Captain’s Log Days 0 and 1: Scotland… and all that Jazz
Day 0 London to Edinburgh
on the plane looking over Scotland
Travel went smoothly, which was great because Lisa has an upset stomach (was it the Mel’s Drive-In brunch?) for the second half of the flight to London. Fortunately, it was all made better by the lovely sights out the window flying north to Edinburgh. And having a row to ourselves on the long flight so we could use it for our things and not bother anyone. Awesome! That never happens!
We took the brand new tram from the Edinburgh Airport to York Place and walked to our hostel, a short jaunt away. We discovered ourselves to be the youngest residents (at the moment) in our separate rooms, which was unusual. (But, it was certainly quieter in mine, not so much apparently in Adam’s.) The hostel was large and well equipped with a big cafeteria and large self-catering kitchens, but not much in the way of storage; it can handle several cooks, but only a smattering of people really use it. There were several large groups (think buses, school summer trip, etc.) who could flood a floor and skip cooking themselves. Our rooms, nice and quiet, were in the basement with the kitchen and it’s private lounge. We were so underground.
Dinner was at a curry shop across the street. We walked a few blocks before deciding on it. Funny that. It was delicious and a complete hole in the wall. It’s on Leith Walk and it’s delicious. Tandoori to order, delicious Channa Puri. Take-away. There you go.
Day 1 Edinburgh
Our first morning was not so easy, but better than feared with Lisa being somewhat ill before. We got a recommendation for breakfast up the street, but we couldn’t find it, and popped into a nice café instead – a great decision. We decided to walk rather than take the bus around to stretch and recover and found a statue of Sherlock Holmes, a tribute to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, who was born near there. There was also a pub named for him near the spot.
Our route took us to the National Gallery Permanent Exhibits, which has a delicious permanent collection of both Scottish and world art (some beautiful medieval and Renaissance masterpieces, including Rafael and Tiepolo), and was showcasing a special exhibit on Venetian Art while we were there, a wonderful surprise opportunity! The museum also has a curious portrait of a dog on permanent display. A donor requested that, in exchange for their grand sum, the beloved painting be permanently shown, so it was and forever will be.
Outside the Gallery, a bit of Vote Yes graffiti, supporting the vote for independence this fall.
Then we proceeded to make our way up to the Castle. Going up from the gallery was steep but short, so forth cutting off the throngs of tourists and DIsneyland-esque atmosphere of the Royal Mile. It popped us out at Castle Hill, the tip top of the Mile. The Royal Mile is rather full of tourist shops selling discount Scotland, but there’s a few good things tucked in. (Like any high tourist area, we know this one!) So we took a street past this one:
Old Town street
The Castle Esplanade was full of, not just the bleachers for the Tattoo, which would leave an open middle, but prep for a concert. We saw equipment for the Symphony, knew there would be fireworks, and heard it was all going to be on BBC Prom (a programme). When we left the castle they were finally getting around to their soundcheck with one of the bands/performers. We have no idea who it was, but people were surprised and stopping to listen and watch.
At the Castle we had lunch in the Redcoat and Jacobite Cafeteria, which used to be a powder/ammo house, and really with a name and setting such as that is just begging for a food fight. After lunch it was perfect timing for the One o’ Clock Gun. The gun, historically, was used to help with navigating the river Leith. When a monument tower was built on Calton Hill across town, a white ball was also dropped. It used to be a cannon, but now it is a 105mm field gun.
one o’clock gun
Afterwards we waited for the guided tour, which really just helped acquaint us with which building was which. Unless you are a voracious reader, the audio tour is the way to go. We ducked into the remains of David’s Tower to be, however, fortunately rewarded with a clan heritage twofer: a Douglas story in one exhibit, and a Gordon story in the other… and there were only two exhibits!
The Douglas story set the scene for the infamous Black Dinner, when the current king, and some of his men, invited some of the Black Douglases over for a dinner feast, ostensibly to strengthen the peace in the face of hostilities, but really thought them uppity, or was convinced that they were uppity. Two brothers went together to represent the Douglases, and all was surprisingly well until the feasters were served a black bull’s head, a symbol of death (but for whom?). The two brothers were seized, given a mock trial on trumped up charges, and executed immediately in the courtyard. For you Game of Thrones fans, George R.R. Martin has stated this was his inspiration for the infamous Red Wedding.
From that room we moved to a danker section of the tower cellars for the Gordon story. The last siege of Edinburgh Castle was during the Jacobite Uprising. The Castle was left in the care of the Duke of Gordon, who supported a Jacobite heir for the throne. He was determined to hold the castle to the death, but was forced to surrender the Castle when he was down to only one hundred men, in the cellars for barracks no less, and they were melting snow for drinking water (thanking God for winter). The fact that they held until then is pretty amazing.
We went from there to prettier sights, like the Honours, or Crown Jewels, although they are next to what people say is the Stone of Scone (Stone of Destiny!) which is sort of sparkly but not that pretty, and there are theories that it isn’t really the stone used to crown the Scottish kings anyways. We entered through the museum side (instead of the straight-to-jewels side) and got a history on the coronation of scottish kings, including nice facsimiles of James IV and Queen Mary. After the long, shuffle-stepped passage though the museum, we finally got to view the septer, sword, and crown themselves. It was striking how finely wrought the oldest complete set of regalia in Western Europe is. It is also interesting for being mostly silver, a more predominant metal in the area, rather than gold, the more rare and “royal” metal.
We visited the National War Memorial, a building constructed after the Great War (Lest We Forget) with a shrine for each regiment with a roll book for each of lives lost. Since we were plunged back into World War, there was a new book added, and there’s a post 1945 section in the back of the second book for every conflict since. There was a shrine area for the unknown and all as a place to lay wreaths which was spectacular with green marble, the Archangel Michael in midair, and exposed castle hill rock for the altar to rest on. They lost around 149,000 lives in WWI, which is pretty staggering for the population size; you get a sense of how that changes society afterwards. (Not including for survivors, too. Or the animals: go to the Royal Dragoons Regimental Museum and you can learn about calvary horses… and cavalry horses with shell shock.) It’s a modest memorial in size, but grand in execution.
We also visited the parenthetically mentioned Dragoons Museum, a short but sweet ode to Scottish cavalry from it’s inception to modern day. Lisa got to ogle the various types and styles of sabers and Adam found the tanks to his interest. We stopped into the Renaissance era hall that was restored in the 1800’s; the interior, except for the glorious roof, had been sacked by Cromwell.
roof/chandelier of the hall
While it would have been used for entertainments and feasts or court functions, the interior, however, was decorated lavishly with weaponry on loan from the Tower of London. This includes rounds of pistols (they look like wheels or sconces), swords for paneling (all sorts), and a spread of spears over the fireplace that had us wondering if the interior designer was the one who said hey, guys, you should take those swords and forge them into an iron throne.
fireplace and spears!
There also was an English servant who had several instruments. We stayed for the hurdy gurdy (instrument #1) because, well, how often do you hear a hurry gurdy?
Hurdy Gurdy Man!
Back out into the fog and wet, and we paid a visit to St. Margaret’s chapel, the oldest building in Scotland, and Mons Meg, the massive cannon:
Adam and Mons Meg
After all that it was time for a break, so we took tea before planning our walk to a jazz concert, part of the Edinburgh Jazz Festival.
For the Festival, most performers are only performing once at various locations scattered around Edinburgh. Rose Room’s venue was a hundred year old dance hall circus tent, with stained glass windows and velvet drapes. The tent was set up in a square on the University, so we got a walk through some parts of the city and University campus. That took us past St. Giles (closed for the evening, but we spotted a paved heart) and to the statue of Blackfriar Bobby, the little dog.
St. Giles Cathedral
Lisa and Blackfriars Bobby
The story goes that Bobby, the dog, had a master who died, and followed the body from the wake to the funeral and gravesite. The loyal hound stayed there, or at least kept returning there, for twelve years until he died. We noticed his nose rubbed much like the market pigs in Italy and Seattle (and Juliet’s breast in Verona, too), so, it had to be done. But I digress.
When we got to the Palazzo, it had a little fenced off area of the square with fake grass on the grass to protect the grass and a ring of food booths, carnival style.
Velvet drapery roof – Lush!
Rose Room is a ’30’s era inspired gypsy swing group, with bass, rhythm and lead guitars, and a vocalist-violinist. Rose Room was lively, with upbeat tunes from around the world and some of their original compositions. The house was full and clapping at the end, and sorry to the SM, but they were going to take their encore. I can’t say as well on the other instruments, but the techniques on the violin were refreshing and fun, and technically challenging, but not overused. The bassist makes guitars, and the vocalist-violinist is going to be featured playing some Mendelson on her violin for a BBC programme about the island of Mull, where her violin was made, because the composer visited there and wrote his Hebrides after it. We bought both of Rose Room’s CDs.
passage, old college, U. of Edinburgh