03 September 2015

Observations from the Mothership: Day 2

The Day of Extreme Oversleeping

Sometimes things don't go quite according to plan.  Today was just such a day.  I'd intended to get an early(ish) start and do all my sightseeing today when I could leave my junk behind at the hotel and not have to worry about carting it everywhere, thereby saving the Scottish archives for tomorrow.  Instead, I was jolted awake at almost 1 pm by a horrific screeching noise blaring through my hotel room.  I've got to tell you, that's one hell of a way to wake up, and not one I care to repeat.  I don't know if all fire alarms in Britain or Scotland are that loud, but there might as well have been 6 ambulances parked around my bed.  I have a new sympathy for the plight of Odysseus trying to keep his sailors deaf to the Sirens' songs. While certainly I didn't intend to sleep past 10 am or so, a random fire drill still seems an unnecessarily enthusiastic wake-up call on the part of my hotel. That's not how you elicit tips, people.

Restored to enforced alertness, I took a quick shower involving a hotel bath towel far larger than the traditionally postage-stamp-sized towels we generally get in American hotels, got dressed, and checked my messages before finally making it out the door around 2-2:30.  While perhaps understandable after the jet lag and caffeine of last night, losing some 4-5 hours of potential adventure to sleep still seems an egregious waste of my already far too limited and precious time on this continent.  Didn't stop me from trying to make the most of what day was left, however.

My first stop upon leaving the hotel was to go grab one of the city's sight-seeing buses even though I took the tour some 15 years ago in the scant 3 hours I had here.  But I figured it would be the quickest and easiest way to get around where I wanted to go and I was assured that the hop-on, hop-off buses would be running till 8 pm tonight.  Plus, I got a discounted ticket to the Castle (which I've also seen but still wanted to visit again).  I didn't spend too much time on the bus before arriving at the castle stop, but I appreciated the modern upgrade in technology which allowed me to plug in earphones to the side of the bus so I could more easily and clearly hear the audio tour.  No doubt this also saves the cost of paying salaried workers to stand around in the cold and rain repeating the same spiel 5,000 times a week.  And because I could hear over the road noises and the rattling of the buses, I learned several interesting tidbits like the one about the brewer who was responsible for building Usher Hall and who happened to be a teetotaler, or that a young Sean Connery once posed nude for a student life studies class at the College of Art (is that your sporran, or are you just happy to see me?) The more you know...

Once at the castle stop I jumped off the bus so I could see everything before the castle closed at 6 pm.  This proved to be a wise move as I was one of the last people to leave the environs.  Whichever tour guide said to allow 2-3 hours to view the grounds was spot on.  Another handy technological upgrade was the addition of DIY audio tours.  I was given headphones and a giant iPhone into which I could punch the numbers listed conveniently around the castle and listen to stories and facts about that particular part of the castle.  This was actually nice because it allows you to move throughout the grounds at your own speed, as well as to repeat or fast forward through any bits of audio you liked.  As a result, I learned several new things about the Castle that I didn't remember from my previous trip, including that the castle is built on top of Castle Rock, which was formed by a volcano that erupted some 350 million years ago, that St. Margaret's Chapel is the oldest building in Scotland (12th century) and that my 1st cousin Sir Walter Scott (of Ivanhoe fame) was one of the people who set out to find and recover the Honours of Scotland (Scotland's crown jewels), which had been hidden away for over 100 years after the Acts of Union cause the dissolution of the Scottish Parliament.  Yup...my family is just that awesome.

Royal quarters

While there I saw the Scottish War museum, the war memorial, the prison (which I didn't remember) and the esplanade lined with cannons.  These were wussy, lackluster cannons compared to Mons Meg, a behemoth bombard built in 1449 as a gift for James II.  The "largest gun ever fired in anger on British soil," this 20" caliber cannon took 400 lb (insert rude jokes here); when it was fired in salute for Mary Stuart's marriage to the dauphin of France, the shot was found some two miles away.  That's some serious firepower for the time.  No wonder the Stuarts were gunning for Elizabeth I.  I also got to see the tiny closet chamber where James VI/I was born and I took a selfie with Mary Stuart, because why  not?  She looked bored...positively stony, in fact.  Meanwhile, visitors to the castle were truly diverse; I overheard conversations in French, Spanish, German, assorted Asian languages, and various dialects of American and British English.  I also saw a woman with Canadian flag gloves and a big, fuzzy hat that made her look a little like Cookie Monster.

Mons Meg

After leaving the castle, I wandered down the upper part of the Royal Mile for a bit to look for some clan scarves because I wanted a little of the Scott tartan now that I know I am descended from that clan (among others).  Not surprisingly, this section of the Royal Mile consists almost exclusively of shops flogging cashmere and lambswool scarves and assorted other kitschy trinkets, so much so that I'm now convinced "Royal Mile" is Gaelic for "Tourists, Please Spend Your Money Here."  I did purchase a couple of scarves, springing for the good stuff since I'm not likely to get this way again any time soon.  Mmmmm, cashmere....  I was also treated to an odd group of people wearing matching t-shirts emblazoned with a symbol that looked like nothing so much as a space-age number nine.  Obviously they were together, but I've no idea what their group was and I hadn't seen them at the castle.

After making my purchases I went to the bus stop, only to discover that I had just missed the last run of my particular tour.  This confused me, since they'd said they would be running till 8 pm (which it wasn't yet), but after loitering for over half an hour waiting on buses that should be running every 15 minutes, I finally gave it up as a bad job and started walking. Unfortunately, my feet were hurting from treading all the cobblestones, on which I'd earlier half-rolled my ankle twice.  I'm starting to remember why I gave up wearing orthotics a few years ago  Sure, they keep your feet aligned and ease the pressures of unsupported arches and insteps, but they also encourage already weak ankles to fall off the side of any non-level surface, aka the entirety of Castle Hill and the Royal Mile.  As a result, I wimped out and started looking for a taxi.  One finally stopped in front of me and I waited for the current passenger to get out, only to have him fall literally at my feet after stumbling over a step on the taxi.  If I had known that Edinburgh was going to rain men at my feet, I'd have come to visit here much sooner.  Anyway, I checked that the man was okay, then climbed in the taxi and took it to the Hard Rock Cafe for dinner.

Apparently there's more to do in Edinburgh than see the castle or shop for wool.

Okay, I realize that Hard Rock is a bit of a cop-out when one is surrounded by the unique cuisine of an entire nation, but I was exhausted by this time and it was close and a known quantity.  Besides, I can now say that I have eaten at a Hard Rock in 4 different countries (not that I'm bragging, or anything...nope).  Totally worth it, though, for no other reason than my server Crrrrrrrraig, who was really a bartender, but who waited on me while I sat at a table by the window.  Crrrrrrraig was tall, had sandy hair, and was lovely and charming and made me laugh.  We discussed the relative merits of the barbecue options when compared to Memphian BBQ:  "I don't knooooow about Mehmphis barrrrrbecue..."  "It's world-famous."  "Weeeeel, if it's wharld-fehmous, you might find this a wee bit disappointing..."  He suggested instead a Hickory Smoked burger which involved cheddar, carmelized onions and bacon, because I was too big a coward to try the burger with haggis and it was indeed delicious.  Crrrrrrraig did tell me that you could get some haggis samples at some of the food stalls so that you could try it without committing to a whole meal of it.  Crrrrrrraig kept coming over to chat with me and check on me; I think he enjoyed the novelty of my accent as much as I enjoyed his.  When he asked if I wanted dessert, I said I wanted some, but didn't really need any. I then asked him about the apple cobbler, only to have him warn me about the abundance of cinnamon in the dish..."Do you like cinnamon?"  Oh, Crrrrrrraig, if you only knew. He then told me that I needed to "trrrrrrreat myself because I'm on holiday."  Twist my arm, Crrrrrrraig, twist my arm.  Hell, I'll start making your car payments if you just keep talking to me in that accent all night.  Seriously--I am such a Highland brogue whore.

Across the street from my window was The George, a hotel I'd considered when making my reservations for Edinburgh because it wasn't far from the archives.  Ultimately I selected a different hotel instead because it was cheaper and actually isn't far from stuff either. Still, I'd be willing to bet this gorgeous Georgian-style hotel doesn't assault its patrons with the song of the bean sidhe.  I mean, I know I'm in Scotland and all, but banshee sirens seem a little above and beyond the call of duty.  If that's the difference, perhaps I should have spent the extra few pounds for the swankier hotel...the façade certainly was lovely.

After dessert I paid the bill and received well-wishes from Crrrrrrraig, then headed back to my hotel, my feet much happier after the brief respite.  Outside the last of the sunset was fading away, leaving the skies a deep azure falling like a protective blanket over the glorious spires of the city and giving me a most beautiful and peaceful walk home.  What more could a girl want?

Blue skies at night, Scotland's delight.

Kilt count:  4 1/2 (Caught a quick flash of one, but not a proper look...and no, not that kind of
                             flash, ya perv.)
Trews count:  3   (Still not as good as kilts...no knees showing.)

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