Wednesday, November 19, 2008

More pictures of Edinburgh

Pics: (from left to right and top to bottom)
  • View from Candlemaker Row , next to the Greyfriars Kirkyard
  • Victoria Street
  • the old infirmary (I think) along the Meadows walk
  • Middle Meadow Walk
  • view of the castle from and the Public gardens below
  • me on my way up to the castle
  • Arthur's Seat from Calton Hill (that fascinating white bug-like building is a new Earth Science Centre called Dynamic Earth)

My Reunion with Edinburgh

Aaron had a conference to go to at the University of Edinburgh on Thursday November 6 , so I went with him and had a day on my own in the city. For those of you who may not know, for years I have considered Edinburgh to be my favorite city in the world, and when Aaron asked me that evening, when we had met up for a pub dinner before catching our train back to Glasgow, if I had enjoyed my day, I had to say that it was like meeting up again with someone you love dearly that you haven’t seen for 12 years.

The last time I was in Edinburgh, I had been visiting my friend Glenn who was living there. That was in August of 1996. I remember clearly the day I left the city on the bus, pulling out of the station and being hit with a tragic feeling that I would never see the city again, or else not for a very long time. Because of this, I have to confess to superstitiously worrying that some catastrophe would befall Aaron and I before we got to the city for this long awaited visit. So as we were approaching Waverley Station and the train was chuffing slowly below the castle, I couldn’t quite believe that I was there. That feeling of dreaming or disbelief gradually melted over the course of the day, but it gave the first few hours a floaty kind of quality.

I walked with Aaron and his fellow students to the Uni so I’d know where to meet them later and then struck off on my own. I had a strong instinct to go to Calton Hill first. Edinburgh has numerous hills, where views of the city are both tremendous and helpful in orienting yourself. I had hoped I might be able to see the sea but the day proved just too misty to see very far. It wasn’t actually raining but everything was wet. By the time I climbed the hill I needed to sit for a minute and have a bite of ginger shortbread and Ribena for refreshment, and the only place to sit that wasn’t completely soaking was a cement block with some old stones around it. After my snack and rest, I wandered over to the side of the hill that looks out over the centre of the city and from where you can see the whole Royal Mile, the street that descends from the castle to Hollyrood Palace at the bottom of the ridge. Behind this is the large hill that juts out into the city known as Arthur’s Seat. It was completely invisible through the fog but as I watched, the mist lifted and by the time I was ready to leave it had been completely and somewhat magically revealed.

I was kind of bent on revisiting places I had been with Glenn, and the last place he lived while I was there was below Calton Hill in the New Town. So I walked down that way to look for a place to eat lunch and happened, by some freaky coincidence, to come across the Blue Moon cafe where Glenn told me he had worked some years after I visited him. The waiter there remembered him though it had been 7 years since he’d worked there. Small world.

The next few hours were filled with a series of wanderings through the New Town back toward Princes Street, through the public gardens and a long but rewarding walk up a switchback-y path up to the castle. By the time I got up there, I was so tired that I sat on a bench and almost fell asleep. I toyed with the idea of actually going into the castle since I have never actually done that, but I decided to save it for a time with Aaron or maybe other visitors.

Now I was at the top of the Royal Mile and back in the Old Town. It was roughly 2pm and it hadn’t actually rained yet, and given the sodden air that was astounding. Another reason I didn’t go into the castle this time: I wasn’t driven in by the rain. Instead I kept walking, passing through St. Giles cathedral, which in some form or other has stood on the Royal Mile for a thousand years, and then on to the Meadows or Middle Meadow Walk (I love that name), which has an avenue of trees that, when I had visited many springs ago, was exploding with pink blossoms, and now in the fall was turning yellow and rusty red. Along side the walk is a rambling old Victorian building (maybe older) which I’m fairly sure used to be an infirmary but is now being turned into condos. I couldn’t tell if they were planning to knock it down and build a big modern sterile looking glass building (like the picture on fence showed) or if they were going to keep some of the original architecture. It was the first time it occurred to me that even a place like Edinburgh, which clearly values its heritage buildings, is prey to developers, to allowing buildings to fall into disrepair perhaps past the stage of salvageability, and to ... change and evolution. I mean I know businesses come and go; most of the places I used to go to had been replaced, but the buildings were still there. Later in a bookshop, I came across a book called Lost Edinburgh, which acknowledged not only recent changes but buildings and sites that had been lost over the course of the past 800 years, with changes and developments. I think it is Sir Walter Raleigh’s grave that is now just a small yellow triangle in a parking lot beside St. Giles cathedral. I couldn’t even find that this time. But still there is a such a palpable sense in the city of a presence of history, a valued history that though it may also be exploited through a variety of spooky ghost tours (some of which are full of really interesting if horrific stories), it is in any case not forgotten. There are random plaques on sides of buildings marking the site of the last public execution or of witch trials or where Samuel Johnson ate dinner once, etc. I guess that’s why I love it so much. It feeds my imagination like nothing else. There are so many stories linked to every place. The cafe where JK Rowling wrote the first Harry Potter book (where I confess I took shelter from the rain just because it was such a nice cafe, REALLY!) has windows that look over the graveyard where the Greyfriar’s Bobby is buried.

At the end of the day, I went back to the Geography building to meet Aaron. We were both fascinated by these small trees near the gate that were in bloom with delicate pink flowers that had a beautiful smell. IN BLOOM, people! Things are blooming here in November! Sorry but after the past winter I had in Ottawa I’m a bit blown away by the growing season here. But I digress.
We finished off our day in Edinburgh at a pub called The Advocate, which I was attracted to because during my very first visit to the city in 1993, my friend Christie was working at a pub by the same name. Where the pub was when she worked there was gone, the building had been demolished, so this one might have been a new incarnation of the same place. Nice pub, and great food. Fish and chips with real mushy peas, and a venison, juniper and gin sausage with Yorkshire Pud. A fine end to a fine day. The only thing that would have crowned it with glory is if I could have had just a wee half pint of cider and blackcurrent or one of the many fine, fine ales they have here. But we’ll get to that later...

Pics: Me on Calton Hill, View of Princes Street and the Castle from Calton Hill

More Edinburgh Pics to follow...

Sunday, November 16, 2008


The other night I was heading to the Co-op food store for some coffee and Branston pickle, and was waiting to cross the street at the crosswalk. There was an older gentleman to my right and a younger guy to my left who were waiting too. The younger guy looked at the stopped traffic to one side and decided to chance it rather than wait for the walk light, and narrowly missed being run down by a car turning left. The older gentleman turned to me, opening his eyes wide, and shook his head as one is wont to when witnessing something stupid. He said in his Scots accent: “You don’t do that. The drivers here are nutters. You wait for the little green man and THEN you cross with both eyes wide open!” When I said I agreed with him, he pulled his head back and said “Canadian?” No one ever guesses that on the first try. So, I said yes with some delighted surprise. “Where from?” he asked. I said that I had last lived in Ottawa and before that Toronto for 10 years. “Ah, out east.” he said, as we crossed the street with the little green man. “But I grew up out west actually. In Alberta.” He really pulled his head back then and said he had been educated in Alberta. He was wearing a greenish kilt, high socks and loafers. “Where?” I asked. “Edmonton. In the early sixties.” “That’s where I’m from! How did you like it?” He said it was okay but his favorite city was Regina. “Yes,” he said, “you know you can get a Friday night bus from Edmonton to a casino in Regina. Free! And they give you $100! You don’t even have to go to the casino, you just get a free ride to Regina!” He was chuckling, and by the time we got to the store I had completely forgotten what I went there to get. 

Picture: Great Western road looking East - the Co-op is on the left

Note:  due to technical errors "Edinburgh Reunion" will be posted next time...

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Settling in

I've hardly drunk any of my tea, but my gingerbread is down to only tiny crumbs.
My daily routine involves some daily internet time either at the public library or at one of the many lovely cafes that offer Wi-Fi.  I have hijacked Aaron's Mac since he is usually using his computer at his communal office in the University.  Other than internet time, it also, at the moment, involves cooking, reading, being covered in cats, and a daily walk.  Sometimes its a long walk, to explore a new neighborhood, and sometimes its a short one to the cheese shop (very dangerous - so much CHEESE!!!) or to a comfort place like the Bolshie cafe or the Botanical Gardens.  
Tonight I am going to a play so I should end this quick.  Not to mention the fact that I think Bolshie is closing up shop for the night and will be kicking me out into the dark soon.

That's one to add to the list of 

Things I am still getting used to:
- it is completely dark by 4:45pm (and its only early November still...)

Note: the picture with this post is of a street just a few down to the east of our street in Glasgow.  

Next Post:  "My Reunion Day with Edinburgh"

Sunday, November 9, 2008

The Reebs has landed

Arrival successful. 
Cats ok and quickly cleared through customs.  And though it often seemed insane to bring them, I am daily grateful that we did.  They are doing good things for my mental and emotional wellbeing, and are easing the transition to a very new home.  
Aaron has found us a truly wonderful flat here.  The area we live in is very lovely, very lively, full of nice cafes, shops and buildings.  Rows of sandstone flats are everywhere.  Our "lawn" is really all moss, and the trees are turning yellow and loosing their leaves.
I feel most alien here when I open my mouth to ask for a tea or introduce myself.  There are a million different accents heard here, but mine is not the most common, and its often mistaken for American.  After the Obama win, I don't even mind too much.  

5 things I love here:
- how people speak 
- the green, green moss in every nook and cranny
- the architecture and its age 
- the fact that people who don't work in theatre go to the theatre
- Ribena

5 things I'm still getting used to:
- being cold and wet most of the time
- looking right before crossing the street (I just look both ways all the time)
- being away from everyone I know (except Aaron, and being back with him is GREAT!)
- buying groceries everyday (cuz they're little)
- the ready availability of scones ( I have to watch it. Tempting....)