Weekend Sightseeing (Is Exhausting)

Portobello Beach

This weekend was a busy one for me—I packed a lot of living into two days.  On Saturday, I took a bus out to the seaside, specifically the Portobello Beach Promenade.  It was cold and blustery, but there were plenty of people (and dogs!) playing in the sand and several people had their feet in the water.  There was even a couple of lunatics up to their waists in the North Sea.  The temperature wasn’t quite 60, so I can only imagine how cold the water was.  They didn’t stay in the sea long.  (Not surprising).

The truest ambrosia

While I was there, I stopped at the Shrimpwreck for lunch, and tried a fish finger sandwich, made of battered fish, French fries (on the sandwich!), tartar sauce, and mushy peas (also on the sandwich!).  It was good.  And those of you who know me IRL will understand how thrilled I was to drink a Lemon Fanta, the drink I fell in love with when I went to Italy several years ago (and one that is not available Stateside).  It was a perfect lunch, accompanied by entertainment: the Portobello volunteer clean-up crew dancing to the B-52’s “Rock Lobster.”  One of them wore a crawfish “fancy dress” costume, with a placard that read “No Fear! Be queer!” on the back.  Another one of them wore striped pants, and had a red-painted face and dreadlocks.  Not exactly the colorful characters of a Venice Beach scene, but they definitely had a boardwalk vibe going on.

Altar at St. Mary’s Cathedral

Afterwards, I came back to the apartment for a few hours and rested.  (I don’t know about you, but every time I go to the beach—in any capacity—I get tired.  I wonder if it has something to do with the sea air.)  Then I took another bus ride to the vigil Mass at St. Mary’s Cathedral (since I knew I would be out all day Sunday, and I didn’t want to miss church). It is lovely inside, but not what I think of when I think of a cathedral—it was certainly more elaborately decorated than St. Columba’s from last week, but it isn’t stately in the way cathedrals usually are.  It’s like, if a typical cathedral is a thoroughbred, then St. Mary’s is a workhorse.  It gets the job done, but isn’t magnificent to look at.  It’s just a nice, big church.

The Kelpies, by artist Andy Scott

Sunday I walked down to Waterloo Place (just over the bridge from the Royal Mile) to take a sightseeing tour outside of the city.  The first—and best—thing we saw was The Kelpies monument, outside of Falkirk.  You can’t imagine the scale of these horse heads—they are massive, about 100 feet high, and made from steel.  I would have liked to have longer than 25 minutes to visit them, though, because that was hardly enough time to go to the bathroom, see The Kelpies and then duck into the gift shop.  I loved them at first sight.  Of course, folktale kelpies are horrible creatures who lure unsuspecting people to get on their backs and ride them into the ocean where the horses drown them and feast on their bones.  But these kelpies were certainly wonderful to look at.

Loch Lomond marina

The next thing we did was visit Loch Lomond, of the eponymous famous folksong, and the surrounding farmland was green and lush and dotted with white sheep like confetti.  I could have wished that the tour drove around the perimeter of Loch Lomond, but we were confined to a little bit of shore where the boats were tied up.  There was a path around the marina, which I walked some. Mostly I watched the ducks who were sunning themselves on the banks.  The loch was as picturesque as you can imagine—the beginnings of the Highlands in the background, the sun glinting off the water in golden waves, the boats floating gently around their anchors.  And the air was so fresh!

A mama sheep. Very ewe-nique.

Our next stop was for lunch in a little hamlet called Aberfoyle. At the café I ordered a cheese toastie (kind of like a grilled cheese but not exactly) and a bowl of carrot and lentil soup, heavy on the carrots. I chose to sit outside and people watch, although the people weren’t all that interesting. Their dogs were, though.

There was a sweet shop next door, and I bought a package of homemade butter shortbread that literally, deliciously disintegrated on your tongue.  And then I headed over to the big wool shop, and figured there would be too many things I’d want to buy inside (like yarn, which I have no room in my suitcase to take home), so I skipped it, and went around back where they kept some sheep. Their pens stank (as you might expect), but the sheep themselves looked so cute.  They got into a bleating contest—it reminded me of a sheep opera (because you know, that’s a thing) (it’s not really) (but it should be), as they each tried to outdo the other in their “singing.”  I really wanted to put my hand out to pet them—which we were allowed to do—but the caveat that “These animals bite” kept my hands firmly on my side of the fence.

Stirling Castle

The awful Stirling Heads

Stirling Head art close up (yuck)

After lunch we headed to Stirling to visit Stirling Castle, the birthplace and home of King James VI.  I didn’t actually get to see the palace itself—I couldn’t figure out where it was—but I walked around the castle battlements, the dungeon, the chapel, the Great Hall, and the hall of the Stirling Heads, which are these large, wooden, medallion bust images of various people James wanted to commemorate.  And they were just horrible, creepy, weird pieces of décor, probably about 2-2.5 feet in diameter, and several inches thick. I know they served a purpose, but I really couldn’t get over how ugly they were.  I am probably revealing myself to be a philistine, but they were nothing like I was expecting. (They had really been talked up by a tour guide.) In my head I was imagining something magnificent; the reality was quite something else. But the castle itself was impressive with amazing views of the countryside from its sheer drops.  What was coolest about the castle was that Mary Queen of Scots was crowned there.  And, I think no matter who you are, Mary’s tragic life resonates.  At least, I always found her life story to be compelling, if sad. (I might actually have read her biography at some point, because I seem to remember a whole lot about her.)  Still, I didn’t need two hours at the castle, and wandered back to the garden to wait until it was time to get back on the bus and return to Edinburgh.

Castle gardens

I finally got home around 7 and I was exhausted.  The tour was longer than I was expecting.  I thought we’d be back by 5, but it was closer to 6:30; I should have taken a little nap on the bus (I usually take naps on Sunday), but I didn’t want to miss seeing any of the countryside. Just in case there was something amazing.  (I did get to see a glimpse of The Kelpies on the way back, so I count that as a win.)

I enjoyed the tour over all, but I was the only single traveler.  Everyone else had family or friends to visit things with, so I was kind of lonely.

Actually, if I were to complain about visiting Edinburgh at all, it would be because of how lonely I am.  Maybe I should pretend I am Mary Queen of Scotts in her prison cell; perhaps that would make the loneliness a little more bearable.  But even Mary had her little terrier dog for company.  I have no one.  (Weep, weep, sob, sob.)

Anyway, I hope you enjoyed all the pictures.

A view from Stirling Castle

Another view from the Castle

My First Week in Edinburgh

I was reminded yesterday that when you’re in a new country, everything is interesting. Based on my experiences so far, I don’t know about that.  For me, I have mainly spent the first week in Edinburgh adjusting to the crazy amounts of daylight (4:30 a.m. to 10:30 p.m.) and the daily wind and rain.  (I’m so happy I brought a lined raincoat, and I Amazoned a new umbrella since I forgot to bring one.)  I have spent a good amount of time locked up in my flat, preparing for my class, but I’ve also taken some long walks, trying to get the lay of the land.  And I have drunk a metric butt ton of Scottish Breakfast Tea.  Which is like English Breakfast Tea, only it uses a really complicated dialect. 😊

Friday, I did a cursory visit to the National Museum of Scotland, which is a fantastic natural history museum with a huge atrium and tons of natural light.  I will go back and do a “deeper dive” in the exhibits, but I mainly looked at the science/technology hall, the hall of design, and the world cultures hall.  I visited the museum with the coordinator of the Scotland Study Abroad program, and we didn’t have a lot of time there because he also wanted to go to Clarinda’s Tea Room, on the Royal Mile, which was fussy and frilly (in the best way) and full of tea-related décor.  I had a scone with butter and preserves.  I was expecting more of a biscuit, but this scone was sweeter than that, but very crumbly.  Afterwards, we walked back past some bagpipers and drummers and Richard went his way, and I went mine…right into a freak storm.  Imagine a day where it’s bright and windy and gorgeous.  And then come the clouds like a galloping herd of gazelles.  That storm soaked me to the core, and of course I wasn’t wearing my raincoat.

In the rain, a man with a large backpack bumped into me (don’t worry, he wasn’t a pickpocket), and then as I passed the Museum again, he put his hand out for me to shake it and asked who I was.  I was so shocked, I told him.  He said his name was Sam and he was looking for a Tesco (a grocery store).  There was one right around the corner, and I thought he was going to go toward it but he went the opposite way.  It was a little strange.

Saturday, I tried doing laundry and found the washer to be beyond my intellect level.  Then I went for a walk in Holyrood Park.  There’s an entrance close bywhere I’m staying, so I walked over to it, and it turned out the entrance was a steep set of stairs down to the street (Queen’s Drive), and about 10 steps down it, I said to myself, “Self, if you go down these stairs you’ll have to come back up,” and while I was debating this shaggy sheep dog came out of nowhere.  He looked pretty good so I wasn’t worried he was lost, and then as if from mist, his owner appeared.

“Rolo,” he said, “quit botherin’ th’ lass.”

“Oh, he’s not bothering me,” I said, putting my hand out to pet Rolo.

“In tha’ case, quit botherin’ me dog.”

With that, the man and Rolo passed me going down the stairs, and after being flummoxed for a little bit at the surprising turn of events, I followed at a discreet distance.  I walked up the hill a ways (not the big hill, the one that puts you on top of Arthur’s Seat), and then down a grassy knoll.  I tried taking some selfies, but it was so windy my face was all scrunched up and my hair had its own postal code.  I sat on a convenient rock until I was ready to face the 400 steps back up to the park entrance.  I’ll have you know I died about 6 times on the hike back up the stairs.

Yesterday, I spent the day reading for class, but all day I wanted to go to church.  I just couldn’t get motivated for the 9:30 Mass.  Fortunately, St. Columba’s church had a service at 6:30, so I walked south till I got there.  It was definitely a no-frills service… no music and a homily that contrasted our relationship with God and the Trinity to this kid at his grammar school selling stick insects (don’t ask). It was a tenuous connection at best.  I was glad I went—it let me see a different part of town.  Next week I think I’ll try St. Patrick’s.

So, that kind of catches you up on my visit so far.  Not overly exciting, but I’ll have more exciting plans in my future I’m sure.