Days 9&10:  The Ballad of Wind, Whisky, and Song.

In any tourist situation, you can run yourself ragged trying to do and see every possible thing.  For us, that seems doubly true, as on top of a major international city where we’ve never been, there are the festivals with an impossible number options.  There are so many shows that we’d actually like to see including but not limited to the following:  Puddles, the sad clown; Diary of a Teenage  Christian; Austentatious, a Jane Austen parody; Promise and Promiscuity, another Jane Austen parody; Puppet Fiction, which is Pulp Fiction with puppets; Trumageddon; and finally, “In the Interest of Hillary Clinton taking me as her teenage lover.”  American politics is a popular issue over here, it seems.  Nevertheless, in the interest of not running ourselves ragged so we can hike big time at Isle of Skye, we decided to put a pause on rushing after shows and be cool for the last day we are here.  As a result, the three low-key vignettes that follow.  Come hear the show.   They’re free but they sell out early.

Saturday Night:  Burgers and Music in the Highlands.

After our afternoon nap, we finally got motivated to head out the door a little before 9.  We walked to Hollyrood 9A: Chelsea had been telling us about this place since we arrived.  Brewery and rotating kegs, great food.  When we got there, the joint was packed with what seemed like a mob waiting.  A bit chaotic.  But we got some drinks at the bar and tracked down the guy with the list.  Nic had a thistle cider and I had Fierce Panther’s Sonnet 43. (“How do I love thee?  Let me count the ways.” if it’s Browning; “When I do wink, then do my eyes best see,” if it’s Willy Shakes.). Nic got a traditional American: I got the venison with blood pudding topped with Brie.  I must tell you that I forgo all hyperbole when I see that this burger was a life altering experience.  This deer, blessed by Diana herself, must have been touched by the gods, a gift for my digestion.  Easily, one of the best burgers I’ve ever had.  Good atmosphere.  Great food.  Amazing start to the night.

Chelsea had invited us to the Captain’s pub, where her boyfriend was playing traditional Scottish folk music.  A note if you’re in E-town:  if you’re following maps or even using Google, lots of roads cross other roads as bridges, so in our walk to the pub, we accidentally went under a tunnel and into a night club district.  Thumping beats.  Louder drunks.  To be honest, it looked shady AF, but not in a real fearful way, more like a “movie setting underworld” kinda way. At any rate, we got our bearings, came up on North Gate to see a two man combo:  one playing guitar, harmonica, drum set and Djembe and the other played what looked like a vacuum cleaner hose like a vuvzela–talk about your unequal partnerships. But they rocked it out to an adoring crowd.  We danced and then scurried on down the street.  

Finally, we reach the Captain’s.  It’s narrow.  It’s hot.  It’s wonderful.  It used to be a tailor’s shop, and it’s been here since the 1870’s in a building that has been here much longer.  It has a secret basement and stairs that run through the the building–we’re told– but what it doesn’t have is a lot of seating.

 Or a stage for that matter.  But that’s fine. Ewan sits in the back with his guitar with the accompaniment of an accordion, a fiddle or two, some type of harp, and a miniature-bag pipe.  They play around a table in the back corner.  If you want to listen, fine.  If not, that’s okay, too.  But it is a joyous, warm, and welcoming atmosphere.  Church pews line the walls, and a book exchange sits under a side table.  Chelsea begins my education in Scotch whisky, and I wonder what swill I was drinking back home. Every pub here has Jack, but I can’t figure out why.  In the bars, the really good whisky is as inexpensive as the beer. The music ends all too soon, and Nic and I walk home among the iradescent streets, still teeming with late night festival crowd.

Sunday Morning: Up on the mountain

I wake up in the morning.  The air is clear, but I am a little foggy.  Nicole is upstairs, and she tells me there’s a wind advisory, and hiking is temporarily postponed.  Like all weather in regards to hiking, I remain optimistic, but at times the wind seems to threaten to blow the flat apart.  So, we take our time having a leisurely breakfast.  By 10, we see people on the trail and decide it is fine for us to make our way out the door.

Arthur’s seat is part of a large park on the east side of old town.  The road we walk leads to a path that splits a mountain on the right and a set of cliffs on the left.  We opt left across a gently sloping field.  When we reach the northern edge, we can see the castle, the unfinished Acropolis, and into new town.  To the east, the North Sea stands billows in choppy waves just on the border of the city.  Trails criss-cross the fields below and the peak to the south; hikers, runners, and dogs are all specks in the distance.  Nicole begins to get her photo on as I watch the cliff side.  Gust of winds swirl the grasses in circles, and when I stand still, I am often blown backwards.  Blustery could not be more of an understatement.   Soon, we make our way up to the ridge line where we can see the southern part of town, a part we haven’t even imagined yet.  Views from the top of the world are always breathtaking, and from here you can see why this city inspires so much love:  nestled between two mountains in the sea, so much natural beauty is easily within grasp.

Sunday evening:  The city settles to sleep.

We were grateful to have some rest after the morning’s hike.  But lunch was on our mind.  However, Chelsea had thrown us a bit of a curveball.  We’re both book nerds, and she challenged us to see Blackwell’s, one of U of E’s official bookstores.  That was a good hour of our day.  Nic found some dramatic pieces for her kids, while I sat transfixed in the eight cases of philosophy and religious studies.  I’m often overwhelmed at times like this; like that Twilight Zone episode “All the Time in the World”, I could never fathom reading all of this, and begin to think of all these authors who have poured their souls into what are now somewhat disposable books.

Chelsea’s other challenge was to see what I thought of the American history section.  In London at Waterstone’s, I had noted that it was mostly devoid of the more polemical voices–the Glen Beck and Rush Limbaugh types–that often dominate the Barnes and Noble shelves stateside.  At Blackwell’s, I began to think this was something of a practical joke, as I could never find it, and began to suspect it didn’t exist.  But finally, it emerged–two low shelves tucked away against ancient history and the classics.  A few books focused on presidents (FDR, Kennedy, Nixon, Obama).  A few each for major war periods Revolutionary and national founding, Civil War.  An outsider’s perspective on our Middle East policy, which looked fascinating.  No Vietnam or Korea. No World wars, as those would be elsewhere.  Otherwise, quite a few on Native Americans, the Civil Rights Movement, and Black Nationalism.  One book on the proliferation of guns, which seems to baffle Europeans a bit.

Our hunger for words temporarily sated, our hunger for food remained.  We had a tourist plan of attack, but we needed fuel. We thought Italian would be a safe bet, but we were fooled.  In the classic paintings, Adam and Eve always seem so grief stricken as they leave paradise, and now we know why.  Pizza Paradise seems a cruel joke of a name.  My pasta was passable, but Nic’s spicy pasta was made spicy by Jalapeños, which was a bit much for even her Texas-sized appetite.  To corroborate, I tried it. I consider myself a fairly advent erode eater.  I can’t wait until I actually get to try some haggis, but this was by far one of the worst flavor combinations I have ever tried.

Expelled from Eden, we made our way back to the Royal Mile: the crowds had thinned a bit, but the revelry continued: clowns, musicians, magic acts dotted every corner. We found our way to the Whisky museum, passed on the £2,000 bottles, but got a taste then wove through the Princess Royal Gardens–more acts, an accordion at the bottom of the stairs–and on to Princes street, a more traditional commercial area for a brief stop, then back into Old Town.  

By the time we stopped for tea, the weather had taken a traditional Scottish turn, starting with a light drizzle.  We wove through the whisky and cloth shops–can’t throw a rock in this town without hitting one or the other.  The rain intensified joining the wind that had been blowing all day.  We hustled home to dry out.  Our night concluded with take away Indian–there are almost as many Indian joints as pubs in this neighborhood–have I died and gone to heaven.  At Tikka Masala, right across the street, I played peek-a-boo with the little kids  while they finished my Mango Lassi.  At night, as we lack and prepare to leave, music hangs in the air if the city, almost as if the cloud cover has held in the music from the weekend, rocking the city to sleep.

This morning, we are headed for Inverness.  The taxi driver is the second Brit who, on discovering I’m a Pats fan asked me “What was Pete Carroll thinking on that last play in the Super Bowl?” Now the train rolls north, over the Bridge, through the meadows, past the towns, skirting the North Sea.


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