Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Our Pregnant Launderette and the Royal Mile

We are enjoying our stay at the Acer Lodge guesthouse. The house itself is nicely arranged. There are five rooms in the front that are available for rental and just off the entrance foyer there is a door leading to the back of the house where the family lives. It is clear that the home was designed and built for just this purpose. It is quite a good idea, and since we have not really seen this type of arrangement before, wonder if it is unique to Scotland and/or the British Isle. In the Azores the rooms in private homes were really just part of the house and you walked through private living areas to your bedroom. Just wondering. The other thing I realized in reading the journal from yesterday is that I didn't give Rosslyn Chapel the attention that it deserved. Forget the Da Vinci code reference, it is quite a lovely chapel on the inside, full of light and it has a cozy feeling to it. It was built as a Catholic collegiate church by the Sinclair family, who were descendents of another Norman (French) bloodline and remained Catholic until the reformation. Perhaps it is the French influence that makes it so appealing. In any event it is only 7 miles from Edinburgh, and certainly worth the ride.

Wednesday - September 28, 2011 - Edinburgh, Scotland

It is a sparkling and according to the locals, most unusually warm day for the end of September. It is also "must do laundry" Wednesday, which is priority one. We wanted an early start, so after a quick breakfast, we followed Terry (our host) out the door (he was on his way to work), and thought about how to navigate to the laundromat we found last night. It was to the right in the direction of downtown so that meant crossing the two outgoing lanes of traffic and working our way into the commuter rush traffic in the far lanes. Terry had told us that "taking a right out of the driveway is not as daunting as it seems." Just that he had to tell us that, told us a lot. In fact, he was right. The stop lights to either side gave the slightest gap and we scooted into one.

We expected to spend the morning doing our wash and dry but were more than pleasantly surprised when the young, pregnant, couldn't have been nicer dear behind the counter told us that she would wash, dry, and fold our laundry for 10 pounds 50 and it would be ready to pick up at 5:00. Not only was that fewer Euros than we had expected to feed into the machines ourselves, it freed us to spend the whole day sightseeing. Dropping the car back at the Acer Lodge (much easier to find, once you know) we grabbed the bus for the short ride into the city.

Instead of heading directly into the maelstrom we found two things: a pastry shop (with the coolest taxi outside) and a nice comfy park bench on which we could eat our pastry breakfast and write out some post cards (to be honest I was writing in the journal, and Kat was writing the postcards, but at least I did sign them). It was without a doubt one of the more pleasant experiences on this trip. The flowers were still in bloom and the scent of fresh cut grass was in the air. It was cool and clear and we had our jackets on. Exactly what one would expect from Scotland at the end of September. We looked up toward Edinburgh castle and after some discussion decided that we would not forgive ourselves if we didn't walk the Royal Mile, touristy as it might be. Because after all we are tourists and this is one of the seminal experiences in Edinburgh. If you haven't been, go. The main road runs between Edinburgh castle and the palace of Holyroodhouse (if you remember from Stirling, rude (rood) means cross so this is the Holycross Palace). From our little vantage point in the West Princes Street Gardens, it looked like a formidable climb to the castle.

There is significant construction going on, particularly along what looks to be a tram line that runs east-west and must have been very handy when it was running. But the royal mile is up a street or two, and given the warm (quickly turning hot) day was rather crowded and full of life. People were carrying their jackets and the arms of a lot of very fair skinned Scots were already turning red. (Ed. note: In fact it was over 29 degrees - breaking a 100 year record - hooray!)

So now onto the famous:

We started at the Edinburgh castle side and walked east toward Holycross. The views from the castle are excellent, a commanding position and from this vantage point we could distinguish the little benches we sat on in our breakfast park. There were cranes about (mechanical not aviary), building what would become a mini-stadium right in the castle square in anticipation of the national tattoo. Don't know what that is .. no problem, neither did we: Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo 2011 is a short video that may help. We stopped to leak in the famous loos (according to all published reports the loos are consistently awarded best in Britain status; didn't find anything really special about them), and decided to leave the castle tour for another visit; the day was too fine.

There is plenty of architecture to admire. Edinburgh used to be one of the most visited and polluted cities in Europe and the wear shows on the exterior of all the buildings. I'm not saying that it's charming, but there is a certain patina that is pleasant. As you wander along the mile, you pass these charming little closes, basically an alley between two buildings that was "closed" up with a wall and a door that was locked in the evening. Some of these little alleyways were shortcuts to the lower streets. We wandered down a couple that now lead to enclosed courtyards which were quiet and extremely pleasant.

I guess you can't really describe Scotland and Edinburgh particularly without paying some note to religion (a discussion of which I prefer to avoid). It seems as linked as the Vatican with Catholicism. So, this is the city where John Knox, after learning at the knee of Calvin, began the Scottish Reformation and converted the mostly Catholic country to Protestantism. Got rid of rituals, and got back to the basics. It's also the country that burned about 17,000 witches (you can see a little plaque up by the castle), and destroyed a lot of Catholic buildings, etc. Go figure - it's amazing what's done in the name of religion.

Knox's main church was St. Giles, just a little way down the Mile from the castle. It's really a great church, and we did go in to find old John's statue, and admire the stained glass. Kat found the National Covenant, a fascinating document, signed in blood by some soon-to-be martyrs. To really get this you have to go back to 1633 when King Charles I appointed Scottish Episcopal bishops in Scotland. Big problem. It's an interesting story and worth the read if the Scottish Reformation is your thing. It's not mine, so time to move on.

Frugal as ever,the Scots want 2 pounds (about 3 bucks 20) to take pictures inside, therefore if you want to see what it looks like,and it really is beautiful, please Google it or click here. There may be some Scottish blood in these veins - I wonder? Back outside you can see the distinguishing feature of the Edinburgh skyline, the church cap. It is symbolic of the crown of Scotland and dates to about 1500 (and reminds us a little of the top of the William Wallace monument in Stirling).

There is something interesting to see all along the walk. One of our treasure hunts was to locate a distinctive array of cobblestones on the street. We must have walked around the cathedral 5 times before we came across the "Heart of Midlothian". We should have just looked for people spitting, because the local rumor is that if you stand on the rim and spit into the center, you'll get some amount of good luck. I can only wonder what old J Knox would have thought about this ritual.

Forward march. There are stores for every little tourist niche you can imagine. Need a kilt? Men's kilts, ladies kilts (didn't know ladies wore kilts and wonder if they go commando as well), kids kilts? Well there's a store for you. And you can get your Scottish family history done while you wait - I wonder how far back the Silveiras go in Scottish history. All of this variety is packed wall to wall along the street, intermixed with closes, lands, pends, wynds and gates.

Not too far down the way, you come to a really interesting little tavern: Deacon Brodies. This fine upstanding member of Edinburgh society, a cabinet and guild deacon during the day turned into a rascal and burglar at night. True story - he was hanged for his shenanigans and inspired Robert Louis Stevenson to write "The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde." You have got to love his sign that tells the story from both sides. It's not quite the same story, as the Doctor went off the deep end, and in real life the Deacon went swinging on the gallows.

Back in the 18th century, Edinburgh was a crowded metropolis with 10 story skyscrapers, and a real tourist attraction, so they've been at this a long time. Along the way we explored a couple of small alleyways that used to link the main road to the parallel roads. They are intriguing and inviting. One interesting close was called the White Horse Close, where the Edinburgh to London stagecoach would leave on it's 8 day journey to Scotland Yard. I hope they had better luck finding it than we did.

Getting toward the end of the Mile, we landed at Canongate, right in front of the imposing Canongate Tollbooth, which currently houses a free exhibition called "The People's Story." What we were after and the real find in my opinion, is embedded into the back wall of the building: the grave of my Scottish hero - Adam Smith. It's actually in Canongate cemetery along with some friends of Robbie Burns. I couldn't resist throwing a coin over my shoulder onto his grave, imagining that he would have appreciated the free-market gesture. (For a better description of this part of the walk, may I suggest this link?)

To Adam Smith, my hero:

Finally at the end of the walk we approached the gated community known as the Palace of Holyroodhouse. It is a fancy castle that is the home to the queen when she visits her northern subjects. It's nice looking but expensive to visit. We figured she's got enough money without us paying the admission price, so we passed. Not sure that we missed anything. Two bus rides later, we were at Davidson's Mains. It is a cute little Edinburgh village with some shops, a nice residential area, an interesting looking inn with the quintessential touristy name, and our laundry. As promised, our clothes were cleaned and folded and we were thrilled with the service. Our still bubbly young friend (after a very hot day in a laundry and pregnant to boot) explained to us that we could cut through the park directly across the corner, and emerge onto Queensferry Street about a quarter mile from our lodge. Perfect, no bus, no car, just our four legs and some fresh laundry.

We liked Davidson's Mains so much that we decided to walk back there for dinner at "Ye Olde Inn", which as it turned out was not touristy at all; much more of a family restaurant with a conservatory in back and a very nice outside area with picnic tables and space for the kids. Given the warm day the outside tables were full with families enjoying a brew and conversations with their friends, the kids running around just having a ball. It was fun, the food was quite good (I can't get enough fish and chips) and I had the pleasure of another Cali-80 local beer. Life is good.

Returning back through the park to our lodge we checked out with Gillian (we had an early flight the next morning) and expressed our appreciation for their hospitality. What a nice way to end a wonderful day, with clean clothes, a warm shower and a cozy bed in Scotland. Tomorrow is for flying back down south and exploring an area that we have read and heard about for years: The Cotswolds. Sleep well.

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