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!)


rowan said...

Dr Bob - the pics are lovely! The one looking down over the skating rink in Princes Street Gardens is my fave. The juxtaposition with the Breugel painting is fab. I wonder what he would have thought of the sensory banquet afforded visitors to Princes Street in the run-up to Christmas? I would love to know, but my mediaeval Flemish is rusty. So is my modern German, which was useful in preventing me from ordering vast amounts of high cholesterol continental sausagey things to eat whilst schlepping. Letting your languages lapse saves calories!

Oooh, that pakora looks fell braw. It often comes with a dressing, a sort of hot chunky tomatoey stuff in a little tub. A cold dressing might be nice, though. There is a yoghurty cucumbery dressing you can also get with it. I will search out the name, if I can. Yuuumeeeee!!

Dr. Bob said...

hey rowan!

yeah -- I am very pleased with how the night pictures came out. The skating rink one is very nice, and I like the long shot with the ferris wheel and the lights from the traffic and the full moon.

(no more talk of chicken pakora -- we don't have it in the US... at least not handy.)

Sheena said...

I have seen Edinburgh zillions of times but never appreciated how lovely it is. Well done weary travellers! You have really brought the city to life for me. The photographs are terrific and the text is really informative and detailed, and amusing too! Thanks for providing such a memorable eye-opener. I will look at things in a new light next time I go.

bamaborntxbred said...

Hey y'all...It's going to take awhile for me to read the entire post (b/c I'm actually working today)...but I quickly wanted to say that I was in a store today that carries novelty food from around the world and I noticed a section of Cadbury chocolates. I wanted to ask Rowan what I should buy to get the best of the best. Now I know I need to get a Crunchie (which I came very close to buying w/o the advice) what else? I also saw Turkish Delight and thought of buying that too....

rowan said...

Bama - this is can I pare down my imaginary Cadbury banquet? Would definitely go for the Crunchie and the Turkish Delight. The Fruit and Nut chocolate is a fave of mine, as is the Caramel bar. Oooh, and the Chocolate Flake is nice too! I like the Milky Bar, and there is a very sweet but very fab bar called Caramac. It is a caramel flavoured chocolate, in, I think (Rowan assumes the pretence of being unsure) a red wrapper with caramel coloured writing.

I can't think of anything they make that I don't like, so would suggest you just delve in with impunity. Enjoy! Be sure and tell us which was your fave!

Dr. Bob said...

Welcome to the blogverse!!

I hope you are well. Did you like the videos of Lena? I did love Edinburgh and am very glad that you liked the write up. It is a wonderful city.

Bama, Rowan bought the kids some Turkish Delight, and we were all a little iffy. Cadbury is great, though.

Thanks for coming by. I am so glad that you come and say hey.

rowan said...

Dr Bob - I'm truly sorry to say thst the turkish delight you took home was not what we would usually think of as the real McCoy. It was a sort of reconstruction of what passed for turkish delight in Victorian times...a twee Christmassy offering from a supermarket. The bona fide untraditional and irresistible variety comes in a bar and is smothered in choccy!

Bama - if the turkish delight comes in a purple wrapper, go for it, girl!

rowan said...

Dr Bob...I have learned my lesson about grabbing last minute comestibles in Station shops. I didn't eat my historical turkish delight either. Ma ee wiz bigger than ma belly! (That's a saying we have for getting something to eat that you couldn't finish.)

rowan said...

Bama - the boxes and tins of chocolates are well worth checking out! Whoo hoo!

bamaborntxbred said...

Rowan- we say purt near the same thing: "My eyes were bigger than my stomach". Which is the definition of my life...luckily it's not LITERAl...b/c then my eyeballs would be hugemongous like mah belly.

The Turkish D was definitely in a purple wrapper...I'm fer sure getting some of that. I have to know what little Edmund lusted after in The L,W&W.

I'll let y'all know what I decide to sample. Wonder if it's bad to buy all of it and eat it all at the same know, in the name of research and all...

I'm sorry I haven't been around these parts much in the last couple of weeks. My brain is fried right now and it takes all I can to remember MB and my email.

Just wait til I get back from stravaigin aboot in Nola! That'll be some fun talk, huh?

Dr. Bob said...

Bama! Good to see you! I have not been on MB much this week -- been working loooong days. Today was not too bad, only 14 hours ... 9_9

I am on pins and needles about NOLA -- how great! Let me know about the Turkish Delight ...

rowan said...

Aww, Dr Bob - 14 hours! Yeesh! You are going to need a Turkish D transfusion from a a Cadbury cannula, to provide the energy required to handle such lengthy working days. O_o

Hey - a pakora protein bar - how does that sound? Perhaps we ought to go into business!

rowan said...

Bama - yep, according to the professional chocolate researchers' Hypoglycaemic Oath, you have to swear to sample all candy scenarios, in order to make accurate recommendations. :D

Looking forward very much to hearing all about NOLA! Yay!

nyzjp said...

Thanks Dr Bob! I like the videos of Lena very much. You're doing a great job!

Sheena said...

Sorry, that was me!

Dr. Bob said...

Sheena, you fell prey to the dreaded verification curse -- we have all done it at least once.

I am glad that you liked the videos. I wish that I had realized how nifty my camera is -- I would have taken more videos, for sure!

The Lass said...

I love the pictures and the combo of both your and Rowans comments!

A mom in the 'burbs said...

I have loved peering through all the fun places you have gone! I feel a bit like a mouse in your pocket. :)

Must comment on the Crunchie bar--they were my all-time favorite when I lived in East Africa. I can feel that initial crunch when your teeth have sunk past the chocolate and encounter the sweet honeycomb. Mmmmmm...the chunk breaks off and the sugar hits your tongue, followed by a carmelly flavor and the melting chocolate...oh, I must find a Crunchie bar!!!

Sits With A Crunchie said...

Ah, a fellow aficionado! your description captures the essence of Crunchie perfection admirably. Would be delighted to send some if you like :D

rowan said...

That was me...and I am sitting with a tin of "Tuna Light Lunch." Sigh.