Last Days in Edinburgh

Trip Start Feb 28, 2013
Trip End May 08, 2013

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Flag of United Kingdom  , Scotland,
Friday, April 5, 2013

Last Days in Edinburgh

Spring comes slooowwwllly to Scotland, but we are graced with blue skies. Few venture out without their woolens, tweeds, and tartan scarfs, and we wonder how the men we see in kilts and knee socks keep their exposed legs warm. We're happy to get sun, and now that the clocks have also sprung ahead here, our daylight hours last until 8 PM+. As the calendar marches toward summer solstice, Scotland is currently gaining 5 minutes of light daily with a whopping 17 and a half hours of sunshine on June 21st (presuming it makes its way though the thick clouds more often present than not). Too bad our stamina and legs can’t match the increasing sun's energy. We are home most nights before dark after long hours of walking and adventure.

Train trips to Stirling Castle, Pitlochry, and Glasgow have transported us outside Edinburgh from our flat to historic, scenic and cultural sites. Stirling Castle is a strong contrast to what is now "our" castle, Edinburgh’s as we view it daily from our window and from nearly every vantage point in our travels about the city. Stirling, about an hour and a half train ride northwest, is the site of Brave Heart fame where some of the most famous battles for Scotland’s independence took place. It was also here that the infant Mary Queen of Scots was crowned and where she spent what would translate to 2 million dollars in today’s value to hold a 3 day Christening for her son - don’t forget, he was both James VI of Scotland and James the 1st of England at the same time -  so it may have been money well spent since he was the first monarch to rule both countries, and of course, he also governed Wales and Ireland, so he was an important guy.  His grandfather, James V, commissioned much of the castle, including beautiful wood carvings on the ceiling, and statues and gargoyles that decorate the exterior. The Great Hall was originally a gold colored building, and the color has been restored so you see the contrast between it and the other castle structures. Bob enjoys a chat with one of the handmaidens of Mary Queen of Scot’s  French mother, Mary de Guise, in her royal bed chamber. Stirling Castle is atop a high hill and the winding walk by the town walls into the village below is beautiful as the valley expands beneath the path. We enjoy soup and a sandwich at Nicky Tams, a pub now favored by local university students but continually in existence for over 100 years, and rumored to be haunted by some murdered souls. Other than very cold toilet seats (a common enough occurrence in this part of the world), we notice nothing out of the ordinary and safely board our train back to Edinburgh.

Pitlochry is our next road (train) trip. It is halfway to Inverness in the highlands, and when we disembark the train, we breathe the clean mountain air and relax. It feels like Maine! A short walk from town  brings us to the local scotch distillery, Blair Athol, where we arrive for a tour. A local guidebook says that you can’t visit Scotland without a visit to one of its 100 distilleries, and I’m skeptical, but I wanted to go to Pitlochry, so I’m on board. I had no idea what a treat was in store. As we are the only people who show up for the morning tour, we feel like royalty with a personal trip around accompanied by John, a Scotsman about our age, with a keen wit, and a great ability to make us feel as if we are visiting an old friend. Blair Athol, the single malt scotch whiskey that is produced here, has a long and interesting story, and the crystal, clear waters (from the Allt na dour burne- Otter Stream) that produce it flow down from the snow-covered granite peak of Ben (Scots for mountain) Vrackie and run thrugh the village. John captivates us with his brogue-rich tales. We finish with a wee dram taste of the single malt scotch and leave wishing that John lived nearby as we think we could be auld and fine friends in another life.  

Our new friend John tells us we have to visit Glasgow because that’s where the “real” people live. He holds his nose when we tell him we are staying in Edinburgh - “home of the snobs" - he snorts. Next day, on to Glasgow - how can we not visit when we are only a 50 minute train trip away? When Emily was 13, she and I went on a grand adventure to London. From the upper level of a 2 decker bus, we witnessed a gathering crowd near Westminster Abbey. We looked at each other and thought, “Why not? Let's see what's up.” Off we jumped and were rewarded with an unscheduled and up close view of her Majesty, the Queen. Bob and I were not so adventurously inclined when we saw a somewhat small group waving British flags outside the Glasgow Town Hall. We stayed on our city tour bus. Mistake. As we were walking  back to the train station in what was a somewhat uneventful day in a somewhat uneventful visit, we saw the headlines from the local paper: Wills and Kate Visit Glasgow. Lesson learned - never ignore a bunch of British flag-wavers anywhere in the UK - it may mean the royals are coming and could be a perfect opportunity to catch an up close and personal view.

Glasgow’s neighborhoods of tenements and housing projects were created to house the influx of job-seeking inhabitants during the industrial revolution and outnumber those of the wealthy factory owners’ grand town houses in this, Scotland’s largest city. Glasgow is a city in flux - it is full of pedestrian-only shopping streets (supposed to be second only to London as a UK shopping destination) and multiple signs of urban renewal; one of its gems is the People’s Palace and Winter Garden. The Palace was opened in 1898 in what was one of most unhealthy and overcrowded parts of the city (Glasgow is still one of the most unhealthy cities in the world because of the dampness of many of its buildings) to provide a place of culture to locals. It is now a treasure of Glasgow’s social history, cataloging experiences that range from living in the overcrowded flats, to visiting the famous dance halls where dance cards and wall flowers originated, to recreating the conditions of overpopulated prisons that led to common-place beheadings, and to capturing the summer vacations of those who could afford to go “doon to the watters” which meant visiting the nearby beaches with the thousands of others who tried to escape the industrial city and enjoy Scotland’s fleeting and few summer-like days. The attached glass conservatory still provides a welcome (and free) sanctuary for locals to flee the cold and be surrounded by both the common flowers residents can experience locally as well as to the exotic areas of which they may dream in this cold northern world. The Glaswegians have a good sense of humor! A statue of a famed Duke of Wellington riding a horse stands in front of the Museum of Modern Art; despite officials' best efforts to keep the Duke hat free, he sports a traffic cone cap each morning.

I’ve been struck by the plight of women in our visits this week. From Stirling Castle’s great kitchens where women were not allowed to work as the kitchens were the domain of gifted men bakers, brewers, and cooks - to the barley fields where women wielded the scythes (their backs were thought to be more flexible) to harvest the golden grain to turn into the gold of scotch whisky - to the renowned Glaswegian Tennant’s Pub where women were not allowed until they chained themselves to the tables in protest (this in the 1970s, mind you!). Lives of women-and children, for that matter-have been hard.

A last day in our 2 week home away from home finds me visiting a local hair salon. The roots are showing the tell-tale gray that any woman of my age wants to hide and the hair is getting too long to wash and dry quickly on the way out the door. So i go to a trendy salon where the South African stylist assures me that he will give me a less frumpy haircut than my current American one. Suffice it to say, I am now out a lot of money and even more out of hair. I have very little work to do in the morning since there is very little hair left on my head to do anything with. I haven't cried over my hair in many years, and I am determined not to do so now, but there will be no pictures for a while unless I am wearing a hat.

And off we go to the Scottish highlands and the Isle of Skye. This is our first experience of what may become an increasingly used means of travel in our increasingly advancing age - the guided bus tour. We’ll reserve judgment until we return from this next adventure.
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Nancy on

Your trip sounds amazing. We, too, welcome the sunshine and signs of spring. See you in 3 weeks!

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