Andy Carvin's Waste of Bandwidth

September 27, 2005

Scotch Broth

Filed under: Scotland — Andy Carvin @ 3:22 pm
staffa walk

Walking the causeway from Fingal’s Cave on the isle of Staffa

Note to readers: For a long time I’ve been encouraging my wife Susanne to take up blogging. While I haven’t exactly been successful as of yet, I’m happy to say she took a crack at writing a journal entry following our ill-fated visit to the isle of Staffa last week. So without further ado, here’s what she had to say about the experience. -andy
So here I am heaving over the starboard side getting bitch-slapped by the sea spray coming off those eight-foot waves.
The ship’s mate lays a hand on my shoulder. “Eets only teen mur minutes oov theez waves,” he says. “Whin we git ta Iona, the sea flattens oot.”
He’s too young for his wind chapped face, but he’s a handsome enough Scot. I’m not really looking at him though. I’m trying to make sure the vomit doesn’t get into my pigtails.
“Yu’v git the best seat in the hoose here.” He points to the horizon, “Jist keep yur head up.”
I nod and lie that I’m all right. In actuality I feel like my head is being flung around inside a centrifuge – at a rate awkwardly out of step with the motion of the boat. As soon as the ship’s mate walks back into the cabin I drop my head over the rail again. A wave clocks my left cheek; that’s going to sting later.
We’ve been up against this storm for about 15 minutes now. I’d go inside out of the rain but there’s nowhere to puke in there. We just came from the Scottish island of Staffa – a tortured rock of basalt carved and sculpted by the same current that is now pounding me. The island looks like a colossal church organ with broken pipes coming out of black cliffs.
I’m trying to decide if it was worth it – getting tossed around in this bath toy and soaked by the rain and waves. Staffa is a haunting sea-battered rock, especially in a rainstorm. Fingal’s Cave, the cavernous centerpiece of the island accessible only by a slippery cliffside path, inspired Mendelssohn to write his Hebrides Overture. Unfortunately, the main thing it inspired in me was a desire to call for a rescue helicopter. In retrospect, maybe it’ll be worth it.

susanne before staffa susanne after staffa

Susanne before and after Staffa

I feel my teeth beginning to itch, like they’re being corroded by a mixture of stomach acid and salt water. I’m sporting a yellow slicker that the ship’s mate lent me. I look like the Gorton’s Fisherman – except he was never this green. The slicker’s hood scrunches above my eyebrows, encouraging the cold rain to gush down my face and channel down my chest. A poor design for a raincoat, I think, but then it is keeping me from vomiting on my clothes.
As the sea cracks me across my cheek again, I try to convince myself that it’s always worth it in retrospect. All the same, I’m wondering if maybe I’m not as hardy as I used to be. Then I stop myself – to throw up again first of all – but also because I know this storm would have kicked my ass 10 years ago.
The waves wash my face clean, and as I pull my head up again, I see land. We’re pulling into the island of Iona. Thank God. -Susanne

Farmers Mercats n Open Doors

Filed under: Scotland — Andy Carvin @ 2:35 pm
calton hill

Edinburgh’s Calton Hill

The third and final installment of my Edinburgh journal, written in an Irvine Welsh-inspired phonetic Scots. I promise I won’t do this too often. -andy
Eftir our usual granola n scoon breakfast combo at the High Street Starbucks, Susanne n Ah paid a visit tae the Tron Kirk. The church is now home tae an archeology exhibit, as the floor ay the church wis dug up tae unearth the remnants ay one ay the oldest streets in Edinburgh’s Auld Toun. A wood platform followed the perimeter ay the exhibit; along wi information aboot archeology, the platform displayed biographies ay various notorious residents ay the surroundin area.
We didnae hae specific plans fir the day, apart fae takin a train tae Glasgow late in the afternoon so we wid be close tae the airport fir our flight the next mornin. We hud contemplated a trip tae Roslyn Chapel oan the outskirts ay toun, but decided we’d want tae make the moost oot ay the limited time we hud left in Edinburgh.
Eftir shoppin fir a while oan the Royal Mile, we walked back doon tae Princes Street. The sun wis strong n bright today; Ah found myself havin tae carry mah jacket rather than wear it. Neither ay us hud ever walked the lower perimeter ay Edinburgh Castle fae Princes Street Gardens tae Grassmarket, so we decided tae gie it a go.
We walked along Princes Street until reachin the Scott Monument, then entered the gardens, heidin downhill tae the bottom ay the valley. It’s amazin how peaceful n quiet the gardens are, despite the fact yu’r in the middle ay one ay the biggest cities in the UK. Susanne n Ah strolled along the gardens, walkin past small groups ay tourists, families n a handful ay homeless people. To our left, Castle Hill loomed large, wi Edinburgh Castle at its summit. We walked parallel tae the hill, towards the small cemetery not far fae Lothian Road. Eventually we reached rocky base ay castle n started tae follow it anti-clockwise. The path went higher n higher, until we were well above the valley floor.

edinburgh castle

Edinburgh Castle. Click the image tae see a Quicktime VR panorama.

Not far tae the west, we spotted a row ay tents full ay people buyin n sellin things. Apparently it wis some type ay weekend mercat, so we decided tae investigate. Indeed, it wis the Edinburgh farmers mercat, a pleasant affair ay merchants sellin a range ay organic goods, fae venison n ostrich tae cheeses n haggis. Ah sampled a few small pieces ay cheese n crackers, listenin tae several street musicians entertainin the crowd. Susanne spotted a lute player dressed as a jester; she shot some video ay um while Ah listened tae one merchant talk aboot his family’s brewery.


Video clip ay a lute player at the Edinburgh Farmers Mercat

Beyond the mercat, we found a stairway thit led doon tae western end ay Grassmarket. The neighborhood is maist famous fir two things: its view ay Edinburgh Castle n its prominent role as a leadin place fir executions durin medieval times. This has made the place popular fir ghost n goblin tours, wi visitors stoppin at pubs wi names like The Last Drop (as in, droppin wi a noose roond yir neck). The weather wis simply glorious; sun poured doon oan us fae the south, causin the castle tae glow in the distance.
We hiked east through Grassmarket, investigatin various places fir lunch. We eventually settled oan The White Stag. One ay the auldest pubs in the city, the White Stag once hud poet Robert Burns as a guest. It wis also a base ay operations fir a notorious pair ay murderers, Burke n Hare, whae wid befriend thir victims, murder them, then sell thir warm bodies tae the University ay Edinburgh’s medical college fir dissection. Back in the early 1800s, the medical college wis allotted only a small number ay executed criminals fir dissection purposes, so it became common fir people known as resurrectionists tae dig up fresh graves n sell the bodies in the name ay science. Burke n Hare started thir enterprise as grave-robbin resurrectionists, but eventually decided tae skip the diggin part, instead throttlin unsuspectin victims before sellin them tae a well-known surgeon named Dr. Knox. In the end they were caught; Hare turned King’s evidence, Burke wis hung (n donated tae the medical college fir dissection, ironically), while Dr. Knox left the city in disgrace. Some day Susanne n Ah will git roond tae writin a screenplay aboot the incident.
Despite its notorious history, the White Stag is a charmin place. Ah hud an excellent curried chicken sandwich fir lunch while Susanne hud a soothin bowl ay tomato soup. It wis probably the healthiest pub meal ay our entire trip.
Lookin at a map ay Grassmarket, Ah realized we were a short walk tae Greyfriars Kirk n the university campus. Since the weather wis so nice n we didnae hae anythin else oan our schedule, Ah suggested we return thit wey fir a wee while. The church wis open, so we poked our heids inside tae see its beautiful pipe organ. An elderly gadge walked his scotty through the cemetery.
We said hello tae Greyfriars Bobby one mair time before returnin tae Bristo Square n the university. The square wis buzzin wi activity. Dozens ay young boys practiced thir skateboardin moves in the square’s courtyard, while older visitors were comin n goin roond MacEwan Hall. Today wis Edinburgh Open Doors Day; throughout the city, buildins thit are usually closed tae the public were open fir free, includin MacEwan Hall n other university buildins we’d nivir visited durin our stey here.
Enterin the hall, we were blown away by what we found. The interior wis as grand as any church we hud ever visited. The walls were decorated by an extraordinary collection ay frescoes n marble, wi a semi-circle ceilin high above us. The buildin, created in the late 1800s, remains the place ay university graduations – somethin thit we, as study-abroad students, nivir hud the chance tae experience.

MacEwan Hall

Splendid interior ay MacEwan Hall

Ah picked up a pamphlet listin aw the university buildins participatin in the Open Door events. Among the buildins involved were the medical school’s historic anatomy theatre, n Reid Music Hall. Havin jist visited the White Stag fir lunch, Ah couldn’t think ay a mair appropriate place tae go than the anatomy theatre, which probably played host tae the bodies ay some ay the very people murdered by Burke n Hare. It wis such a notorious story, how could we say no tae thit?
The anatomy theatre, located oan the second floor ay the medical college, wis quite intimate. The room extended upwards fir two floors, wi a circle ay seats risin aw the wey tae the top. A student sat near whair the anatomists wid present thir research. We were tempted tae pepper her wi Burke n Hare questions but she probably hud heard enough ay those today.
Next door, we found Reid Hall. The hall itself hud nice acoustics, which we discovered as someone played the house pipe organ. There wis also a small musical instruments museum adjacent tae the hall. Several rooms were packed fae floor tae ceilin wi instruments ay aw shapes n sizes; basic workin models ay instruments were available fir people tae play fir thissels. Numerous bairds ran roond the museum, gettin thir hands oan every instrument available tae them. Ah wonder how much time the curator spends sanitizin the instruments.

old college sus

Susanne at the Auld College

On our wey back tae the Royal Mile, we walked through Edinburgh’s Auld College. The dark, grey buildins surrounded a gravel courtyard lined wi park benches. Ah’d hud one class at the Auld College, so it wis quite a flashback tae stand in the middle ay the courtyard again. Susanne hudnae visited the Old College as far as she could remember, though she suspected the university wine-tastin society hud gatherins in one ay the basements here. Ah didnae recall.
With a bit mair shoppin completed along the Royal Mile, we decided tae visit Princes Street Gardens one last time. We reached the gardens by wey ay Lady Stairs Close, one ay Susanne’s favorite closes in the Auld Toun. Heidin downhill, we passed the writers museum; outside, quotes fae famous Scots were engraved intae the pavement. Fae the bottom ay the close, we soon reached the National Art Museum, located in the middle ay the gardens. We strolled through the gardens, pausin momentarily tae use mah mobile phone tae dial 999 n report a sudden garbage can fire thit appeared ready tae consume a tree n a park bench if it hudn’t been fir a man workin at an espresso kiosk dumpin several buckets ay water oan the fire.


Flappers havin tea ay the Balmoral Hotel

Once the excitement wis over, we decided tae wrap up our visit tae Edinburgh wi one mair visit tae the Balmoral Hotel fir afternoon tea. We arrived jist past 2:30pm n were telt thit we wid hae tae come back at 3pm, so we killed the remainin time by walkin up n doon the north bridge, admirin the views ay Calton Hill n Arthur’s Seat. Back at the Balmoral, we hud another roond ay tea n scoons. At an adjacent table, a group ay women were dressed in 1920s costume, havin a grand auld time. We nivir goat the nerve tae ask them what the occasion wis, though we did manage tae take a nice picture ay some ay them.
Our tea n scoons consumed, we hud wee else tae do except collect our rucksacks fae the hotel n heid tae Waverly station fir our train tae Glasgow. One last time, we hiked up the Mound n up Lady Stairs Close, takin our time tae admire each ay the writers quotes engraved in the pathway. “There are no stars as lovely as Edinburgh street-lamps,” read one quote fae Robert Louis Stevenson.
Our enormous rucksacks burdenin us again, we left the hotel n walked doon Cockburn Street tae Waverly Station, pausin long enough tae take photos ay the Malt Shovel Pub. Soon enough, we were oan the five o’clock train tae Glasgow. Aheid ay us we’d find quaint accommodations near the Glasgow School ay Art, n a pleasant evenin at the Merchant City street festival. But aw we could do thit night is think aboot the views ay the castle, the tea rooms, the crags, our friends at Abbotsford n our strolls along Princes Street gardens. More than a dozen years hud passed between our visits tae Edinburgh. Never again wid we let such a dry spell pass.

A Long, Gud Walk Fir Auld Lang Syne

Filed under: Scotland — Andy Carvin @ 10:09 am
Walter Scott Monument

Edinburgh’s Walter Scott Monument, as seen through one ay the many closes oan the Royal Mile

Part 2 of 3 in a series of journal entries from Edinburgh, Scotland, written in an Irvine Welsh-inspired interpretation of Scots. -andy
Fridae, 23 September. Eftir another breakfast at Starbucks – a granola bar fir Susanne, a scoon fir masel – we decided tae spend the day takin a series ay walks roond the city, includin a visit tae the University ay Edinburgh. The weather hud taken a turn fir the worse; the grey skies opened up tae a strong, unpleasant drizzle. But we cudnae be bothered. Rain or shine, we wid make the maist ootay our time in Edinburgh.
Our first stop wis the Greyfriars Bobby, a famous statue ay a Scottish terrier outside Greyfriars Kirk. The Bobby is perhaps the best known dog in Scottish history. Eftir his master died, the loyal dog spent mair than a dozen years guardin his graveside. The locals made sure the Bobby wis healthy n well-fed, but the dog nivir left his master’s grave. Fir us, the statue wis an important memory fae mah time back at the University ay Edinburgh. Ah spent many a lunch in a pub across the street fae the Bobby.
The Bobby statue wis jist whair we expected it. The pub, however, wis naewhair tae be found. In its place, we discovered a grand new museum – the Museum ay Scottish History. Ah wis happy fir the birth ay a new museum, but its placement thair some time in the last dozen or so years wis mair than a bit disorientin fir us.
The Greyfriar Kirk itself still wisnae open, so we continued past the Bedlam Theatre – an auld church wi funky red doors – tae Bristo Square, the heart ay the university campus. Adjacent tae a sunken stoon plaza stood MacEwan Hall, an enormous domed 19th century buildin used fir graduation ceremonies. Beyond it Ah could see Reid Hall n other auld university buildins thit hae been roond fir ages. But some things were quite new, includin a student union n a large mosque. It wis odd; Ah hud a recollection ay the place, but the memories didnae surge back tae us the wey Ah hud expected. Ah wis a wee disappointed. Perhaps it wis because we approached the square fae an angle Ah didnae usually use. Ah eywis came tae the square fae Pollock Halls, not High Street. Thin again, maybe ye jist forget a loat in 14 years.
Just past campus, we walked along the Meadows, a series ay grassie bluffs thit Ah best remember as the place whair Ah took part in settin the Guinness World Record fir the world’s largest ceilidh. (A ceilidh, pronounced Kaylee, is basically a Scottish dance party, but thit’s oversimplifyin it a bit.) It wis one ay mah first days in Edinburgh, n thousands ay students danced in unison as gadges fae the Guinness Book confirmed the record-settin status upon the event. Today, tho, the Meadows were quiet, windy n damp. Just another autumn day in Auld Reekie.
Susanne n Ah walked a few blocks east tae Nicolson Street, which we followed south until veerin west tae Pollock Halls, mah former residence. The dense city streets thinned oot as we approached the halls, which are located in an area jist beloo the western slope ay Arthur’s Seat. Walkin past the local swimmin pool towards Pollock, Ah distinctly remembered mah daily walk back fae campus. But arrivin at the dormitory, Ah wis once again thrown fir a loop. Aw the buildins looked brand new – modern constructions rather than the reddish-grey concrete Ah remembered.
We entered the complex n started tae explore it. Soon, Ah spotted Leonard Hall, the grand auld 19th buildin thit wis the heart n soul ay Pollock Halls. At least it wis still standin. Beyond it, though, we found the auld drab dormitory buildins. It seems thit some were torn doon n replaced by new structures, while others remained intact. Ah couldn’t find mah buildin, Brewster Hall, oan the campus map. Apparently it wis a victim ay progress.
Since we were so close tae Arthur’s Seat, Ah suggested tae Susanne thit we climb the Salisbury Crags, cliff-like outcrops juttin oot fae the hillside like the remnants ay a giant’s lower jawboon. The climb tae the crags wis quite easy – jist a matter ay followin a slopin roadway then cuttin over a meadow. Susanne n Ah hud ruled oot climbin Arthur’s Seat itssel. We hud both done the climb when we lived here, n once wis enough. Besides, the recent rains hud left the rocks quite slick, n Ah didnae fancy slidin doon 800 feet tae a nasty death. Short, stumpy cliffs wid suffice jist fine.

salisbury crags

Salisbury Crags n Arthur’s Seat, wi the new Scottish Parliament beloo

We hiked the road until reachin the meadow. By now, the rain hud completely stopped, n thair were signs ay clearin in the distance. Arthur’s Seat stood directly in front ay us, glorious n imposin. The crags, meanwhile, were an easy, short hike tae our left.

Edinburgh Castle

Edinburgh Castle, as seen fae the Salisbury Crags

Followin the main path, we reached the crags. Below us, cliffs dropped doon tae the valley floor. Above n behind us, another level ay cliffs reached at least 100 mair feet higher. Several pished punters were atop the higher cliffs, singin fitba songs. By now, the skies started tae clair quickly; beams ay sun reached our faces fir the first time in days. We hud a beautiful view ay Edinburgh fae here. To our far left stood Arthur’s Seat, wi Pollock Halls beloo. In front ay us, aw ay Auld Toun stretched before us, fae the southern fringes ay the university up tae Castle Hill. To the right, the ridge thit forms the Royal Mile winded downhill towards the base ay Holyrood Palace. Aye, it truly wis a sight tae behold.
We followed the path along the crags fir aboot a kilometer, walkin clockwise roond Arthur’s Seat. Eventually, the path jutted doonward until droppin us in front ay the new Scottish parliament n Holyrood palace. Ah suggested we stop fir some tea, but Susanne hud gautten a wee bit damp fae the rain, despite her industrial strength oilskin coat. So we walked agin up the Royal Mile tae the hotel. Susanne changed clothes while Ah hud a cup ay hot chocolate at Chocolate Soop.
Figurin we should git lunch in the near future, we walked doon South Bridge towards Cowgate. Edinburgh is an unusual city in thit it is built oan two levels: the ground level, n bridge level. Much ay the southern side ay Castle Hill n the Royal Mile is actually a series ay bridges thit are so dense wi buildins ye dinnae realize ye’r walkin oan raised platforms. Meanwhile, if ye follow some ay the hidden closes, ye can weave doon tae the ground level fir whole other environment ay buildins completely lost fae the world ay the bridge dwellers.
Just south ay High Street, thair’s a close thit leads doon tae a ground level area called Cowgate, home tae an auld pub, Bannerman’s. Susanne n Ah hud each spent copious amounts ay time at Bannerman’s durin our student days, so we decided tae walk doon n see if it wis worth gettin lunch thair. It took us a wee while tae find, but once we goat thair we recognized it immediately, set in a dark corner beloo one ay the arches ay South Bridge. Inside, though, we found an empty pub jist opened fir business, reekin ay cleanin fluids. It didnae make a gud place tae eat, so eftir a few moments ay reminiscin, we hiked back up tae the bridge n High Street. We then strolled doon Cockburn Street tae the Malt Shovel, a lovely auld pub, whair we ordered some lunch while listenin tae Johnny Cash singin aboot how we can hae it all – his empire ay dirt – whilst he will let us doon, he can make us hurt.

Mary King's Close

Mary King’s Close, sealed undergroond fae nigh 300 years

Roond 1:30pm, we walked back tae the Royal Mile n went tae the Real Mary King’s Close, which offered underground tours ay one ay the maist interestin parts ay the Auld Toun. Mary King’s Close wis one ay the many closes thit ran doon the ridge along Royal Mile. In medieval times, thousands ay people lived n worked along these closes. Mary King’s Close, though, wis a victim ay progress, as it stood adjacent tae city hall. When local burgesses decided tae rebuild n expand the complex, they built over Mary King’s Close, sealin the street n aw its buildins in a giant tomb, whair it wis generally forgotten fir 250 years. A few years ago, the city allowed the close tae be opened fir public tours. We decided tae git a look fir ursels.
Leadin the tour wis a 17th century merchant, as it were – an actor in period costume whae stayed in character fir the full hour ay the tour. He warned everyone thit the tour is not gud fir people wi walkin problems or claustrophobie. Susanne came very close tae bowin ootay the tour, but the crowd wis very supportive n promised tae look eftir her in case she hud any problems.
We followed the guide doon a long stairwell until we reached the upper end ay the close. It wis quite surreal – Ah felt like we were standin in another close in the middle ay the night because it wis so dark, but the darkness wis purely because we were underground. The buildins oan both sides ay the close were at least three stories high, n ample laundry wis strung between them. The effect wis quite strikin.
Fir the next hour, we wandered fae buildin tae buildin, learnin aboot the dark side ay 17th century life in Edinburgh. In one room, we found a life-size diorama ay a murder scene in which a woman n her mother hud killed her husband over a dowry thit wisnae paid tae um. In another room, a gravedigger’s family hud fallen sick tae the bubonic plague. Mary King’s Close wis infamous fir havin one ay the highest rates ay plague in aw Edinburgh. Legend has it thit the close wis sealed off permanently wi aw its residents left tae die; our guide insisted this wis false, sayin, thit people were merely quarantined n neighbors wid leave food n water fir them outside thir doors.
One ay the last rooms we visited wis full ay dolls. Apparently a psychic hud visited the close n detected the presence ay a long-dead girl whose ghost wis searchin fir her lost doll. Since then, numerous visitors hae brought dolls tae appease the spirit. The effect ay aw the dolls piled against a wall wis quite disturbin.

Princes Street

Edinburgh’s Princes Street, as seen fae Calton Hill

As the tour ended, we returned tae the surface only tae be blinded by sunlight; the clouds were aw gaun n it hud turned intae a beautiful day. Still eager tae hike roond as much as possible, we walked over North Bridge n made a right oan Princes Street tae climb Calton Hill, somethin Ah’d neglected tae do while livin in Edinburgh. It wisnae a steep climb – certainly less steep than the Crags or Arthur’s Seat – but it wis maist rewardin. The view wis quite extraordinary, particularly in the directions ay Arthur’s Seat n Princes Street. Ah’d eywis wondered whair those famous pictures ay Princes Street were taken, likesay? Now Ah kent.
Hikin downhill, the two ay us were hungry n dehydrated. Ah suggested swingin by Burger King fir a quick drink, likesay, but Susanne hud a classier idea. She suggested we go somewhere fir afternoon tea. The Balmoral Hotel wis jist up the road oan Princes Street, so we stopped by tae see if they offered tea. Inside, we found a charmin gallerie full ay guests enjoyin multi-level platters ay tea cakes as a harpist performed oan a balconie. Perfect, kent? Rather than git the full-blown high tea, though, we ordered a plate ay scoons, some tea n coffee, along wi two large glesses ay water tae quench our parched thirst. Ah’m eywis a sucker fir an afternoon tea experience, n this filled the bill in a maist gratifyin wey.
By now it wis late in the afternoon. Ah’d made 7:30pm reservations fir dinner at the Apartment, a trendy restaurant southwest ay the university. Havin walked mair miles today than we cared tae calculate, we leisurely walked back tae the Royal Mile by wey ay Cockburn Street, visitin various shops along the wey, before goin tae Hunter Square fir drinks at the Advocate. Ah’d come here once or twice back in the day, ken; it didnae seem tae hae changed. Ah drank a sherry while Susanne hud a fruit juice cocktail while people talked in hushed overtones as anon’mous jazz played in the background.
Roond 7:15, we caught a Joe Baxi tae the Apartment. The drive took us through Grassmarket, which offered us a glorious nighttime view ay Edinburgh Castle as seen fae the south. The restaurant itself looked much like an upscale apartment, wi minimalist modern art décor. The food wis actually a wee disappointin, ken? The chicken skewers we ordered as an appetizer hud a pasty taste; meanwhile, Susanne’s scallops were smaller than a child’s thumbnail n might salmon wis burnt n oily. The two savin graces ay the experience were the excellent Spanish wine n the cheese course we hud fir dessert; the combination ay gouda n grapes wis extraordinary.
Rather than call it a night, Ah suggested we stop at Deacon Brodie’s before goin tae bed. We didnae linger long, though. As Ah sipped mah beer, Ah realized thit the oily salmon n the cheese course hud made the thought ay alcohool seem thoroughly irrational. So despite mah urge tae stretch oot the evenin a wee longer, reason goat the best ay us as we returned tae the hotel, our drinks barely touched. It jist wisnae in the cards, likesay?

September 26, 2005

Return tae Auld Reekie

Filed under: Scotland — Andy Carvin @ 1:36 pm
red telephone boxes

Telephone Boxes Oan the Royal Mile in Edinburgh’s Auld Toun

Note to baffled readers: This blog entry is the first in a three-part series I’ve written about my visit to Edinburgh, Scotland this past weekend. In honor of Edinburgh writer Irvine Welsh, whose novel Trainspotting kept us company during our trip, I’ve decided to attempt to write the entries in Scots dialect. Enjoy. -andy
“Ye’re steyin at the Ibis Hotel n ye needed tae take a taxi?” Joe Baxi sais. “They’re gaunnae kick ye oot ay the union fir thit one.”
“Ken, ken,” Ah reply, glad tae huv the 20-kilogram rucksack oaf ma back. “If we dinnae huv tae carry these bags we wid huv walked.”
“Ye damn well shid huv,” the baxi laughs. “Ye wid huv gaun tae the hotel faster if ye hud walked.”
Susanne n Ah hud jist arrived at Edinburgh’s Waverly Station a few minutes earlier. As soon as the cab left the station, a taerrent ay memories rushed intae ur heads. Takin the bridge up tae the Royal Mile, Ah cud see Calton Hill n the Nelson Monument far tae ur left. At 10 o’clock, Arthur’s Seat n the Salisbury Crags jutted fae the landscape. Tae ur right, Edinburgh Castle stood at the top ay Castle Hill, beyond Waverly n Princes Street Gardens.
“Ah almost feel like Ah nivir left,” Ah sais tae Susanne, a huge smile formin aun ma face.
Susanne n Ah both studied at the University ay Edinburgh fir a semester – 1991 fir us, 1992 fir her. This wis the first time we hud returned since then, n the first time we’d been hir thigether. Fir the next few days we’d git a chance tae relive some auld memories n hopefully make some new ones.

Royal Mile Sign

Street Sign Oan the Royal Mile

We checked intae the hotel, located at Hunter Square behind the Tron Kirk aun the Royal Mile – as central as cud be hir in Auld Toun Edinburgh. Next door, a Starbucks stood watch over the kirk; we popped inside fir a coffee tae plan ur day. Even though the weather wis a little dreary, it wis better than the nonstaep rain we’d experienced in Oban n much ay Glasgow. Nothin short ay taernado conditions wid prevent us fae explorin the city we’d grain tae lurve so much.
Since we hud three days tae explore Edinburgh, we decided tae start wi some ay the mair obvious choices: particularly, the major sites along the Royal Mile. The Mile is the Auld Toun’s main street, bustlin since the Middle Ages n possibly used fir thousands ay years, given thit it runs along a strategic ridge between two deep valleys — Grassmarket tae the south n Princes Street Gardens tae the north. We ambled west up the street, recognizin some sites (the Edinburgh Woollen Mill, the Wee Auld Whiskey Shoppe) n discoverin new ones (the afairmentioned Starbucks, Garfunkels Restaurant). Ah wis maist pleased tae see Deacon Brodies – a pub named eftir the inspiration tae the story “Dr. Jeckyll n Mr. Hyde” – an auld haunt ay mine thit Ah hudnae thoot aboot in many a year.
Ah cudnae help but grin each time we passed a “Close” – a narrow passagewey leadin up the side ay the ridge fae each ay the two valleys. Each close hud its ain set ay memories, its ain character – Advocates Close, Jollies Close, Fleshmarket Close. Thir wis even a new one – a very auld one, actually – named Mary King’s Close. Thit close wis completely buried when the tain hall wis built in the 1700s; a few years ago, they’d opened it up, catacombs-style, tae visitin tourists. We’d huv tae add thit one tae ur tae-do list.

castle entrance

The entrance tae Edinburgh Castle

Beyond the Hub – the gothic church now headquarters tae the Edinburgh Festival – n the Whiskey Heritage Center, we reached what looked like a parade ground, wi long rows ay stadium seatin n scaffoldin. They were remnants ay the Festival, which hud jist ended nary a fortnight ago. Workers were disassemblin the scaffoldin as busloads ay tourists braved Castle Hill’s high winds tae queue fir a ticket tae the castle.
We bought ur tickets n went inside the castle’s high gate, greeted by statues ay Robert the Bruce n William Wallace. Jist beyond the entrance, we were soon enticed tae visit the first ay many souvenir shops, whair Susanne looked fir McGregor tartans (her mother’s surname, Walker, is part ay Clan McGregor) while Ah sampled some Columba Cream liqueur. Similar tae Bailey’s Irish Cream, Columba Cream is flavored wi single malt whiskey n a wee dash ay honey – hud a nice kick tae it. Fae thir we followed the outer path ay the castle anti-clockwise, affordin us a beautiful view ay Edinburgh’s New Toun. “New Toun” is a rather deceivin name fir those ay us fae a truly “new” country like the USA. Founded in the early 1700s tae combat the urban squalor ay the medieval Auld Toun, the New Toun wis a masterpiece ay Georgian architecture. It’s best experienced close-up, but the view gied us an awesome perspective ay the scope ay the New Toun, fae Lothian Road tae the west, doon Princes Street, past the rocketship-like Walter Scott Monument, tae Calton Hill n its many monuments oaf tae the east.
Susanne n Ah explored the upper ramparts ay the castle, wanderin alongside the throng ay tourists n a scatterin ay soldiers (Edinburgh Castle is one ay the auldest functionin forts in the world). Near the top ay the castle, we spied the small, dignified graveyard ay soldier’s dogs, no far fae the intimate St. Margaret’s Chapel.
Windin doon towards the main courtyard ay the castle, we paid a visit tae the collection ay royal Scottish artifacts. This exhibition hud been added since ur previous visits; it housed the Scottish crown jewels, as well as the Stoon ay Destiny, which wis used by the Scots fir hundreds ay years as the coronation platform before it wis stolen by the English 700 years ago, only tae be returned in the late 1990s. The exhibit wis quite well done; rather than forcin people tae standin in a borin queue fir 45 minutes, it allowed ye tae weave through a series ay rooms, each depictin various aspects ay Scottish royal history, in particular the history ay the crown jewels n the Stoon ay Destiny. The precious objects were kept in a dark, but dignified vault, protected by thick sheets ay undoubtedly shatter-proof gless.


Tartans fir sale by the yard

Eftir visitin the Scottish War Memorial n sevral other sites within the castle, we exited the fort n made ur wey tae an enormous tartan mill. Fae the outside, the mill looked like any other tourist trap, wi rows ay knick-knacks n chotchkes. Deep inside the store, we eventually found a warehouse-like facility exhibitin textile mill machines fae the industrial revolution, some ay em still bein used tae weave tartans. The machines made a terrible racket but it wis fascinatin watchin em in action.
Back aun the Mile, we stopped fir lunch at Deacon Brodie’s. Susanne hud vegetarian haggis while Ah enjoyed a Cajun chicken salad. Somehae the lunch ended up bein much mair expensive than we’d expected; we’d huv tae be mair mindful ay fixed-price lunches or we’d soon go skint in this toun.


Ootay Coortyard ay Holyrood Palace

Susanne n Ah must huv visited every souvenir store aun the mile by the time we reached Holyrood Palace at the far eastern end ay the street. Located at the base ay Arthur’s Seat n the crags, the palace is Queen Elizabeth’s official Scottish residence. But fir hundreds ay years prior tae thit, Holyrood served as home tae dozens ay Scottish royalty, ever since King David survived an attack by a stag hir in the 12th century n built an abbey tae honour the miracle ay livin tae tell aboot it.
The palace tour included an audio guide, wi a recorded introduction by Prince Charles. Susanne n Ah both remarked how the inclusion ay the Prince ay Wales put a decidedly English feel tae the place, even though the palace is very much a Scottish royal institution. Since Queen Elizabeth visits every year, the palace is kept in impeccable condition, fae its grand dinin room tae its mair intimate privy chambers. One grand hallwey featured fictionalized portraits ay Scottish royalty, both real n legendary, datin back mair than 1500 years. The paintins hud been slashed by sabers in the aftermath ay the Jacobite rebellion, but recently they were restored tae the point thit maist ay em looked unscathed.

holyrood abbey

The ruins ay Holyrood Abbey

The tour concluded wi a visit tae Holyrood Abbey, aun the eastern side ay the palace. Though the abbey fell intae ruin hundreds ay years ago, it wis a movin sight, wi vaulted stoon arches pointin skyward, the roof lost tae the ages. Thir wis still a chill in the air, but at least the rains hud subsided.
Leavin the palace, we started tae heid back up the Royal Mile, passin the brand new Scottish Parliament tae ur left. A dazzlin display ay modern architecture, the parliament fit surprisinly well intae the auld backdrop ay buildins surroundin it. Too bad it cost the Scottish people 10 times mair than they expected tae pay fir it.
A few blocks west, across fae the 17th century tollbooth clock tower, we visited The Tea Room, a charmin little café wi a fine selection ay teas fae roond the world. Susanne n Ah both ordered a wee slice ay gingerbread, along wi some peppermint tea n decaf coffee. Across fae us, a group ay Scots spoke in the thickest Glesca accent Ah’d ever heard, until Ah realized they were speakin Dutch tae each other.
Eventually back near the hotel along High Street, the central stretch ay the Royal Mile, we took a right n followed the North Bridge doon tae Princes Street. Ah’m eywis amazed at how busy the street can be, nae matter what time ay day. As both the principle shoppin street ay Edinburgh n the entrance tae Waverly train station, Princes Street is awash wi humanity. Susanne n Ah walked the northern side ay the street, stoppin at mair than ur fair share ay shops, comparin prices aun tartans n whiskey while samplin mair malts, shortbreads n even butter tablets (think sugar cubes thit melt in yer mouth like fudge). Ye cud also buy a wide selection ay packaged sausages, puddins, n haggis, thit maist famous ay Scots dishes. Nae wonder thit Scots huv some ay the highest rates ay heart disease in the knain universe. At least they die happy.

scott monument

The Walter Scott Monument

Reachin the Walter Scott Monument, we turned right n walked deep intae the New Toun tae Great King Street, Susanne’s former home in Edinburgh. Ah wis surprised how far north it wis fae Princes Street; Great King Street hud tae be at least an hour’s walk fae the University ay Edinburgh campus, almost aw uphill. Susanne probably hud calves ay steel eftir thit semester. Apart fae a couple ay cafes n restaurants aun Hanover Street, Susanne didnae recognize maist ay the places along the walk. We surmised thit the stores hud changed a loat in the last 13 years, so it wid be nae wonder thit she widnae recognize the names ay thins. Otherwise, the neighborhood wis the same, fae the grand park south ay her flat tae the statue ay King George IV, whae famously visited Scotland wi Sir Walter Scott’s assistance in the 1820s.
Headin south towards Princes Street, Susanne pointed oot Rose Street. At first the name didnae mean anythin tae us, then Susanne reminded us ay the Rose Street pub crawl. The street wis lined wi pubs, n students used tae try tae go tae each pub, huv a pint n move aun, gettin through the night without dyin ay alcohol poisonin. Ah nivir attempted the feat masel, but Ah did recall a few long evenings at a few ay the pubs.
Ah suggested we walk tae the far eastern end ay Rose Street tae Abbotsford, an Edwardian pub named eftir Walter Scott’s summer retreat. It wis a classic pub, wi an ornate square bar in the middle surrounded by rows ay tables. Thir weren’t any free tables, so Susanne leaned against a wall while Ah ordered her a pint ay cider n an IPA fir masel.
A few minutes later, a pair ay young Scots in thir early 20s offered us a seat aun a bench across fae em. We didnae talk wi em at first, as they were engaged in a deep conversation aboot the history ay immigration n Albert Einstein’s move tae America. Eventually, Susanne broke the ice n struck up a chat. The two ay em, Billy (pronounced Belly) n Stephen, were younger than we realized, only 20 years auld, but Stephen in particular seemed wise beyond his years. They were both mates fae Musselburgh, likesay, jist outside ay Edinburgh. They’d traveled a bit in Europe, but no tae the US, so we talked a loat aboot different parts ay the US as well as American politics. (Bush, they made clear to us, wis both a “wanker” n a “doss radge,” along wi a few other colorful Scots terms thit Ah shall no include hir in mah blog.)
Billy, we learned, wis also a Red Sox fan. “Ye really fae Boston, ken?” he sais. “The Red Sox are ma team! Ah watch em aun Sky whenever Ah can. Johnny Damon, ken? Ortiz! They’re ma mates, likesay?”
At one point they spotted one ay thir mate’s girlfriends at the pub wi another man.
“Thit’s Davey’s burd, ken?” Billy sais.
“Ah dinnae care,” Stephen replies.
“Davey will,” Billy laughs. Aye, nae doubt aboot thit.
Eftir three or four rounds ay Tennants fir masel and ciders n ginger ale fir Susanne, the group ay us stumbled ootay the pub ontae Rose Street eftir 9pm; we hud been thir at the pub, ken, nae less than three hours. Billy n Stephen went in one direction, ready fir a quick meal at McDonalds, while Susanne n Ah somehow made it back tae the Royal Mile, whair we hud some curry before callin it a night.

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