Monday, February 26, 2007

Walking in the Streets of Edinburgh in the Evening

Tuesday in Edinburgh:Part Three

A Walk in the Dark

We leave the church and it feels a little otherworldly. You step out onto the very busy thoroughfare with teeny little cars whizzing past, and it is disorienting. I wonder if many dazed tourists get pegged as they wander into traffic. Right across the street is the wonderful Caledonian Hotel, which is supposed to be a really fab hotel and has been a stop for discerning travellers for many years.

I take a quick picture up Lothian Road and then Rowan and I head back up Princes Street, going back to the station to collect our bags.

It is getting close to check-in time, and I am anxious to drop our stuff off and have the time to explore, unfettered by luggage. We walk past the department stores and do a little window-shopping, but not much.

At the station, I stop at the ATM. I was assured by the folks at BofA that I would be able to find oodles of Barclay’s Bank ATMs – and that I should use them so that I would not be paying withdrawal fees. They are wrong. It is a bit of a pain, and I soon stop looking for them. There is Scottish money and English money. I like that the Scots have their own banknotes. It is a little touch of defiance that appeals to me. The Scottish bank notes are great – like little history lessons, and I like the colors. When I have a choice, I spend the English ones, as I like the Scottish notes. When I was in London, I had to use my RBS five pound note, and was pleased when the clerk asked if I was from Scotland. I felt like saying yes, just to see what she would make of it.

Like many things Scottish, there is a strong sense of a struggle for independence in their banking history. It seems that they have had to fight for centuries to be autonomous – not swallowed up by those around them. I worry that the US is going to change the face of Scotland, by sheer economic momentum.

We leave the station, bags in tow. I have a general idea where we are going, and examine the map to ascertain the best route. I am confident that I can find the hotel. We are staying at a Premier Travel Inn. It is a budget-type motel, sort of like a Comfort Inn or a Best Western – with Ikea furnishings. Nicer than Motel 6. There were two in the area, and I picked the one in the convention center area, which looking back, was probably a mistake. However, the distances are relatively short in the UK and I am happy to see the city from the pedestrian’s eye-view.

Once again, I am interested in warmed towel racks – mostly because it is something that we don’t generally have at home. After the disappointment at the Bonnington, it has become a bit of an obsession with me. I cannot leave the UK until I have seen this particular amenity for myself.

Down Princes Street again, left at Lothian Road and the Caledonian (that is the corner with the Church of St. John’s), and then right on Morrison Street. There are not a lot of tourists, hauling bags, but we are not the only travelers.

Rowan writes:

Bags collected, we make a beeline for the hotel. We do not know exactly where it is, but are heading in the right direction. The streets get steeper, and the shops thin out. We pass the Edinburgh Playhouse, and I remember going there to watch “the Proclaimers” live. They were fabulous, playing their hearts out and giving us all our money’s worth. (Hey – don’t want to further the cause of the mean Scot stereotype by saying this. It is just a funny term meaning the show was great….)

Bob says:

First of all, when Rowan uses the term “mean”, she means cheap, not unkind. Second, I like the Proclaimers. Rowan introduced me to them some months ago.

That was the first time I heard the word “haver” … I had to ask Rowan what it meant. That question led to many a fond wander through Scots slang sites.

Rowan writes:

The hotel sits at the end of a long street boasting a row of small shops – newsagents, bakeries, a strange costume shop, a kebab place. I am anxious that she will find Edinburgh primitive, rather than groovily cosmopolitan.

Bob says:

“Groovily cosmopolitan”? I don’t know if I have ever been to such a place. LA is not cosmopolitan, I don’t think. London, maybe. Dunno. Edinburgh? The city is beautiful – really beautiful – different from London. It feels older and more lived in at the same time. We walk down the street, and I begin to lose my bearings. We have moved into what I would think of as the Convention Center part of town – more business-buildings, less shops, more glass and metal, less stone. I finally nip into the lobby of a high-rise to ask directions and find that we are actually very close. The hotel is unobtrusive – I might have missed it if I had not been looking for it. We go in and check in. It is clean and functional. We drop our bags, regroup and skedaddle back to main drag.

Rowan writes:

The sky is rapidly darkening, and we head back towards the thoroughfare of Princes Street. It is dark by the time we are at the intersection. St. Giles is lit-up against the night.

Bob is watching the traffic, as we attempt to cross a busy street. She is interested in the size of the cars, compared to those back home. Seemingly, ours are tiny and the engines are whiny. (they sound like large lawnmowers – and make a sort of angry cat sound. Ed) She is funny about it, and I can’t get bristly and defensive about UK cars. I concur that the drivers are aggressive and impatient. This has been one of the reasons why I have not learned to drive…there is method in my cowardice.

A view of the castle. We will go there tomorrow and I am excited.

This is the view of Princes Street in the early evening. It feels later than it actually is.

Rowan writes:

The Christmas market is still bustling, all lit-up and very, very festive. The ferris wheel is all aglow and turning at speed, there are yelling teenagers spinning around on lethal-looking swings (lethal for anyone passing by if the ropes happen to snap) and others screeching from within a tent, which contains some sort of bungee jumping device. Rather them than me. Yikes! There is a makeshift choir singing Christmas carols, and making each-other giggle. I wonder if they have sampled the mulled wine punch.

Looking over the esplanade wall into Princes Street gardens, there is a lovely sight – a skating rink has been set up, amongst the bright red and yellow tents, and it is flecked with little skating figures, as though a Breugel painting has come to life.

I am happy. I love Breugel.

The little stalls with the quaint and quirky European knick-knacks are fun. There are lots of colourful wooden items to hang on the tree, lots of red and white gingerbready things tied in bows of scarlet crepe.

There are sweets and jewelery and wooden toys, sausages and hot fried potatoes which you can buy in a tub and stand and eat. There is some sort of hot Christmassy punch – all cinammony on the night air. And a beer tent, which kind of takes the edge of the cinnamon, as do the sausages. It is lovely to be out here. I have always wanted to visit such a market, and thought I’d have to go across to Germany.

Now I can resist buying a Swedish ear-covering hat in livid hues, dream-catchers, and hippy jerseys in fab colours and heavy alpaca yarns without leaving Scottish soil. I have four of those jerseys at home already, and never wear them. Nevertheless…I am tempted. Bob drags me away. Two steps down the road, the spell of the jerseys is broken and I am up £30 on the transaction. Live to spend another day…

All of the shops on Princes Street seem to be open, which is nice. It is very cold, though. Very. We nip into a few shops – a shoe shop or two (Bob is keeping a look-out for a nice pair of boots), a very funny “Pound Shop” (The pound store is a little like a 99 cent store, except for being twice the price -- ed), which has lots of toys which have somehow limboed under the EEC safety regulations, and loads of tacky Scottish souvenirs. Yay! I guess they are no less tacky than their London counterparts, but somehow, this shop makes them even tackier.

There are glass angels in little rounded glass display cases, which glow in fibre-optic colours. Bob tells me, darkly, that they may have a more sinister application, and that they sell similar ornaments in the US, containing roses, which serve a certain section of the community as a means of ingesting particular illicit substances. I buy an angel for Lena, whether or not it might double-up as a crack pipe.

Bob says:

Actually, they don’t really look like the meth pipes that you can get at Am/Pm, but it is funny to watch Rowan’s reaction. I generally look askance at any of the small glass ornaments that look like you can smoke out of them. While at Pound City, Rowan picks up a Coke Light (diet coke), and I get a diet Irn Bru. Now, there is a whole mystique around Irn Bru. It is like the national soda of Scotland. It comes in a lurid, rusty orange color. I drank mine, and could not decide if I liked it or not. It is distinctive, for sure -- a little metallic. It tastes kind of like rusty cotton candy.

Rowan writes:

We head into Boots, a large chemists and photography department store. I head off to look at the digital cameras, doing my drifty thing. Bob has bought two Crunchie bars, and I have eaten mine already. Bob finds hers a little sweet. We don’t do “sweet” by halves, in Scotland. Edinburgh Rock review coming tomorrow…

Bob says:

I got a Crunchie bar, because it is Rowan’s favourite – I manage half. It is pretty sweet, and I worry that diabetic neuropathy may ensue. I wiggle my toes experimentally, but they seem to still be attached. Sorry, but they are not a patch on Carmello …

Rowan writes:

We have schlepped a very long way, and are now at the far End of Princes St. We nip into the Waterstone’s bookshop, and have a very long browse. They have lots of great titles, some I know my mum would love, and it is close to Christmas. She is a voracious reader, though, and I am pretty sure she will have already pounced. Hmmm. Decide against the books, and drift over to the till to ask about another book, which I know Bob will love, “A Journal of the Plague Year” by Daniel Defoe. He is credited with being the first journalist. It is a fascinating account of events during the time of the Great Plague London, in 1665, the year before the Great Fire. Bob likes the sound of it, and thinks her husband will like it too. Needless to say, the shop does not have it. Bob asks the assistants about where they would recommend we go and eat, and if there are any second-hand bookshops in the vicinity. I kind of lose track of the conversation at this point, and hear Bob say, “Lothian Street.” The checkout guy corrects her, and says she means, “Lothian Road.” A nice little exchange ensues, and they are all chuckling. My stomach is beginning to growl. We head back toward the hotel.

Having decided against an interesting-looking Indian restaurant (don’t know why – fit of eatery-shyness again maybe) I suggest moving on. Bob would like to try fish and chips as she didn’t manage to get any in London. I am also having kebab vibes. Kebabs are very popular in the UK as an-out-at night meal. Outside the grand edifice of the Caledonian Hotel, we ask a taxi-driver where he would recommend we try.

Bob says:

The workers outside of the Caldonian are hanging Christmas lights, and I did not want to interrupt them at their work to ask for a recommendation, so I asked one of the taxi-drivers in the queue outside of the hotel. My brother put himself through aircraft mechanic school by driving a taxi, and I have a soft spot for them. I figure that a taxi driver would know where to get a late-night kebab. He has a suggestion, and another driver seconds the recommendation. It is on the way to the hotel.

As an aside, I realize that, although I think I am being nice in sometimes leaving eating decisions to Rowan, I am actually causing her stress. We read the menus at probably four different places for dinner, while I waited patiently for her to have a preference. At some point, I realized that I was never going to eat if I left it to her and made the decision myself. Although Rowan has many strengths, food decisions are not one of them. Not.

Rowan writes:

The taxi-driver suggests an outlet he likes, and we wend our way towards it. Inside, the shop is warm. It is staffed by what must be a mother and son, as the older woman barks orders to the young man in a way which he would not stand otherwise. They seem to work well together, and the young guy deftly cuts the strips of meat from the big roll of lamb on the spit. He fills the pitta bread with shredded salad, then adds chilli sauce. I also buy some chicken pakora.

Out in the cold December air, we rustle in the bags to try our offerings. Bob and I have doner kebabs. Bob tries a chicken pakora, which can be covered in a crispy batter, or not, as the case may be. This is not – the chunks are very large, and the coating of spices is very nice. Yum!

Bob says:

I look at my kebab, which is more like a gyro than a kebab (slices rather than chunks) and, sadly, no tzatziki sauce. I get mine with no onions, which is apparently a request that they don’t get that often – as it leads to blank looks. When Rowan says salad, what she means is confetti-shredded lettuce, the kind that gets everywhere. As the resident kebab expert, she says that we have to eat it as we walk down the street, but I decline. It is a little more complicated than I think I can manage with any finesse. However, she does break out the chicken pakora for us to share as we walk along, as we are starving at this point. Lunch was a long time ago.

Okay, my new favourite food in the UK is chicken pakora. It is a cross between tandoori chicken and buffalo chicken. It is bright red and hot! Like really hot – spicy and temperature-wise. It needs some cool creamy dressing, like ranch, but I will survive. It functions as a hand-warmer and a tummy-warmer at the same time.

We made it back to the hotel and enjoy our kebabs. I try the Diet Irn Bru and find it to be an acquired taste. The color is interesting, though. The onions on Rowan's kebab are so strong that I have to dispose of the wrappers. I go out into the hallway and look for a trash can. No dice. I look in the lobby. No dice. I finally have to go out onto the street to find a teeny tiny little trash can. What is it with Scots and trash receptacles?

I head back up to the hotel room and get settled in for the night.

Rowan writes:

We get back to the hotel, and eat our kebabs, which are nice, but a teensy bit tougher than I’ve had in Dundee. Maybe Edinburgh folks like tough kebabs! They like pearl barley in their white puddings instead of oatmeal, but that is another story for another day.

There is a very interesting programme on tv about blogs and blogverse, and we discuss this for a bit. I drop off in the middle of it, as I try to make sensible-sounding comments.

Tomorrow, the National Gallery and Edinburgh Castle!

(sooo exciting!)

Friday, February 16, 2007

Tuesday in Edinburgh, Part two

First day in Edinburgh, part two ...

Waverley Station to the Church of St. John the Evangelist

Today, Stained Glass and Steak Pie

Edinburgh is an ancient city. Here is a map to orient yourselves. The green section is the old part of the city, which is nice to get around on foot, as there is a lot to see.

Waverley Station is a grand old Victorian dame, but I was chagrined to find that you had to pay to use the restrooms. I have to admit that I still wince a little at the UK use of the word "toilet" and cannot use it myself. While I was fumbling with my pence coins, a gentleman graciously dropped the money into the slot for me so that I could get through the turnstile. I did have some problems with the coins. The sizing is all wrong and I never did get the hang of it. Once, I just held out a handful of change and had the cashier take out what was needed.

Inside the restroom, it looked like I would think that a really old train station restroom would look -- a little shabby. Once again, I was confronted with the two-faucet problem and scalded one hand and froze the other.

Edinburgh Waverly railway station is the main railway station in the Scottish capital.

Covering an area of over 25 acres in the center of the city, it is the second largest mainline railway station in the United Kingdom -- the largest being Waterloo station in London.

I tried to get a good shot of the beautiful ceiling, but failed. There is a Costa's coffee stand blocking me. I did not take this one, but it has nice details.

Edinburgh Waverley railway station is the main railway station in Edinburgh. It has a Harry-Potterish feel to it. It is sad that this is my frame of reference for British railway stations, but there you have it. The luggage trolleys are the same and one of those little things that tells me that I am in a different country. It is little dark, but not gloomy.

The station sits between the medieval Old Town and the 19
th century New Town. I like that something from the 19th century is called “new”. Princes Street runs along one side of the station and is the city’s upscale shopping street. The buildings are old and beautiful. Even the department stores.

You can leave your bags at the station for a moderate fee. Once again, in talking to the baggage attendant guy, I find a Scot who has been to California. I think that he came on his honeymoon and was pleased to show off his knowledge of the area. He thought that the coast was beautiful, and he is right. He was very nice, as was almost everyone that I met.

So this is the route that we took in Edinburgh. We started out at the train station, walked up Princes Street, crossed over to Rose Street for lunch, and then wandered over to St. John's. You can see it between where we had lunch and the hotel, at the end of Princes Street. After that, we walked back to the train station to collect our bags and thence to our hotel. That was a little bit of a schlep.

Rowan writes:

We disembark from the Dundee train into a freezing cold Waverley station. It is a bit of a throwback to Victorian times – lots of curly wrought-iron and visions of Isambard Kingdom Brunel and other top-hatted engineering types in taily-coats, extricating oversized burnished pocket-watches to check the times of the trains whistling and coughing out clouds of coal dust and hissing steam. Waverely still holds such ghosts. Incongruous mobile phone ringtones have muted them, and the brash, alien boldness of the ugly fast-food frontispieces. Burger King. Muffins. Oversized cookies with Smarties (M&M's for us from the US)… I can see the Victorians queuing for those – and for Marks and Spencer’s, which somewhat redresses the balance. Get your duck a l’orange sandwich and sugar-free papaya and mango pulp here. And hand-cooked kettle chips with cracked black pepper. So that’s what they are….shavings of cooked hands…

Waverley Station has a frisson of the past, of Old Edinburgh, which is pleasing to a tourist like me. I feel like a tourist – it is so long since I have trodden the cobbles of the capital. It is bitterly cold today. I can feel parts of me which normally never make their presence felt icing over and causing rather spectacular pain when inadvertently brushed against… We decide to get a coffee from the Costa’s stall, as we will be doing a bit of schlepping before lunchtime. I am hoping it is just a little, as I am aware of the signs of impending low blood sugar. I am thinking Rose Street. I am thinking cosy ambient pubs with damask stools and roaring fires, C19 political etchings, flintlocks and musty history books on little shelves…a nice mumble of conversation, and a faint odour of steak pie from the kitchens. Yuuum!

Bob says:

I did not think it was all that cold, but Rowan kept making pathetic little squeaks of distress. She asks me if I don’t think that it is cold, and I admit to some smugness in my tone when I say that I do not think so. However, I am bundled in my nice jacket and scarf. I was a little worried that I was going to be frozen, because where I live it is very, very hot. We wear shorts nine months out of the year.

We stop at the coffee kiosk and Rowan gets a cup of coffee and takes it with her. This is a new behavior ...

Bob says:

Just an aside here -- an interesting cultural difference...

It was funny, but one of the few times I really surprised Rowan was when I ordered a cup of coffee and took it with me. She was clearly having difficulty processing the idea that we would not sit down and drink it, as would civilized people. I felt like I had a whopping case of hustling American-ness. She was polite about it, but I could really tell that the idea was foreign to her. People there seem to have a coffee as a social event. Me? I use coffee for its chemical properties. I did manage to sit down and linger over a cup now and then. And I did not even fidget.

Rowan writes:

Bob – you did very well, not to fidget. I have been giving the whole transatlantic cross-cultural coffee thang a lot of thought. It interests me greatly. What it boils down to is that in the UK, we use coffee as a euphemism for eating cake. We purport to go into a cafe and sit for a quick coffee, but we know it is just a conscience-salving means of approaching the oncoming carb-fest. We are a nation of biscuit and pastry fiends. There was a biscuit advert which summed the whole thing up, "McVites Rich Tea biscuit...a drink's too wet without one."

The coffee has always been a secondary issue over here, because the coffee has been bad. Very bad. Undrinkable. This made it a bit irksome to have to order it at all, but there you go. You can't just go in and order a cake, bold as brass. There are little social dances to be danced.

Well...the recent acquisition of good coffee outlets has changed things. I see people beginning to walk around with big cups made of stiff card, with funny plastic lids with holes, so the coffee doesn't spill. I am intrigued. The coffee is very good. In itself. For itself. An experience which goes beyond the whole cake thing. This is something new, and yes, Bob - you are spot on - I am processing. I am glad to be introduced to good coffee - for itself, and also, because it may mean fewer cakes on the horizon, and my arteries are leaping up and punching the air. (Well, not literally, as that would likely interfere with my at best, dodgy typing.)

Back to Edinburgh ...

Rowan writes:

I find the coffee from Costa's hot and sustaining. Don’t normally drink it on the hoof, but it tastes good to me. It is a very purposeful action, drinking coffee on the hoof – striding forth with gusto and a plan. We are going somewhere fast. That is cool. Meandering is for the rootless and the lost. I am glad to have moved up the social register to belong to the former grouping. I like coffee on the go, then, providing it fits into the legitimate and traditional sit down stops, as an added extra – a bit of culturally diverse je ne sais quoi. I am not too sure about it actually replacing sit down coffee and nosh spots. Just sayin. The jury is out. It may come down on the side of take-out beverages, and then – it may not.

Bob says:
We stood outside for a moment or two, deciding which way to go.

This is the view as we leave the railway station. We decide to walk down to the market that we saw when we were here last week.

This is the building in front of the National Gallery. I forget what it is ...

We pass the National Gallery, which Rowan is keen to see. I am amenable, as I like art galleries. We decide to go tomorrow.

I love architectural details.

We walk past the lovely green park. It is pretty empty, but you can imagine that it is crowded in the summer. We go down the stairs to walk on the sidewalk through the park and then climb up to the street again. We saw a wonderful, massive rough-hewn Nativity scene. I like the fact that there is a Nativity scene in a public place.

Here are some views of the hillside to our left as we walked down Princes Street. The department stores are to our right and the castle is to our left. The leaves are still turning on some of the trees.

This is the view a little closer to the castle. We are walking down Princes Street toward the Church of St. John the Evangelist. This is one of our first views of Edinburgh castle, as seen from Princes Street. I don't know who the statue is of, but I loved this picture.

I don't know how the castle manages to be graceful and massive at the same time, but it does.

The castle looks almost like it is part of the cliff, hunkered down, glowering at anyone rash enough to dare trespass. The sweep of the wall is just wonderful and fluid as it echoes the curve of the cliffs.

This is another view of Edinburgh castle. I liked the sun peeking through the clouds.

Down a ways, there was the small market that we stopped by last week on our way to London. I decided to get the the lovely little celtic crosses that I had seen before, one for each sister. Again, Rowan is a good partner in the important task of picking out souvenirs. She questions me about my choices, which helps me make my decision. The work was nice and the artist was willing to talk about my choices. She also questioned me about where I was from in a friendly manner. I got a nice pendant for my other-mother, as well.

I am torn about getting a Loch Ness Monster Hat for Sam, but decide to pass for now. There is a nice mix of touristy stalls and artisans.
How many places do you find that has a miniature gypsy caravan and fortune teller?

We decide to get lunch, as we are getting cold and hungry. We backtrack to Rose Street.

Rowan writes:

All roads lead to Rose Street when one is hungry. We skirt along the perimeter of Princes Street Gardens for a bit, admiring a lovely large wooden nativity scene set at the entrance to the long green tree-lined walk. It is a movingly simple piece, solid and dignified, the figures modelled from life, it seems, rough-hewn, tender, real.

Rose Street has changed somewhat, and I am a little saddened. The lovely Treasure-Islandy vibe is still there – the sense that on a stormy day, unsalubrious characters in battered tri-corn hats and eye-patches might brush past, bottles of smuggled brandy bulging beneath their coats. That sense is a little diminished. The ghosts are still there, as in Waverley station, but are overlaid by new names for the quaint and quirky little taverns which line the street. Many of them have zappy names now, and even deliberately vulgar ones. Sigh. I do not want to go into an oldy-worldy pub with a newly acquired zappy and up-to-the minute- witty-vulgar name. We choose Oliver’s, as it looks nice from the outside, boasts a good filling lunch for £5, and does not look overly busy. We clomp into the slightly dingy interior, feet echoing over the wooden floorboards.

The choices of meal are fairly traditional, and we have steak pie and chips, and soup. The meal is hot and flavoursome. There are sports jerseys framed on the walls of the bar – it suggests a men’s no-frills watering-hole, but it is quiet at lunchtime, and the fare passes muster. The barman and his crony try not to watch us with a little idle curiosity as they go about their tasks. I am sensing that they do not do a lot of serving food to passing female tourists, though they are set up for passing lunch trade. I don’t get the impression here that you could have a casual chat with the staff, but that is fine. It is a nice no-nonsense eatery.

Bob says:
I admit that I am pleased to be getting a traditional pub lunch. I can tell that it does not meet Shoshana's vision of damask armchairs, bookshelves, and a roaring fire, as it is clearly a sports pub, but she makes the best of it. There are music videos playing and then a popular soap opera. I can't remember if it was Australian or not. The prices (for the UK) are reasonable, and the food is good. The potato-leek soup tasted homemade and was served with nice crusty bread. The steak pie and chips were yummy. The steak pie is not exactly what I was expecting -- but I am not sure exactly what I was thinking that steak pie would taste like. Maybe like a beef pot pie? It is cooked with Guinness and has a nice rich taste. I was not expecting a puff-pastry crust. Rowan lifts hers off, but I like mine -- little shards of pastry explode when I break it with my spoon.

Er. What monkey?

The salad was less yummy. It had some sort of creamy dressing that looked suspicious. Please note the presence of the the tomato ketchup (Rowan calls ketchup "tomato ketchup", as if there is any other kind) and the brown sauce. I still have not figured out what brown sauce is, exactly. I It is interesting. You can also see our little Edinburgh map, which was really invaluable. I am not sure why the font is seventies-groovy with rainbow stripes, but it is.

This is a view down Rose Street. It is a nifty, narrow street. We step into a silversmith's shop, but I don't see anything that I like better than the crosses from the market. And yes, it is getting a little cold, I admit. But not too bad.

Rowan writes:

After lunch, we wend our way back to Princes Street, and Bob takes photos of some of the lovely old buildings we pass on our journey in the general direction of our hotel.

This is not one of the lovely buildings that Rowan was talking about, but I liked the names of the towns and the rather confusing sign. It is not a four way stop in the US sense.

Rowan writes:
There is a beautiful ornate Celtic cross, sitting almost in the clasp of overhanging wraithlike tree branches, stroking the delicate interlace of the stone as they shiver in the wind. It is an austere and beautiful scene.

"Built in 1818, St John's Church stands at the west end of Princes Street, on the corner of Lothian Road. It's the only building on Princes Street permitted to obscure the view to the castle as, during its construction, an Act of Parliament was passed to prevent any further development there. The neo-Gothic windows of St John's are among its most striking features, dating from the Victorian revival period of glass-making techniques."

This is the view as we approach the church. Note the rowan tree with its lovely red berries. St John's is in the diocese of Edinburgh of the Scottish Episcopal Church. The Scottish Episcopal Church had its origins in 1582 when the national Church of Scotland rejected government by bishops (which is episcopalian) in favor of government by elders (which is presbyterian). Who knew? I feel a little less ignorant. Slightly.

This is a view of one of the church yards as we approached. You can imagine it in summer, but I like the cold, clear winter sun. I think it is beautiful.

The finished church was consecrated on Maundy Thursday, 19 March 1818. St John's was designed by the eminent architect, William Burn. I got that from a website, as I don't know what Maundy Thursday is.

Rowan writes:

St John’s church is an imposing edifice, set out on its own – built up a little from the street, or it feels that way – it has a fine soaring sense about it. You can tell even from outside that it is going to be spectacular.

I am happy, because I have faint memories of being in here before, many years ago – too many to recall any details, but just to be left with the feeling that it is a truly fine place to see.

Bob says:
We take a left down the sidewalk, looking for the entrance. Across the yard, we see rows of what look like headstones.

We wander amongst the walls and headstones, absorbing the atmosphere. I wondered what the building with the red door was. Rowan did not know either. She is funny, because sometimes I ask a question and she looks as baffled as I am and other times, she has massive amounts of obscure information at her fingertips. I just never know.

This is a view of the castle from the sidewalk by the church -- the clouds had cleared and I could not resist the sunlight.

I turned and saw a unexpected little courtyard.

Rowan writes:
Bob is keen to photograph the unusual little nooks she sees, to creep in behind buildings and snap vistas which would normally go unnoticed by passers-by.

One such vignette is a tiny and very aged corner of an ancient graveyard, at the left of St John’s church, set several steps down from street level, and made invisible by a knot of overgrown hazel and holly. Stone plaques are set against an old wall, and amongst the drab greys of the stone and tangled and untended vegetation, a heart-warming sight – a lovely winter cherry, stippled with a snowstorm of white blossom, sitting demurely within the little microcosmic wilderness, so still and forgotten, just yards from the busy modern world above.

It is one of those scenes which I know that I will never forget. The blossom was like a promise, the shivering white flowers, little points of snow, yet alive, spiritual, glorious. I had a sense of intruding here, that it would be alright to peep, but souls rested here, and peace was here – a blessed little nook, and me, worldly and unworthy of the old stones and the little hardy tree.

This picture is one of my favorites -- I don't know why. There is something braw and jaunty about the splash of red amidst the gray and copper and green.

We walk into the church and are stunned into silence.

Rowan writes:

We step inside the church, and at once, let out a gasp at the gloriousness of the architecture, the stunning stained glass windows – the high vaulted ceiling with the most wonderful chrysanthemum relief – the picture says more than mere words ever can.

It is a narrow church, the white colonnades on either side rush the senses and the spirit aloft – it is not a place you want to leave. The sense of peace is a tangible thing. It is so inexpressibly lovely, and yet dignified. I want to prolong my time in here as long as possible. I feel like expressing the bubbling joy at being in such a wonderful place, want time to stand still for me, just a little. The stained glass is beyond perfection. I am a stained glass geek, I admit it, but this is entrancing. OOOh! I see that there is an afternoon service on Wednesdays, and wonder if we might manage to come back.

Even the floors are carefully wrought.

The panels depict Solomon supervising the beginning of the building of the temple, Jesus as the good shepherd, and the miraculous catch of fish. At the bottom, John the Baptist baptizes Jesus.

The stained glass is just breath-taking. St John's has one of the finest collections of stained glass in Scotland. All of the windows were removed, cleaned, and restored from 1985 to 1995.

One of the most striking features of the church is the plaster ceiling vault, which was inspired by King Henry VII's chapel in Westminster Abbey, London. I remember glancing up idly and being amazed. Speechless, I poked Rowan to get her attention. All I could do was gesture upward. We just stared at it in silence. There are times when all you can do is shake your head.

As you stand in the aisle, this is to your left. I liked the fairy look of the chandelier. One of the things that I like best about stained glass windows is that each tells a story. I imagine myself sitting during services, memorizing each panel. The colors are just extraordinary -- the richness and depth is just hard to believe.

You can't really see it, but the cross is a nice contrast -- against the elegant arched plaster and the jeweled glass, the plain wood looks slightly rough.

This is the window in the North Aisle.The panels depict Solomon laying the foundation of the Temple, David handing over the design of the Temple to Solomon, and the priests placing the Ark of the Covenant in the oracle.

This is the view facing the back of the church. I have learned that one should always take a few pictures with clocks in them, so that you have a rough estimation of when you were.

My eyes return to the ceiling again and again -- it is like being filled to the brim with beauty. It is lush, abundant, extravagant.

I loved the carvings at the end of the pews. I wonder how many hands have curved around the edges.

Again, I am irresistibly reminded of Christmas presents. It is a nice contrast between what looks to be hand-worked covers and the ornate interior. The colors are faded with the pressure of many knees.

Rowan writes:

It is getting dark already – we have been in St John’s church for an hour at least. We tear ourselves away, and explore the little bookshop on the pend running below the church, and meeting the path on the way out of Princes St gardens. It is a lovely little church bookshop, warmly lit, and with a nice atmosphere. There are lots of interesting little artefacts, as well as books – carved wooden crosses and Christmas angels. I think that I would like to come back again before we go.

Bob says:

We walked out, down and around the church -- we went into the bookstore and browsed. There were calendars with cute Highland cattle and icons, and thistles, and greeting cards. Next door, there was a book store, and I looked at the bargain books outside on the cart. We considered going into the church coffee shop, but decided against it.

I thought that the church was just beautiful. Inside and out. There was a timelessness in the exterior -- I loved the subtle colors of the stonework against the richness of the green grass and the delicate tracery of the rowan-tree branches, hazed with red berries. And the interior was truly glorious -- you sort of stagger out, glutted with color and light and the sense of vaulted space. It takes a moment to reorient to the here and now as you step out to one of the busiest intersections in Edinburgh.

We set off to collect our luggage at the station and after, to find our hotel. Next, we will be stravaigin through the dark streets of Edinburgh. It is just as beautiful at night.