Monday, August 20, 2007

Edinburgh The Sequel

There are worse things in the world than a skinful of duty free and two hours sleep. Merry Rotarians for one. I stagger out to get my full Scottish breakfast, ready to belt anyone who even looks like they might be involved with the Rotary. Oddly, they are all sound asleep in bed. Can't think why that would be.

But sleepless nights away!! I drink two cups of coffee - another press-button machine - and eat my breakfast, which is very high in cholesterol, but quite tasty. Now I am fortified to spend the day in Edinburgh. I catch the bus, which comes right up to the Reception area, and I am off.

My agenda for the day is to see as many as I can of the following:

- the Castle
- the Museum and Art Gallery
- Mary Kings Close
- Roslyn Chapel
- Holyrood House
- the gardens.

Well, the Castle is a no-brainer. When you get out at the railway station, there is this bloody massive monolithic THING towering over the city. You can see it from everywhere. To my amusement, as my bus pulls in to the Princes St bus station, a giant green garbage truck is making its stately way along the battlements.

I decide to leave the Castle for the moment and try for the Chapel - Rosslyn is about six miles out of town and it's probably best to try that with the whole day before me to allow for misadventures. Some of you may recall that Rosslyn Chapel featured in 'The Da Vinci Code'. Having been there, I can now say with authority that the author obviously never went anywhere near it. If he had, the Chapel scene would have gone something like:

* Our hero and heroine arrive at the Chapel and queue for about half an hour in the freezing bloody cold. Around them, children whine in dulcet tones, by the time they arrive at the cashier, they have learned how to ask for sweets, soft drink, the toilet and to go home in seven different languages.

* When they get in to the Chapel, they don't find the carving with the key to the mystery, because a group of tourists is standing in front of it.

* They wander around the Chapel for an hour or so. By the time they leave, they can say 'Get the F* out of my way' in seven different languages.

* The heroine's long lost granny doesn't end up meeting them in the Chapel because there are so many bloody people, she can't find them in the crowd.

* When they finally get outside, they try walk back to the bus stop and either get hit by a car because there's no footpath, or end up sinking in inch-deep mud because there's no footpath.

Now my homage to Dan Brown is out of the way, I can say that I found the Chapel absolutely fascinating (my abiding dislike of both crowds and the Da Vinci Code notwithstanding). Every surface that can be carved has been - a lot of the carvings are very pagan in theme. Apparently there are 100 Green Men (a pagan fertility symbol) in the building and one of the pillars is carved with very elegant Norse-style dragons. There is also an angel playing the bagpipes, which disturbs me deeply. The Chapel is undergoing renovations and the public is allowed onto the walkways to see the work being carried out on the rooves. Again, more carving. Very cool (provided you remember NOT to look straight down).

From the walkway, I can see the romantic ruins of Rosslyn Castle. I walk over. Now I know why so many Scots settled in NZ, they must have felt right at home. The path to the Castle ruins is steep and covered in thick, deep mud. Hooray for hiking boots!!

I slog down to the Castle and find out that someone has built a charming little Georgian home on the foundations. Two cars are parked in the Castle forecourt. I take photos of scenic ruins and a VW Golf. This is an aspect of the UK that has always charmed me.

I manage to get a bus back to Edinburgh almost immediately. Hooray! More time for sight seeing.

One thing I did not think through. In the Lonely Planet, there is a lot of information about where to eat in Edinburgh. Everyone else has this information too. For this reason, I end up eating a chicken mayo sandwich in a shopping mall before going on to book my walking tour of Mary Kings Close and visit the Castle.

The only tour I can get into leaves about 6:30 - all fine with me. I head up to the Castle - up being the operative word. Edinburgh is very steep. The Royal Mile is not only steep, it is crowded with street theatre and people touting their shows. I end up carrying my bag in my arms like a cat, the strategy works, I still have a wallet when I get to the Castle. The Castle staff promptly relieve me of the contents and let me in.

The Castle really is as amazingly big as it looks. There are still military regiments using it as a base (Dragoons! Very exciting although their uniforms don't look as smart as the ones we had for 'Patience'). There are lots of museums and exhibitions, including the Honours of Scotland and lots of military this and that. I manage to see most of it without queueing or being rained on (it's a balmy Scottish day, which is to say that, even with the Parisian jumper and my raincoat, I am bloody freezing. And wet. It has rained more today in Edinburgh than it has in Melbourne in the past seven years). There is a massive queue to see the Honours (Scottish Crown Jewels) and I wonder whether or not I want to see them. Eventually I decide yes I do and I join the queue. The National Trust chappie at the door has a sense of humour, essential for someone whose job involves standing in the freezing bloody cold for hours on end. Every few minutes, he asks if anyone in the queue is English, if anyone replies yes, he tells them to sod off. He asks me if I'm married, the Parisian jumper strikes again! Or maybe I just look so miserable after half an hour freezing my ass off in a windy cobbled courtyard that he thinks yes I must be. No, it's all a ploy to sell St Margarets Chapel as a wedding venue. The Chapel is very sweet, but not sweet enough to induce me to tie the knot - as I get this statement out, the queue moves forward and I am finally inside! Lot of fuss to see a sword, a crown and a heap of other gewgaws!

When I get out, the Castle is closed so they can set up for the Edinburgh Tattoo. Happy memories of my Uncle Noel drinking himself into unconsciousness every New Years Eve in front of the Tattoo on the ABC reach up and choke me ... or maybe it's the bloody camera bag.

I try to do the Lonely Planet walking tour of Edinburgh before I go to Mary Kings Close, but there are too many people and I can't spot the landmarks, so I give over. I stop in a cafe to get a cup of tea and thaw out. I meet two lovely ladies who have relatives in Australia, surprise, surprise. I check out some more street theatre. Some of it is extremely good. The rest of it is there, what a pity that I don't have any fruit to throw.

Now, before I go on, I should explain the close. Edinburgh has heaps of the things, they are basically narrow alleys with stairs and people live along them in townhouses. Mary King's Close is famous because the good burghers of Edinburgh built the Town Hall over the top of it, but left quite a bit of the actual close intact in their cellars. Some enterprising souls set up a sort of history cum ghost tour showing people through, which has been massively successful. All I can say is, deservedly so!! My group was taken through the Close by a 'plague cleaner', a lucky chap who, by dint of surviving the plague, managed to get the job of removing any plague corpses from that day onwards.

The bloke playing the role did an excellent job - managed to get all the gruesome facts about mediaeval sanitation in (to the delight of the kiddies), told the ghost stories with great flair and some humour and covered a fair bit of Edinburgh history in the forty or fifty minutes we were down there. Someone obviously put in a hell of a lot of research to come up with his script! Their mention in the Lonely Planet was well earned. (See for more information).

Last stop - dinner. The crowds are all trying to get a feed before the Tattoo begins. I end up in a filthy McDonalds off Princes St, trying to eat my meal as fast as I can before I catch something from the foul tables and floor.

After that, half an hours bus ride takes me home to a peaceful, Rotarian-free slumber. And the morrow brings a trip to Aberdeen...

Insight into Scotland 2

They don't sell Persian rugs for full price over here either.

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