Monday, July 17, 2006

Day nine -- Edinburgh

I sit here, in our very nice Travelodge room near Glasgow Airport, writing my last entry for Scotland. Tonight is our last night in Scotland, and it has been a most wonderful trip. The weather in Scotland, even in July, is often rainy, almost always cloudy, and almost never sunny. We've had a few patchy showers, quite a bit of cloud-cover, but never downright drenching rains. Indeed, for most of the week, it's been rather sunny and nice, and this weekend was sunny like you cannot believe. It seems the Scots have rolled out the red carpet for us.

Today, we took the train over to Edinburgh for some exploration in that fine old city. The train drops you off at Waverly station, right smack in the middle of the Royal Mile. From the Royal Mile, the Edinburgh Castle is to your right, H.R.H. The Queen's Scotland palace, Holyrood, is on your left. (Which is supposed to contain a piece of the Holy Rood--a piece of the original cross--given to Queen Margaret in the 12th century.)

We started by heading to the castle, but when we saw the queues, we opted to bypass it, missing St. Margaret's chapel, which I rather wanted to see, since St. Margaret was a major queen in the history of early Scotland. Be that as it may, I didn't want to spend half our day in a queue, so we moved on.

Back down the Royal Mile, we passed many shops--some of them tourist-trappy, some of them more interesting and authentic. At around the halfway point, we veered right to visit the statue of Greyfriar's Bobby, made famous by the Disney movie of the 1960's. The boys had just seen the movie in the U.S., so it was fresh in their minds and this stop probably gave them the biggest thrill of recognition.

After paying homage to the statue of the small Skye terrier, we crossed the street to Greyfriar's kirkyard, where John Gray, the owner of Bobby is interred, and James Brown Sexton, the two of them being the main characters in the Greyfriar's Bobby story. (The story, incidentally, is totally true, making it all the more interesting.) The kirk in Greyfriar's is a beautiful one, and I particularly liked the huge enormous organ and very nice stained glass windows.

After this stop, we headed back up the Royal Mile to Holyrood Palace and the new Parliament Building, the latter of which is very modern and is totally incongruous with the medieval architecture of the rest of the old town. (Becky liked it and thought it was cool. "Sometime incongruous is good," she says, "Think of I.M. Pei's glass pyramids in the Louvre." I don't like those either. "You're just a fuddy-duddy," she responds.)

Throughout this trip, I have been amazed by the complete friendliness and generosity of the local people. Even in the city, I've had bus drivers take several minutes during their stops to explain to me the best way to catch the bus back to the airport.

And while we were at the Parliament Building, a gentlemen pushing his kid in a stroller stopped and talked to me about the beauty and his favorite spots in Edinburgh. He was quite chatty, and it was neat to see him so happy about his city. I told him that I came from Glasgow today, and he jumped in with some intercity rivalry, claiming that Edinburgh is, of course, much nicer than Glasgow (which it is).

I asked him if he minded the tourists, for Edinburgh is literally crawling with tourists--Americans, Asians, continental Europeans, etc.

He responded that he didn't mind them at all... well, he didn't particularly like the English, but didn't mind if they brought their pocketbooks.

The Queen's palace had a great cafe, where we had a wonderful lunch. Eddie had a bowl of potato leek soup, Luke a bowl of split pea soup and two kinds of bread. I had a wonderful lamb burger with green beans and potatoes, and Becky had a salad. Ed had a cranberry and brie sandwich, and Kathleen a salad too. Of course, this being my day off from Body For Life, I had a wonderful apple pie dessert and a very large 80 shilling beer.

After lunch, we opted not to visit the queen, since it would have cost us £8.50 apiece. Having no desire to make the richest woman in the world even richer, we went into her gift shop, buying nothing, and took a picture of her. (Well, a picture of her photo, at least.)

Then it was off to the highest point in Edinburgh. At over 820 feet above sea level (and Edinburgh is right at sea level, lying on the Firth of Forth), Arthur's Seat is a very challenging hike up a very scrabbly gravel trail. Honestly, I didn't think we'd make it in the heat, yet we just kept going until we reached the top.

After about an hour's climb, we reached it, and, Oh my God, what a view. As high as it is, we had a complete panorama of Edinburgh and the entire area. After about ten minutes of this, however, I began not to get acrophobia, but more precisely, Eddie-induced- vicarious-acrophobia. My thoughts all turned to the million ways Eddie could tumble himself off this precipitous rock, for there are absolutely no guardrails anywhere up there. My mind turned to how easy it would be to stumble or jump and it'd be 1000 feet to the bottom. I couldn't take anymore, and begged the rest of the family to descend.

After a very thankful descent, we came upon the swan pond, where we fed the birds whitebread provided by a local woman--again, so friendly! After the birds were stuffed to the beak with whitebread, we headed back up to the Royal Mile to dinner. Finding a trendy pizza joint, we stopped in for dinner, having a variety of salads, pizzas, and pasta. Then it was back on the train, and back to the hotel.

Tomorrow, we get up, finish packing, and then it's off to Reykjavík again, for a three night stay there. Honestly, it's been nine days, and I am actually starting to get a little homesick. I'm eager to see Iceland, since we've never seen that country in any real sense before, but I'll be glad when we get home. I miss my dog, my house, my workout equipment, and my bed.

So for now, it's 'Goodbye, Scotland.' As Luke remarked on the bus tonight, we are not leaving Scotland, but taking a piece of it home with us. Indeed, we are.

Tapadh leibh, Ecosse.

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