Thursday, March 29, 2007

Edinburgh 2003

We finally made it into Edinburgh and found the flat at 64 Findhorn Place. By the way, that’s pronounced fin as a fish fin—FINdhorn. I drove around until we found a parking place, and I parallel parked (yes, I did). And I didn’t move the car until we left 5 days later. Why drive? There was a bus stop on the other street, and cabs were easy to flag down.

The flat was perfect. Four bedrooms, one being a box room, which is a euphemism for closet with a bed in it. But hey, a separate bedroom for each of us. The kitchen had everything we needed, and there were 2 bathrooms and a great living room with a bay window. It was bright and cheery and I loved it.

Mom got introduced very quickly to how much people walk in the UK. And to the fact that Edinburgh is a city with A LOT of people. It was one big anxiety attack waiting to happen, but she muddled through. One little stress point between Mom and me was that she wanted to know at all times exactly where we were, exactly where were we going, how we were going to get there, how long it would take, and wasn’t there an easier way to do it. Unfortunately, I couldn’t give her that information, and my philosophy was that we’ll just keep walking in this direction and we’ll come up on it eventually.

Mom decided to sit down on one of the benches and people watch while we headed down to the Tourist Information Center (TIC). Conveniently, the train station was next to the TIC, so J and I headed down there to get tickets to Ft. William, but the wait was going to be a long time, so she went to get some food for Mom, got Jen, and headed to back to Mom while I got our train tickets. They all had their first official fish-n-chips, but I got the better end of that deal because I talked to some really nice people to pass the time. One lady I talked to had a daughter who lived in San Antonio (where I was living at the time) and she had just gotten back from visiting her. We just marveled in the coincidence.

Waverly Station is beautiful and is the nicest train station we saw in the UK. It’s like walking into another world. You leave the city above ground and walk down into this open-air structure with cars coming down to a small circle to drop people off, kiosks of coffee and newspapers, busses dropping off and picking up tourists, and, of course, trains. The platforms are numbered with TVs showing the arrivals and departures. You go into a separate building for tickets, but this, too, is a huge open space, with a high ceiling with skylights and a domed center of stained glass. All the while, the city of Edinburgh is above you, with people hurrying from place to place.

Edinburgh is divided into 2 halves—the old town and new town. The dividing line is Princess Street Gardens. Old Town includes the Royal Mile, from Edinburgh Castle to Holyrood Castle. The New Town includes Princess Street, Charlotte Square, and all the newer housing. I preferred old town, despite the tourist trappings, but then again, I haven’t spent too much time in New Town. No one will believe this, but I wasn’t interested in shopping, at least not in the major department stores or high-priced boutiques of New Town. I wanted old and historical, to linger in make-shift museums and used bookstores, galleries, and pubs in buildings older than our country.

Edinburgh Castle is a must-see for every tourist. Wear good walking shoes because the castle grounds are cobblestone and you are constantly walking up hill. The castle, itself, is on top of a hill and there is no parking at the top. Take your time, stop and look over the beautiful city, and you’ll be fine. I think there is a courtesy vehicle that can take people up the hill, but I didn’t look for it, so I don’t know for sure. The castle is home to the Scottish Crown Jewels, the Stone of Destiny, and memorials to the soldiers. And at 1:00, of course, you can hear the 1:00 cannon every day. And yes, someone inevitably will ask, “What time does the 1:00 cannon go off?”

The first time I went to the castle, audio guides were free, but unfortunately, that’s changed, but get one anyway. They are easy to use; there are signs throughout the castle with corresponding numbers you punch into the player. As you listen to the commentary, it’s easy to forget that you are one of hundreds of people looking around the castle as you enjoy your private tour. Plan on spending the better part of the day there. Stop for lunch in the cafe and sit in the sunny back room with beautiful views of the west side of the city.

The excitement for us at the castle that day was the thunderstorm that blew in. Hail! Cold, stinging, slapping, pea-sized hail. J and I took refuge in the bookshop while it blew through, then headed to the cafe for a comforting bowl of mushroom soup and a cup of tea. It was actually kind of fun. I don’t know why I feel the need to laugh uncontrollably when caught in a storm. Guess it washes away all the pretensions I put forth—the make up, the hair style, the concern about clothes. And you really have to feel that way about rain if your are going to be in the UK because it rains a lot and storms quickly roll in and may or may not roll out.

So, what else did I do? Well, we took a day and each of us went out on our own. After missing the bus stop I thought I wanted and ending up at an even better stop (riding the bus is such an adventure), I got on a tour bus and headed to Old Town. The tour busses are a great way to get around because you can get your bearings, then hop off and on for a 24-hour period. I rode up to the Royal Mile, then I hopped off to walked up and down the Royal Mile for awhile. I went The Writer’s Museum and read exhibits on Walter Scott and Robert Burns. The Robert Louis Stevenson exhibit was closed, darn it. I came out with a new respect for these writers and nice paperback on a literary tour of Edinburgh, which I haven’t even cracked the spine on, but I will.

I also went to Gladston’s Land, a museum owned by the National Trust reconstructed to represent life in the 17th century. There were tour guides in each room, in addition to the laminated information sheets that are typical of touring homes like this. I’m self-conscious reading those things because I don’t read very fast nor comprehend quickly. Besides, I’m not such a art guru that I really care about who did every portrait. Actually, this place wasn’t so heavy into art as it was furniture. However, there were amazing painted ceilings that they discovered in the restoration.

Time for some libation. So, I went to Deacon’s Brodie, a great little pub just down from Gladstone’s Land. The pub is named after William Brodie, the inspiration for Dr. Jekyl and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson. Brodie was a respectable councilman and pillar of society by day and head of a gang of robbers and villains by night. He was executed for robbery in 1788. I was the only woman alone and drinking a pint of beer. I wasn’t uncomfortable with this until I looked down to the end of the room, and there was an older couple and the woman was shaking her head and frowning at me. I’m not sure if she was thinking, “Poor dear all alone” or “Hussy.” I ignored her and talked to a nice man who gave me some suggestions of places to visit.

OK, quick run down on restaurants and pubs:

• John Leslie’s Pub was across from the flat and was my favorite pub. It must be the favorite of a lot of people because it was voted Pub of the Year by CAMRA (the Campaign for Real Ale). J and I really enjoyed this pub. It was small and dark with really wonderful beer and cider. Mom enjoyed it too when she came and even had a half-pint of ale.
• Since we were there for Mother’s Day, I took the ladies to The Bell Inn and we had a very nice steak dinner. Many nice restaurants offer a price fixed dinner. For around £13.95, you can choose two items (starter and entree, entree and dessert, you get the idea). Makes it pretty easy to decide what to order that way.
• The Elephant House is a coffee house that says it is one of the places where JK Rowling wrote the first Harry Potter. Katie Couric said on Dateline that the coffee shop where she wrote is now a Chinese Restaurant. Who knows? Who cares? I have a picture of the front of the Elephant House and as far as you or anyone else knows, that’s where she wrote Harry Potter. That’s my story, and I’m sticking to it.
• No trip to the UK would be complete without Take Away, and I found a great place right up from the pub near our flat. Don’t remember the name, but trust me, it was good, especially after a pint or two at the pub. If you have an aversion to things fried, don’t go. Oh, what the hell, go anyway! One meal of deep fried food won’t kill ya. And be sure to get malt vinegar to go with it.
• Milne’s Pub—This pub is in New Town and was huge compared to other pubs I’ve been in. It was 2 levels with a bar on each level, which was very handy in deed. They have live music in the evenings and a friend of mine who has been here several times has named this her favorite pub. It’s not the small, cozy pub of John Leslie’s but it had cozy pockets and didn’t lose it’s feeling of a pub. I would imagine it’s pretty hoppin’ at night, but, alas, I was only there for a brief time in the middle of the day.
• Plaisir du Chocolat Café and Pastry Shop—This little shop is full of delectable and decadent sweet pastries. It’s a great place to stop for tea or to get something to take home for later. But really, why would you wait to eat something so wonderful? Unless of course, you buy one for now and one for later. This shop is just down on the Royal Mile.

There’s so much more to do in this city, and I just scratched the surface. Edinburgh is the first time I fell in love with a city. I’ve heard from several people that I have to go to Glasgow, and maybe if I had gone to Glasgow first instead of Edinburgh, I’d feel this way about Glasgow. But I felt at home in Edinburgh—actually in all of Scotland. My friend who’s been there a couple of times said she thinks she’s done Edinburgh now, no need really to go again. How could anyone be done with Edinburgh? I can’t wait to go back.

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