Friday, June 05, 2009

Elegant Edinburgh


Monday was an early start to get out to Victoria bus terminal to catch my bus to Edinburgh. The bus ride took about 9 hours, and there were no breaks along the way except to briefly let passengers on or off. My hostel in Edinburgh was pretty good, although I did have a few hassles with the swipe card to get into my room.

Tuesday started out with my favourite thing to do in a new city. I went on a free walking tour. It started about halfway along the Royal Mile in old Edinburgh, worked its way up past a big church, the town hall, a spot in the street that the locals spit on because way back when it was a toll booth, an ill fated statue of a king, past the writers museum, up to Edinburgh Castle, where they were already putting together the seats for the Tattoo, then down the hill to the local execution spot, where there are now a number of pubs and cafes. Probably because a woman who survived the scaffolds set up a pub nearby to taunt those about to get hung. We stopped here for lunch. I got a pork roll from a shop that only sells pork rolls (well drinks as well, but that's it). Each day the shop gets a whole roast pig and they usually sell it all. I got a roast pork roll with apples sauce and gravy, and washed it down with an IRN BRU, the local sugar water (emphasis on the sugar). It's a bright orange colour and tastes like old fashioned cola (not the coke kind).

After lunch we went to a graveyard, saw the statue of the dog who kept waiting for its dead owner for years, the cafe where JK Rowling started writing Harry Potter, then over the hill past the money museum to a park below Edinburgh Castle where the tour finished. After the tour I went to the Scottish National Gallery, which was OK, but didn't have any names I recall and was kind of tiny compared to the British National Gallery.

Next I went over to the Scott Monument, which resembles a gothic church spire all on its own. I climbed up the monument, and got some good views of the city and the castle from there. The steps were quite narrow though, and near the top I had to squeeze to get through.

In the evening I went on another walking tour (alas, not a free one), the ghost tour. This tour took us to another graveyard, across a bridge notorious for suicides, the hill where the doorway to the faerie realm is meant to be, the Scots attempt at a replica of the Parthenon which never got past one side, and would have finished with the graveyard next to Holyrood Abbey, but that was closed since a Royal was in town. The tour finished with a free drink at a pub that was having a karaoke night. I hung around and chatted with some German tourists before singing one song (I come from a land down under) and got a free shot of flavoured vodka for my efforts.

On Wednesday I walked along the Royal Mile, starting with the tartan factory up near the castle, and worked my way down taking in along the way the writers museum, the City of Edinburgh museum, the toy museum, St Giles Cathedral which houses the chapel of the Order of the Thistle, and finished up down at Holyrood Abbey and the Scottish Parliament. I went into the parliament and got to see government in action. (or is that inaction?)

I listened to a number of speeches regarding an extension of the hate crime act to include disabled people. While the speeches were being made there were perhaps 8-10 members present, all of them said something along the way. Then the time for the vote came, and suddenly all these extra people were present, although still onyl about two thirds of the chamber was full. There were a few votes on procedural matters, then a vote on the bill that was discussed, and then nearly everyone left again, leaving a few to talk about unpaid carers and their contributions to society. While I was listening to the parliament I decided to sketch the chamber, since photography was not allowed. As I got to the point where I would have had to decide if I was going to go to the extra effort of putting in lots of detail, one of the guards came up and told me I wasn't allowed to sketch in the chamber, which resolved that dilemma.

In the evening I got talking with the other guests in my room, and we ended up going out to a nearby pub to have dinner.

Thursday I spent most of my time in the Scottish History Museum, which covered the history of Scotland from prehistoric times, through Celtic, Roman, and Viking influences, then onto the Enlightenment, industrial revolution and onto the modern day. An interesting place by all accounts. That evening was quieter as all the people I'd gone out with the previous evening had left. I had begun to think I'd have the whole room to myself before someone else arrived around midnight.

Friday was to be my last day in Edinburgh and I started out with something a bit different. I went on the whiskey experience. It starts out a bit gimmicky, with a ghost train like ride, but instead of ghosts scaring you it was a "spirit" telling you how whiskey is made. After this it got better as next was a talk on the qualities of the different varieties of whiskey and how they depend on the region the whiskey comes from. They also had scented bottles to illustrate the smells of the different whiskeys. After smelling these I decided I wanted to try a lowland whiskey which was supposed to have a flowery taste and smell, as I had quite liked the smell of the relevant scented bottle. The actual smell however was the usual strong alcohol scent and nothing like the heather smell of the bottle.

Before the tasting though we moved from the presentation room into a vault in which the largest collection of whiskey in the world is kept, over three thousand unopened bottles going back over 100 years at least. The collection was given to the exhibit by an elderly Brazilian collector for whom it was a lifetime endeavour, and he was worried that his children would split it up, or worse drink it, after he died. The price of the collection is almost incalculable, but just the insurance bill is a ridiculous sum.

After the whiskey experience I went to the brass rubbing centre, and tried my hand at a rubbing of a pattern from the Book of Kells. My rubbing is a bit rough, as it took me a while to catch on to the symmetry of the pattern and so choose consistent colours for different bits. Finally I went to the Royal Bank of Scotland museum, which was samll, but it did clarify why there are three different types of Scottish bank notes.

After this I collected by bags from the hostel and caught a bus to Glasgow.

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