Tuesday, 30 May 2017

Our Trip to Scotland #1 - Edinburgh

Edinburgh Scotland
Edinburgh Royal Scots Club
Royal Scots Club
We arrived in Edinburgh yesterday morning and went straight to the Royal Scots Club, where we had booked rooms for six nights. This combination club and inn is in “New Town” the part of Edinburgh that was built in the eighteenth century, with its architecture Georgian as opposed to the “Old Town” that dates from medieval times. Surely one of the first examples of a whole large neighborhood required to conform to strict stylistic codes, each house had to be exactly three stories high plus basement. The expectation was that the servants would live in the basement, the children on the top floor and the parents on the ground level and the floor above. Windows were evenly spaced, of a specified size and alike from one house to the next. If this sounds boring, I can assure you it is not. This early attempt at urban planning produced a neighborhood of enduring beauty.  Trees and parks meander through the area, and sitting as it does on a high point of land, there are views from third floor windows all the way out to the sea. It was a retreat for the rich trying to escape from the squalor and overcrowding of the old town. There is a park between the two, separating them symbolically as well as physically. And of course to make the point more emphatically, New Town is north of Old Town.   All the dirt excavated to build the New Town was placed in one spot which became a park area called “The Mound”. Renowned eighteenth century architect Robert Adam had a hand in its design.

Our hotel is a delight. Built in the eightieth century, like all its neighbors, it has been converted to a quiet, elegant retreat from the noise and bustle of the Old Town.

Edinburgh Castle
Edinburgh Castle
Old Town, however has quite a lot going for it. It dates from the Middle Ages and earlier. The streets are narrow and run chaotically in every direction. The “Royal Mile” defines the area. At its highest point is Edinburgh Castle. From there it runs, or more accurately, meanders more than a mile (our taxi driver referred to it as a “Scottish Mile”) downhill to Holyroodhouse, the residence of the royal family when they visit Edinburgh. It is open to the public when no royals are in town.  As luck would have it, Princess Anne is in residence. We were not able to do more than peer through the wrought iron gate at her guard, all resplendent in their kilts.
Edinburgh Holyroodhouse

In between the castle and Holyroodhouse there is great variety. As one might expect there are more than a few tawdry tourist shops and noisy pubs advertising whisky tasting, but these are interrupted by old and historic buildings and monuments of great beauty. I think it would take a long time to separate the wheat from the chaff on the Royal Mile. Certainly more than the six days we have.

Last night we went to an organ recital in St.  Giles Cathedral (one of the gems on the Royal Mile). The organ was a fine one and the organist, Michael Harris, a virtuoso on the instrument. We stopped to chat with him and discovered that the Princess was in town for the annual meeting of the Church of Scotland of which she is titular head, and would be at the service the next morning, which meant that we couldn’t be.

St. Giles Cathedral
We were able to attend the service after the one for the Princess and all the town dignitaries. We saw quite a few kilts in evidence among those leaving as we arrived. I find that interesting. Somehow I had thought the wearing of kilts a thing of the past. Apparently they are still worn on important occasions.

Neither of us is a church goer, but we have discovered one way to immerse ourselves in a culture is to go to church. We are surrounded by locals. The music us usually good. And the sermon, if we can understand it, tells us something about local values. The high point of our trip to Paris last year was a service at St. Sulpice. The sermon at St. Gilles this morning was given in a beautiful Scotts dialect. We didn’t understand much more of it than we did of the one in Paris. But the choir, all dressed in medieval style robes, was excellent and we thoroughly enjoyed the hour.

On the eating front, we have tried the local roast beef and Yorkshire pudding and feel no need to do that again. We haven’t yet tried Haggis, but must at some time. Our breakfasts here at the Inn are excellent. But I must break down and confess we went to an Italian restaurant for dinner last night and had such a good meal we’ll probably go back tonight. It appeased our conscience somewhat when we realized most of those around us were locals. Apparently some of them prefer Italian cuisine to Scottish too.

Edinburgh taxi
Edinburgh Taxi
A word of warning about Edinburgh taxis. They look like big boxes on wheels, they stand as high as trucks, and I risk my life every time I try to get in or out of one. They have handle bars by which one is supposed to hoist oneself aboard and then when getting out, I, at least, have to go backwards and hope someone is there to catch me. This is no joke. I have injured both my back and hip trying to get in and out of these absurd vehicles.

I see normal sized cars all around us. Some of them say “Private car for let”. I suspect these are Ubers. They have just recently come to Edinburgh. Today we are going UBER if that’s the case. I disapprove of Uber and what it is doing to the taxi industry everywhere, but I’m not willing to continue risking life and limb in these dangerous vehicles.


Watch for Blair's newest thriller, Fatal Charm 
Coming in 2017

 Fatal Charm by Blair McDowell

A perilous scheme to thwart ruthless adversaries hurtles successful jewelry designer Caitlin Abernathy from her comfortable California studio to the streets of Paris and the beaches of Brittany as she attempts to return a priceless stolen heirloom to the Louvre.

Colin Stryker, the devastatingly handsome history professor from Ireland who has appointed himself her protector, fights to rescue her before her captors add murder to their crimes, while at the same time unraveling the torturous train of events that led to the original theft.

With every moment fraught with danger, can the chemistry already between the two ignite into passion?

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