Thursday, May 10, 2007

Back to Edinburgh

Friday in Edinburgh in which we ...

... revisit St. Giles

... enjoy lunch al fresco

... and wander the darkened streets

(guess the mystery food to the right for bonus points!)

The goal for today is to get out early and get going. It is my last day in Scotland, and I am eager to get back to Edinburgh. It is a lovely city – ancient to its bones. Rowan and I get out early enough and this time we are not hampered by bags or suitcases and are a little fleeter of foot. We have a quick breakfast and get on the bus to town. Once again, we are taking the train in. This is the station at Dundee.

We are going to have to wait for the train, and we look over the newspapers, as I hope to take back some suitably trashy ones for my daughter. She does love a good low-brow magazine – but I am still taken a little bit aback by the page three girls. We avoid those with page three girls. I decided to get the reading material on the way back so that I don’t have to haul it all around Edinburgh.

This is the view looking back at the stairs as you come into the station. What I notice, from an American point of view, is the very small-town feel. It is not what you would expect from a largish city in the US -- but I very much like it.

We get seats and it is slightly less freezing inside. You can see the glow from what I think might be a heater there on the right. If it is a heater, the warmth must be nestled against the ceiling, as it is quite bracing at the seat level.

I observe the sort of art-deco curves and look for a good architectural angle. I liked the colors – red, black, and ivory. There are little wires (to discourage birds from perching, I think) and it takes me a while to get a picture that does not look like a porcupine. In doing this, I lose my seat and we have to spend the rest of the wait on our feet. Rowan is sort of glowering at me, but I put on a “what?” face and keep taking pictures. I try to occupy myself by observing and not looking completely like a tourist. Fat chance, I would say, as the local folks watch me – I have the impression that they are watching out of boredom, not any real interest. They are probably trying to conserve body heat.

This is the first time that we have had to wait for a train, but at least we were able to get to the platform with no difficulty (the first time we tried this, we ended up on the wrong platform and almost missed the train. The train is coming in about twenty minutes and we alternate between inside (with no seats) and outside (freezing metal benches). You can see Rowan heading off determinedly for a bench. I time it to see how long I can tolerate the metal benches and find that about thirty seconds into a session my hinder is just about frozen. There is time to get a cup of coffee in the little kiosk in the station, and (sorry to say) the only thing that really recommended it was that it was hot. I think that people in the UK do not generally put half and half in their coffee, and I have to ask for some milk for mine. The long-suffering clerk rummages around and finds a little pint. The cup keeps my hands warm and I can feel it going down. Once outside, I spy a used newspaper and offer half to Rowan. I sat on mine, recalling all of my reading about survival in extreme weather conditions, where they tell you to stuff newspapers in your clothes for insulation.

For some reason, we are able to get really nice seats -- I think that we were sitting in first class or something, but we ask and given permission to sit there. We are comfy and settle back for the ride. I watch the River Tay recede into the distance for the last time.

The countryside is now familiar to me. I feel a little nostalgic, knowing that this is the last time I will see it, at least on this trip. When we come back, it will be dark. I know that you have seen some of these views before, but it is still nice to see the lovely scenery as we go by. I am trying to archive as much as I can, as it will be bare and brown at home.

I don't know why I like this shot, but I do. The gentleman does not look especially Scottish, as far as I can say (and I am not sure what that would look like anyway). I just liked his face. He looks like an apparition, floating disembodied .

Once again, we come across the Firth of Forth, and I think that I actually get a nice shot this time.

There are two bridges, one for the train and one for cars.

This is the first time that I realize that we are going along the backside of the airport. It looks small. I will be flying out of here tomorrow, and I feel a little impatience to be home.

At Haymarket ...

And to Waverly Station.

Rowan writes:

Friday is to be the last day of our Stravaig. I capitalize it, because it has been capital, and in capitals. This is nicely metaphysical. We are going back to Edinburgh before Bob leaves tomorrow. She is keen to revisit St Giles, as am I, and to explore the city further.

It is a bitterly cold day – I feel parts of me which don’t normally complain about the weather making their presence felt and threatening to break off in the sudden drop in temperature. Waverley station is a very cold place. We spot a Costa’s Coffee outlet and I get a nice hot cappuccino to go. Bob isn’t overly keen on it, but it is at least warm.

Bob says:
We alight and decide to go to the Christmas market first and then to Cockburn street up to St. Giles.

Rowan writes:

Our first stop is the Christmas market, which is still stretched out along the rim of Princes street gardens like the mulberry frill on a Christmas cake, brimming with little favours and garnished with a rich smell of rum punch, bratwurst and bratkartoffeln. Sausage and fried potatoes just does not sound as good.

The Italians the French…heck, even the Germans have a bold syntactical context for the wares they are expediting and exporting to us. The sturdy no-nonsense German monikers uphold and reflect the staunch solidity of the heartwarming snacks on offer on the little stalls. I am kind of keen to eat a bratwurst, and to buy a portion of bratkartoffeln in a little white paper carton. The reason I don’t is because the combination of smells is slightly odd, frying meat mixed with the cloying fumes of the punch, and because I am shy of asking for some, and because Bob doesn’t seem tempted, and I don’t want to mention being in need of comestible intake before she does. Goodness knows why. Perhaps because every hundred yards would elicit a sitty-doon carb–fest, if the itinerary were up to the little greed pixie jumping up and down on my shoulder and pouring sweet nothings into my ever receptive ear. I buy a sneaky bar of tablet, which is a sort of hardish Scottish fudge and the best pancreas workout know to woman after Edinburgh rock. For some strange reason, it doesn’t seem to have the same appeal to men.

We wander up and down on the bouncy rubber matting which acts as a walkway between the stalls and examine the wares. There are a couple of booths selling celtic crosses and Bob wants one for her birthday. I am attracted by the work of a chatty jewellery maker who has some very detailed and pretty little crosses on her stall. Choosing takes a little thought, and she chats on as we hum and haw over which particular cross would be most suitable. Bob finds a lovely little cross for herself. They come in little crinkly bags which I am coveting, but which I know would just end up stuffed in one of my “drawers of doom.” I am very tempted to buy one, but am afflicted by a sudden tsunami of mean-ness or justifiable austerity and resist. I am the sort of person that has to walk around the thing I am deciding to buy at least three times, hop from foot to foot and generally dither so much that the salesperson starts to think they have a nut job on their hands. Making quick decisions would not be a talent I could honestly inscribe on a curriculum vitae.

Bob says:

Cockburn Street wends its way up to the Royal Mile and is full of interesting little shops. Rowan sees one place that she used to buy hippie-ish type togs at – it is now a trendy shop filled with tartan minis and fishnet stockings. I could probably wear a shirt as an arm warmer. It is trash pick-up day and that is why there are bags of trash out. Edinburgh is sparkling clean.

It looks medieval, doesn't it?

We stop in a little antique shop that Rowan remembers from years ago. I sort through a pile of old coins, finding sixpences and some shillings and florins. And a half-crown. I know that my husband will like these and get him and the kids a nice assortment.

I liked the round corner on this building as we walked up the street.

If you do not remember, St. Giles' Catheral is about 900 years old, and it a working parish church of the Church of Scotland. I like that they still have services there. St. Giles was the patron saint of lepers and cripples. Technically, it is not a cathedral at all, but a high kirk. The oldest parts of the building (including the massive internal pillars) date back to 1120 or 1130, depending on what you read. Last time, we came in the back entrance, and this time we walked around the building and found the proper entrance. There is a neat bookstore and gift shop that we decide to look through later. For a pound, you buy a little sticker that allows you to take unlimited pictures.

Caveat number one: I am going to say that my pictures do not in any way do justice to their subject. The interior is just breathtaking.

Caveat number two: I was going to not show the videos that I took, because I am embarrassed at how bad they are. They are realllllyyy bad. I was going to try to justify why they came out so bad, but words fail me. I will explain the problem. I held the camera wrong and everything is pretty much sideways. I don't know what to say. If you want to watch them, turn your head or your monitor. I am sorry that I am a complete idiot. If you get vertigo, skip them... Now back to the stravaig.

Rowan writes:

After exploring the market, we head towards St Giles. The light is wonderful today – we have really done the right thing in coming back during the brighter part of the day.

The interior is still hushed, shadowy and solemn,

but the stained-glass windows are glorious and are backlit and breathtaking.

Entering St Giles is like entering the mouth of a vast cave, full of unexpected carvings,

heavily ornate,

but as natural as stalagmites worn into complex whorls by aeons of subterranean raindrops.

It is intricately Gothic,

but as perfect as an outsized redwood tree in expressing its purpose by the very nature of its existence. Powerful, organic, unique.

We spend a long time admiring the beauty of the windows,

the carved buttresses and friezes, and just listening to our footfalls, and offering up quiet prayers.

Bob says:
Here are some of the shots of the interior, in no particular order.

This is a little closer view so that you can see the detail a little better.

This window looked almost monochrome, but the colors were beautiful -- that rich crimson that is so deep that you expect your fingers to come away wet after touching it.

Again, I wish that I could know the history behind each carving and nook.

Here are just a few examples of the stained glass windows. This is just a hint of the beauty of the real thing. It was rather dark in the sanctuary.

Rowan writes:

The organist begins to play, and the music swells and fills the cathedral.

It is a real treat, and very moving. I notice a little nook where people can come and light candles and pray, the flames are flickering golden in the soft gloom of the little alcove, and I stop and light six candles and pray for a little child who went to God six years ago that very day.

Bob says:

Rowan and I have drifted apart. I stop and light candles for my children and pray for them, and for Rowan's two. The blaze of the candles in the dim interior is a powerful image, and I am reminded of the Light of the World.

I am very grateful for my children. They are healthy and happy, and I do not take them for granted. Each is an undeniable presence in the world. But in a place like this, you are struck by the idea of time and that your own time on this earth is limited. Even as I light the candles, I am aware of time passing, and have a glimpse of the fact that my children may have children, and so one, stretching down the years. I will be a memory, perhaps a piece of family history, after my time is passed. This building, in some form, has been around for twenty of my lifetimes. I feel a little like a candle -- briefly flaring bright.

A young Scandinavian couple stop and light candles and stand in silence for a moment. I wonder what they are praying for.

We have been in St. Giles' for a couple of hours. I catch a glimpse of Rowan, sitting quietly. This picture was originally very dark, but I lightened it a little so that you could see the details in the stone walls.

I wander around and try to get a couple of other shots, as we will be leaving soon.

This is a picture of the pulpit (I think). I am struck again by how different this is from any church I have ever been in. I think of my pastor who often sits on a stool at the front of the church with nothing but a book stand for his Bible.

It is different here. What I am seeing was meant to endure. That is probably one of the largest differences between this place and other places that I have been. This is a place that intended to stand and to be a testament. I don't think that churches in the US are meant to stand for a hundred years. They are comfortable and efficient and welcoming, but they have no presence.

This place does. It is solemn, but not somber. There is a stern, soaring beauty here.

As most of the old churches that I have seen, this is a place for remembrance. The interior walls are covered with plaques commemorating those who have passed away.

I liked this memorial to the Marquess of Argyll.

The inscription reads:

“Archibald Campbell, Marquess of Argyll. Beheaded near this Cathedral AD 1661. Leader in Council and in Field for the reformed religion.

“I set the Crown on the King’s Head. He hastens me to a better Crown than his own.”


This is the floor. The colors are strikingly different than those in the rest of the cathedral

This bronze of Robert Louis Stevenson is seven feet by seven feet. Amazing.

Here is another alcove that I wandered into.

It was lovely in this one. There was a chest under the carving and I had to stop myself from opening the drawers. That would have been a bit hard to explain when all of the alarms went off.

I do love stained glass windows (as you probably have guessed), and it is so sumptuous that I think that I am glutted.

It should be overwhelming, but, curiously, it is not. Perhaps because each glorious whole is made up of smaller and smaller details that are more comprehensible. I feel a little dazed and drunk by now, and I turn around to look where I have been walking, half-expecting to see little smears of cobalt, emerald, and crimson for footprints.

Rowan says:

We drift into the gift shop and admire the beautiful pieces on display. The shop is staffed by cheerful and knowledgeable elderly ladies, answering questions about the wares, but not otherwise interfering in our browse. They have a lovely range of Icons, and I stand for some time, transfixed by the paintings, the colours and expressions, swithering over which ones to choose. Finally, I make up my mind, and Bob is looking at the heavy facsimiles of Celtic crosses stacked in a nook close to the shelf of glistening icons in their livery of gold, red and blue. We examine them closely – the choice is difficult, but she makes it with a very dignified lack of dithering.

Bob says:

I wanted to get something for my in-laws and this was the place to be. I found what I was looking for. Rowan and I carefully evaluated each cross and statue until I found the right one. I wanted to get Rowan a book on the stained glass windows and shooed her out of the gift shop. I told her to meet me outside. She was a bit slow to be shooed, and the gift shop ladies clearly had little experience in people trying to surprise other people, because they were not at all surreptitious. At all. Anyway, I made my purchases and went out to find Rowan.

She was not there. Don't ask me where she went, but she was not there. I say this, not to embarrass her, but to note just how quickly one can go from a state of exaltation to utter irritation. I walked out of the cathedral, fully expecting to find Rowan. I did not. I looked around the side of the building ...

... taking a moment to enjoy the architecture.

And then I go back to the entrance.

And then I walked down the street, wondering if she went to the other end of the building by mistake. She is not there.

I walk back.

And take a picture of these neat bricks set in the sidewalk. The dates are 1610, 1386, 1430.

And look back at the entrance.
She is still not there. I am baffled as to where she could have gone. I clearly said "I'll meet you outside". I could feel myself getting irritated. And maybe a little worried.

So, I walk back down the street, admiring the light and the shadow against the buildings across the way. After longer than you want to know, I finally found her. I can't remember where she was, which is pretty funny. Suffice it to say, that it took numerous trips in and out of the gift shop and cathedral and around the building a couple of times. I was so relieved to finally find her that I did not throttle her. Or even scold her -- I might have muttered a bit, though.

Rowan writes:

We are in need of lunch, and Bob is keen to experiment with some more of our traditional artery-hardening foodstuffs. The stravaig back to the fish and chip shop we visited on Wednesday is a short one, and we are met by the familiar heady aroma of forbidden and glorious foods.

Golden battered fillets of haddock line up alongside white puddings, battered sausages and black puddings, portions of haggis, pakora and da – da- duuum…the piece de resistance to be named in hushed tones, or only partly alluded to in darkened rooms …the deep fried Mars Bar.

I have never eaten one, though some folks must – it is a sort of ironic backlash food, a Scottish, “Aye, right so you want healthy eatin? Ah’ll gie ye healthy eatin’.” The outcome is as dangerous as the attitude which hove it into being. The deep-fried Mars Bar. Its fame has gone before it. It may not have physically bobbed over the teeming waters of the Atlantic ocean, but its reputation has clearly arrived.

When we place our large order of pakora, haggis and fish and chips and white pudding (for research samplage only :D) the fryer does not bat an eye, but we stop him dead in his tracks by mention of the BIG one. The other customers exchange knowing looks with solemn faces in a sort of awed silence. I feel as if we had ordered fugu, and are about to risk all in the skill of the chef, paring away the poisoned bits and giving us our platter of harmless pufferfish. The Deep Fried Mars Bar….we have stepped up to the tape.

The strapping frying fellow unwraps a Mars bar, dips it in batter and drops it into the boiling fat. I make some sort of insubstantial allusion to Bob about it being Scots version of baked Alaska. When done, he lifts the offering on a big wire spoon, and sets it in its traditional wrappings of greasproof paper, then newspaper. We pay, and leave the shop, clutching out warm offerings and looking for a place to sit and sample them. We sit and inspect the goodies whilst looking down a steep narrow pend, winding deep into the heart of unexplored Edinburgh.

It is fairly cold – the air is still, and the aroma of yummy fried fare coils into the air before us. We dig into our haggis first – it tastes okay, but it is not like the haggis you would have served in a restaurant, or buy to cook at home – that would have a crumbly texture. The deep-fried haggis in batter is a sort of squooshed and concentrated billiard ball, reminiscent of haggis, but not quite. I am hoping Bob will suspend judgement on haggis, kooked as it is in this aberrant manner. I have mis-spelt cooked, but the typo somehow is somehow fitting.

The other wares are yummy enough representations of their genres, until we come to the white pudding.

I turn with a little trepidation to my white pudding supper. I have been caught-out before, in Edinburgh, with this wonderfully hot and hearty Scottish fare. White pudding suppers, or mealie puddings, as they are more colloquially named, will nestle in their wad of newspaper, giving off the most heart–meltingly awesome aroma. White pudding suppers are irresistible, or they ought to be. They ought to be fragrant golden sausages of deep fried oatmeal and onions, covered in a chewy batter, augmentable with vinegar and brown sauce. Whoo hoo! White pudding suppers are the urban Scots antidote to all known ills, as they stop you feeling anything. As Pink Floyd would say, we “have become comfort-bly numb” as they just weigh a person down so much. A quick antidote to daily stresses. A guaranteed ‘cheer-me-up’.

Like all cheer-me-ups, though, prescribed or otherwise, they have discernible side effects. Pop – there goes my jeans button. Oww – my left arm hurts. White pudding suppers are representative of the “live now, die just a wee bit later” Scottish response to life which sends governments into huge amounts of spending on prophylactic health advertising. They wonder why nobody listens, and the Coronary Care wards are still overflowing. They should just eat one and see. A white pudding may take a year off your life, but it is worth it.

Nevertheless, the Edinburgh council may have unintentionally hit upon the answer. The fish n’ chip shops of Edinburgh use ( da da duuum) pearl barley instead of oatmeal. Pearl barley! (Leans against wall and waits for the blackness to subside.) Barley is for soup. Pearl barley is gloopy and slimy, and there is a ‘cod-eye convention’ quality to the white pudding I am dis-chuffedly munching. I am eating it, but I am not happy. I am wishing I had a REAL white pudding for Bob to try, and me too…I would only have given her a small piece (glances selfishly about and hides imaginary mealie pudding under coat.)

Bob says:

We walked down the street to get lunch. We walked into the same shop we went to last week and ordered a veritable feast. Rowan was nervous when I started taking pictures, as she was sure that the owners would think that we were from the Health Department (but I think that she said the Health Ministry or something Scottish like that). I am fine with people thinking that I am from the Health Department. It improves the chance that someone, somewhere, will wash their hands.

The long thingies in the front are white puddings and there are black puddings right behind them. And I don't think that you want to know what is in a black pudding. I sure didn't. In case you cannot read the back row, from left to right are deep fried chicken fillets, chop steak, kingrib and, oh there are deep-fried cheeseburgers. I did not want to even ask. The squarish things to the extreme right are haggis. Deep-fried haggis is so amazingly stereotypically Scottish, that I must try one. I get lovely fish and chips and the appropriate amount of salt and vinegar are added. The counter-guy sprinkles on some salt, pauses and waits for me to signal him to stop. I don't and he keeps shaking. Mmmm ... perfect.

We walk down the street, bags steaming gently in the afternoon air, as the shop has no seating, except for some metal chairs stacked against the wall. We find a lamppost with a cement base that is big enough for us to sit at. Rowan unwraps the haggis and ceremoniously breaks it in half.

She offers me half.

I take a bite.

It is interesting, I would say. Meaty and a little starchy from the oatmeal. Some onions. Nice. Not great. Not bad. I would eat it again. It could grow on me. But the fish and chips are great. Salty and vinegary. The chips are yummy, too. Mmmmm.

Inexplicably, Rowan has brought along small plastic cups and a diet coke from home. I had looked at her askance earlier, but it turns out to be just the ticket. She pours us each a little in our plastic children's mugs.

As we lunch, we look down the other side of the street. It is peculiarly pleasant, sitting on a city street, eating food that is probably really bad for us, sharing a soda and watching the world go by.

I finish my fish, but not the chips, because Rowan has broken out the chicken pakora. (Red is nature's way of saying, "Hot!")

Mmmmm. Chicken pakora ...

This is a picture of our picnic table.

Okay, now what you don't know is that Rowan gave me more than one hard look when I said that I was getting a deep-fried mars bar. I told her that it was not negotiable, because the first thing that my 13-year-old son was going to ask me was, "Did you eat a deep-fried mars bar?" And I was going to have to 'splain myself if I had not. Rowan did not find it funny. I did. She was torn between long-suffering and a sense of national insult -- sort of miffed that Scots cuisine has been reduced to a food that most of them would not touch with a ten-foot-pole.

Note the cute little fork. Not sure exactly what to use it for, but it is cute.


Okay, you ask what it is like. Hot. Melty. Good. Not to die for, but exactly how far wrong can you go with deep-fried anything, particularly chocolate? An adventure, if nothing else, and a fitting end to a lamppost picnic. As I bite into it, there are no almonds, which reminds me that Mars bars in Scotland are more like Milky Ways than the ones here.

We set off again, just wandering around, trying to burn off a calorie or two.

You can see the sun setting against the buildings.

Rowan writes:

After eating, we ponder what to go on and explore. Time is marching on. There is an interesting looking charity-shop on the Royal Mile behind us, and we wachle across the road to have a closer look. I love charity shops, and find it physically painful to pass one without going in. Guess that makes me some sort of sad second-hand clothes addict. Rarely wear the product of my forays, but sometimes, one strikes gold. Yep – intermittent reinforcement – the chance of striking gold – I have been sucked into the maelstrom of the charity shop casino, and am compelled to gambol in for a gamble. I have a strong boot vibe come upon me. My boot radar is going off loudly, and I know Bob is after a pair.

It is an expensive charity shop. I see a nice embroidered Cherokee denim skirt, and go try it on. It is too big, but I am still going to buy it, cos there is always the strong chance that I am going to put on weight and fit it properly. Bob takes a pragmatic view of proceedings and tells me it is too big and to save my £4.50 for something I am not just going to chuck into my wardrobe of the unworn.

Bob sees a few interesting items. Like me, she seems to have an eye for the good things in such places. She spots a very nice military beret for her teenage son, and then comes over to inspect a great pair of caterpillar ankle boots on the shoe shelf. She tries them on and they fit her very well and are very edgy. They cost heaps new, so I am chuffed. Bob whips out her camera and photographs the boots on her feet, before taking them to the counter to pay. I am smiling at her efficiency, and can see the picture in my mind’s eye. I resolve to get a new digital camera and become equally photo-happenin.

Outside, it is becoming gloamy.

It is after four o’clock already, and our chances of making it to Holyrood Palace are growing ever slimmer. I feel increasingly guilty that Bob has not had the opportunity to visit the historic site, but then, I am pretty sure I haven’t been round the palace either. Think I went once as a student but was put off by the entry fee. Bob has picked up a leaflet in the charity shop detailing a “charity shop trail” where you can do a sort of second-hand clothes crawl around the Royal mile.

Bob says:

As we walk, we see John Knox's house, and I have one of those moments when history hits you right in the noggin. It just sort of sinks in -- this is where John Knox lived. My husband would be thrilled to see this, and I take a picture, just for him.

And a little more closely so that you can see what it says.

And the corner of the building. It is lovely.

We walk a little more and I pick up some souvenirs for my co-workers and a scarf for my husband at one of the many little shops along the Royal Mile. Rowan considers some shortbread for a Certain Monkbot. I have actually taken care of everyone on my list. As we near the end of the street, I catch a glimpse of Holyrood Palace. I will get there next time, but it is out of reach for tonight.

There are little alleyways off the the main drag. They are very narrow, and I cannot help but think of how old they are. Um ... I think that they are called pends. Or closes. I thought that it said North Gray's Close, but I think it is Cray, not Gray. On further consideration, it would have said Grey, not Gray. (Sorry, Gray!, but I did think of you.)

I had to look this up, but a pend is an arch and an alley is a close. This is the sign over a close -- note the pend!

The streets are getting dark, and we are going to walk up toward, I think, Nicholson Street (is that right, Rowan?).

Rowan writes:

We can do the charity shops, or do a mad schlep to catch the last half-hour of Holyrood Palace, before it closes. I am hoping for the shops. I know Bob will be hoping for the palace. There is sooo little time. It is one of those moments in life when you are faced with a choice and come to the realization that the person who lets you choose is actually far nicer than you are. Shops it is. Bob has come 3000 miles, and I am taking her on a second-hand clothes crawl, instead of the lovely old palace. (Should I delete the word lovely? It is only making me feel more guilty. Ugly. It is an ugly old eyesore and blot on the landscape. Now I feel worse, for telling such a whopper.)

Well, at least the foostie old clothes are Scottish. We schlep at a fast pace along vaguely familiar streets, popping in and out of little musty shops, but seeing nothing as nice as in the first one, which was well-stocked and nicely set-out. The others are a bit, well, shoddy and sad.

Bob says:
As we walk along, I see this great building. I ran across the street and ducked in. I just liked it. As I walked into the doorway, I was stopped in my tracks. I came out and asked Rowan and she said that we were at the University.

I was at the University of Edinburgh.

Maybe because I have spent so much time at school, I have an affinity for such places. I wonder what it would be like to study at such an ancient site.

I don't know why the door way was green, but it looked really neat.

This is the view that I saw as I passed through two old wooden doors. I would love to have seen this in the daylight. Again, you can imagine robed figures striding across the flagstones, lecturing or rushing to class. I nip back to Rowan who is waiting, pretty much perishing with the cold, on the sidewalk.

We enter a discount store called LIDL, which is a German discount store. It is kind of like a Big Lots!, but with food. Maybe like Food for Less ...There are interestingly different things than I can get at home. It is set out kind of funny, and you cannot get out unless you go through the check-out line. Which stretches all the way back to the back wall. We are torn, because we don't want to cut in line, and we don't want to wait in line when we are not buying anything. We are in a quandary. I run back to the entrance, but you cannot get out once you are in, except for the exit ... at the check out. As we are aware of the time passing, we politely push past the multitudes (which did NOT part like the Red Sea) and left. I lead, not making eye contact, and Rowan follows me, miserable in the light of the fact that we are being rude. We find a bookstore, and are inexorably drawn in.

Rowan writes:

We find a great bookshop, where we have a quick coffee, and I find a copy of the book I have been looking for for Bob, Daniel Defoe’s “A Journal of the Plague Year.” It is a book which fascinated me as a student, and is a journalistic account of the Great Plague in London, which preceded the Great Fire of London in 1666. Defoe is credited as the first investigative journalist.

Bob says:

The coffee is hot and good and we slowly thaw out. I think that we are both a little quiet -- part of my mind is already on getting home. I miss everyone, but I have had an extraordinary time. It has been otherwordly. I considered the long haul back to the train station, and decide to visit the restroom. I clomp along the wooden floors in my nifty new boots and consider getting my son a book that I have seen a lot of ... "The Dangerous Book for Boys". I glance through it and decide that he will like it, but also that it is heavy. I will get him a copy when I get home.

There is something dead sexy about wearing a pair of black biker-type boots and jeans that puts a spring in my step, even for a woman of my advanced years. I think I can get a nice gleam in my husband's eyes with these. And kick some butt if necessary. Pickpockets beware!

So, I was wondering if I should put this in, but in the interest of examining cultural differences, I am going to discuss the restrooms in Scotland. First of all, they are not cubicles, like in the US. They are more like little rooms. Very little rooms. Micro-mini rooms. On the one hand, there is a sense of security when you wedge yourself, straddling the toilet, into the room. You have to do some fancy aerobic moves to close the door. If you have a purse or bag, you are risking a back injury as you contort in order to get the door closed. Thank heavens I am no bigger than I am, or I fear that I would end up needing some sort of extraction device, like the Jaws of Life, to get out.

The door makes a nice solid sound when it closes, more like the sound of a front door at home than a public restroom. So, it feels secure, if a little dark. However it also feels a little claustrophobic.I cannot help but think that a person from the UK would feel a bit exposed and vulnerable in our public restrooms here at home. I make a mental note to tell Rowan this, so she will not be surprised if she comes to the US some day.

Some time back, Rowan and I were talking about napkins versus serviettes, and started a discussion about what to call bathrooms. I stubbornly insist on using the word restrooms -- I cannot use the commonly used term there of "toilet". Ugh. I even like washroom -- even though it connotes a washing up rather than other functions. I actually like lavatory, even though it automatically conjures up elementary school and the trough-like sinks that you can turn on by stepping a a little bar. I loved those ...

Rowan writes:

So - I am going to raise the topic of acceptable mid-atlantic terms for bathroom. I completely understand your frisson of reticent distaste when faced with transatlantic terms for bathroom. Those need, in all cultures, to meet a set of individual criteria, and to be accepted as polite in the general population one is at large amongst. It is a delicate subject...but fascinating, all the same.

"Restroom", to me, doesn't denote an opportunity to relinquish the contents of an over-full bladder, and I shall return to this.

"Toilet" is pretty much a standard term over here. No frills, but not descending into the nether regions of the vulgar, such as "bog" or "cludgie". "Toilet" is spartan and minimalist, no frills (would frills be the boogie?) pared down, bared to the wind.

Brrr. :D

I do not wholly subscribe to this word, I must admit. It does have a clinical baldness, a regulation soul-shrivelling meanness about it. It yells its function from the treetops. There is need for a little mystery in life, as regards the "doonstairs department". Toilets are a prime example of this. We all know what they are for, but want to be distanced from sharing a mutual awareness therof with a complete stranger, when asking directions."Bathroom", then, is a little superior to the coldly utilitarian-porcelain connotations of the T-word.

We are a nation of euphemism lovers in the UK, though, and tend to use "Loo" if we are being notably polite. The Queen was once asked how she referred to the place in question, and she replied that she used her own word, the "loo". It became disseminated into popular culture. If you use that word, everyone automatically assumes you are a bit prissy, maybe, but an all-round decent spud who isn't going to leave paper towels all over the floor and steal the soap.

Another of our euphemisms is, "the smallest room". I like that one, cos it's funny, but it is kinda mega-prissy.

Another very popular one, is to ask where the "ladies" is - I think you say "ladies room"? The latter would be understood over here.

"Restroom" would have us pondering, tho. If you were in a public building, you might be taken to the staffroom and given tea, for fear you had a fainting spell coming on. It would involve a bit of a double-take, a few-seconds of processing before the penny would drop. There seems to be a lack of vision involved here, on our part. Perhaps it is just that the word "rest" would not fit well with our national conceptualisation of the pedestals in question. We want to just um...wee and go. Rest denotes a sense of relaxation, and we are a nation of tense and twitchy public convenience users - not surprising, considering the condition of most of them. Yours are maybe much nicer. OOh - public convenience!! Sigh. My argument is nullified. What could be more euphemistically convoluted than that? Hee hee. Now I need to go put down my third can of diet Dr Pepper and head um ... well ... I sit and ponder, tho, methinks I like 'toilet' better than "lavatory", even if it was originally latin for washroom - "washroom" is okay - water-closet is not.

Bob says:

(Rowan did not know about the joys of Diet Dr. Pepper before she met me. Just sayin'. When she first tried it, she made considering Tigger noises, like when Tigger is trying all of the different foods to see which ones Tiggers like best. "Marizpanish" was her conclusion.)

Back to Edinburgh ...

Rowan writes:

We find a very nice Indian shop, with lovely swirly skirts in vivid hues, large wire earrings and jewelled pens. Bob looks at the skirts, and I decide on a couple of the pens. Outside the shop, it is pretty dark. We head back to the station, clutching our purchases. I am chuffed not to have grossly overspent!

(Bob says: On the other hand, I am the pleased owner of two reversible silk skirts that will go nicely with a t-shirt and sandals in the blistering heat of summer.)

We have really appreciated all the glories of Edinburgh, and there is still so much yet too see…the Scottish Parliament building (a wildly cool and innovative design) Holyrood Palace, Arthur’s Seat, the national Museum of Scotland. There is no fountain in Edinburgh as there is in Rome, to toss coins into to ensure a return visit, but we will be back for sure – all the unseen sights await, and the magical chicken pakora :D. Dundee does better white puddings, but the Edinburgh pakora is something special. A grand vista to set upon one’s knees on a lamp post on a winter’s day in a fine old city.

Bob says:
We walk back briskly to the train station. It has been a wonderful day, but an emotional one as well. I think that we saw as much as was possible of Edinburgh in the short amount of time that we had. We accomplished the main task, which was to see St. Giles, but we had a lovely and very full day.
We get back to the station and I bought some Cadbury chocolates for the kids and some reading material for the plane trip. The Cadbury might not make it home, though.

It is cold in Waverly Station, and I leave the little gift/book shop, purchases in hand, to find that I have lost Rowan. For reals. The station is not that big, but for whatever reason, I cannot see her. At all. I have become used to navigating the traveling part of the trip, and although I know that she is a big girl, as the time for the train to leave draws closer, I panic. Just a little. I am relieved when I find her and we sprint for the platform -- they have closed the platform that we have used before and we have to run, and I mean run, to the platform, with no more than a minute to spare. The station staff are not especially helpful as we negotiate the crowds.

The trip back is not eventful -- but it was good to sit down. The train slowly empties out and we get to spread out more as we approach Dundee. The lights reflect in the water as we cross the Tay.

Tomorrow I will go home.