots were asking us (Americans) what buses were going where and when. The few employees we asked tended to be less than helpful.

However, we found the right bus and queued up for our 12:10 p.m. departure with everyone else. It was complete anarchy with no sense of order or even politeness—it was every man for himself. We’re very conscious of the fact that we are Americans abroad so we try to keep up a certain sense of anti-stereotypical American decorum—but I must admit my patience was wearing thin. We stowed our gear (packs, duffels and Pelican case) under the bus and climbed aboard. Since arriving in Scotland I’ve added a handful of Scots to my blog as subscribers.

Merith House Hotel

I don’t want to offend any of my new Scottish followers but I’m drawn to make cultural comparisons when travelling—both from city-to-city and country-to-country. We’ve met some really nice folks while travelling in Scotland but we’ve also noticed that many Scots seem to be more taciturn and even dour than other countries we’ve visited. Joel and I come from a German-American background so we know the mindset and recognise it when we see and experience it. We’ve seen a marked difference in behaviour between Ireland and Scotland.

These are just my observations and may not have any basis in fact whatsoever. But impressions are impressions. We found the Irish (especially) to be quick to laugh, smile, share a story and offer help. The Irish were generous by nature and we enjoyed various perks and discounts (unasked for) along the way. So far the Scots have struck us stoic, rather remote, unsmiling, big on the rules, not particularly generous (pinching pennies harder than I thought possible) and as I alluded to earlier taciturn and dour. Again, apologies to my Scottish friends—no offence intended.

The Bat Cave

So after boarding our bus in Aberdeen we settled in for the 3-hour and 15-minute ride to Edinburgh backtracking through Dundee and Perth before turning south across the River Tay (the longest river in Scotland). Entering Edinburgh is dramatic and the architecture is absolutely stunning. When we left Aberdeen it was sunny but by the time we arrived in Edinburg it was again cloudy with heavy overcast—today it’s raining. However, they are forecasting sunny (and even hot) weather next week with high temperatures reaching 18°C/67°F. That would be shirtsleeve weather.

Once we arrived in Edinburgh we hailed a taxi for the two-mile drive to our hotel in Leith. The driver opened his doors electronically, with no offer of help with our luggage, and we entered the throng of late afternoon commuters. Although the distance was short the drive time was long with the urban congestion. Arriving at our hotel he once again opened the doors electronically, we paid our toll of about £10 GBP, unloaded our gear and entered the hotel to check-in. Robert quickly checked us in and showed us to our room which I have dubbed the bat cave. Robert was friendly.

Breakfast Area

I will say it again—Robert was friendly and helpful. We reserved the cheapest room in the hotel for £23 GBP pp—it has a shared bath (not preferable but certainly doable). It’s also a step-down from the sidewalk and has no windows (hence the bat cave). It does come with free in-room Wi-Fi and free instant coffee. A Continental Breakfast is available for a whopping £7.95 GBP but is slim pickings for the price. In Aberdeen we enjoyed an all-you-can-eat buffet breakfast for £1 GBP more (£8.95 GBP). We’re cheap-ass American budget travellers looking for value.

I think we’re going to lose some weight during our three-week stay in Edinburgh. Once the rain lets up we’ll head out for a walkabout to search for less expensive food alternatives but I’m guessing we’ll wind up at the local Tesco and buy granola bars for breakfast and pre-made sandwiches for dinner—like I said, we can afford to lose a little weight. The UK has put a strain on our travel budget and I don’t think we’ll get much relief until we reach Eastern Europe and then into Asia. I suppose this post is sounding like a rant. And maybe it is—sorry, that’s usually not my style.

Leith Links Park (Across From Our Hotel)

As full-time world trekkers Joel and I look for and appreciate value and authentic experiences. Big cities with their large crowds, crappy attitudes and astronomical prices cast a dark shadow on that appreciation. It’s not the UK per se but large expensive cities in general—NYC, LA and Chicago produce the same feelings in us. Stick us on a tropical beach (Playa Samara in Costa Rica), a thatched jungle hut (the Rio San Juan in southeastern Nicaragua) or in the middle of the Atacama Desert (in northern Chile) and we’re happy campers. Big cities not so much. I’ll work on getting my attitude in check.

Part of my problem might also be the weather. In the five months since leaving San Diego we’ve experienced less than a week of sunshine. Spring has finally arrived in the UK I think (although later than usual) so things may change. Having been born and raised in Southern California and living in Latin America for the last six years we’re used to sunshine—the change in weather has been different but grey overcast skies day in and day out can be kind of depressing. Nonetheless, as promised in the last paragraph, I will work on getting my attitude in check.