Day One for us really began about 1:00 P.M. the day before when we left Colin’s house for the Houston airport. Our British Airways flight left about 4:30, and we were in for nine hours of flight. Our flight attendant was a friendly but slightly sardonic British gent who complimented us on our travel plans and warned us to have warm clothes. We had exit row seats right next to the restroom—handy but problematic. One Brit who came to use the loo stayed and talked for half an hour about everything from haggis, neeps and tatties to my Kindle. We dozed but didn’t really sleep. At 6:00 A.M. London time they woke us for a light breakfast: it was about 1:00 A.M. Texas time.
Heathrow is the kind of airport I dislike—endless miles of walking, more escalators than I’ve ridden in ten years, always rushing to sit around and wait. We caught a connecting flight to Edinburgh and were there shortly after ten in the morning to be greeted by the cold, rainy weather that would follow us most of the week. After a long walk, pulling suitcases (Colin pulled both mine and his and insisted on carrying my carry-on too—yes, they spoiled me), we had a rental Renault.
Megan and Colin had decided we had to “power through” the first day—no naps. I viewed this with a great deal of skepticism but went along. Megan did an amazing job of navigating—we only got lost once—and we made it to our BandB which was, I think, pretty much in central Edinburgh. The host, David, was most friendly and helpful. Our room was literally the garrett—up one set of stairs and then a steep, winding staircase that I usually half-crawled up. We all shared one room, which worked out fine for me though the kids say I snore.
We spent the afternoon at Edinburgh Castle which sits high above the city and its harbor. It was built in the 11th century, though most of the buildings reflect its more recent use as a military garrison. We saw the Crown Jewels, visited St. Margaret’s Chapel, the oldest building in the city. Queen Margaret died in 1093, and the chapel was built in 1130. We saw Mons Meg, a huge 15th-century canon, and gazed out at the view and, on leaving, passed statues of Scottish heroes William Wallace and Robert the Bruce. In America, where our recorded history goes back generally to the 17th century, we don’t realize the many centuries of history to be rediscovered in a country like Scotland. It was eye-opening for me.
The disruption in our daily rhythms left us unsure when to eat, but the castle offers several small restaurants, and we stopped in the Queen Anne Café where Colin and Megan had the first of what would be many cappuccinos, and I had a glass of wine and an appetizer that mixed fresh and smoked salmon in a great combination.
Next was a bus tour of the inner city—great chance to sit after trudging up that hill to the castle and walking all around it. I was fascinated to see Edinburgh University which in the 18th century was the cradle of European intellectual achievement—philosophy, medicine, natural science, religion (I’d done my homework with a book titled How the Scots Invented the Modern World by Arthur Herman). We also went by the Greyfriars Cemetery with its statue of Greyfriars Bobby, the dog who lived by his master’s grave for years. I remember that book fondly from my childhood and was sorry I couldn’t see the actual statue. Then there was Holyrood Palace, official residence of the Queen when she’s in town though she prefers Balmoral for Scottish trips, Bedlam Theatre, the Parliament Building, and the Scottish Museum.
The tour reinforced my first impression--Edinburgh is a lovely old city with houses crowded upon houses, all built up tight next to each other, most with doors nearly on the sidewalk. They are gray stone, maybe from the smoke of coal heating used in past times. Older stone houses have dormers, gables, turrets, quoins, and conservatories, built I guess to capture the small bits of sunshine Scotland gets. Every other house seemed to be a BandB, and inside those narrow tall houses were surprisingly roomy.
Back at the BandB I fell on the bed but Megan said, “Mom, don’t go to sleep. It will be a really awful night if you do.” So we staggered to a pub for a light supper of mussels, salmon pate, and tomato basil soup. The pub was everything I thought it would be--wood-paneled, leather chairs, lots of books on shelves, that ubiquitous ceramic hunting dog (my aunt had one), a big bell (the pub was called The Old Bell). You got the feeling that the people crowded around tables were neighbors who met there regularly for a pint and a visit.
My forty-ish kids were asleep by eight but I got a second wind and sat up making notes of all I’d seen in that first crowded day. Below is one of the statues, though I can't remember if it's William Wallace (Braveheart) or Robert the Bruce.
I know Colin is busy getting back to work, so he hasn't sent the good pictures of Edinburgh. When he does, I'll do a picture blog. Meantime, here are mine. I took a lovely one of Colin and Megan in the doorway of Dunedin but couldn't get it to post.