Saturday, March 15, 2008

The Leaving of Scotland

I spent the past week - my last in Scotland - in Edinburgh, and it was fabulous. Maybe it's the Scottish sentiment rubbing off on me, but I wish I was staying in Scotland rather than heading south to England. But onward I must go: I'll be in London for the next week, and then heading back to Norway through the first week in April to see the inshore cod fishery in the Lofoten Islands and some of the coast heading down to Bergen before coming back across the Atlantic to spend the final three months of my Watson year in Newfoundland. This far into traveling, a few months doesn't seem very long, and leaving Scotland is making me feel a wee bit sad - another leg of my journey coming to an end.

I still have more to write here about Scottish fishing, particularly about the time I spent on the west coast - a very different style of fishing and cultural attitude than in the northeast - but for now I just want to gush a little bit about my week in Edinburgh...not much to see about fishing, but it just didn't seem right to spend two and a half months in Scotland without stopping for more than a day in Edinburgh. And I'm glad I decided to go, because I had a fabulous time.

I stayed right on the Royal Mile, the famous street that runs through the old town of Edinburgh from Castle Rock at the top to Holyrood Palace, the Queen's main palace in Scotland (and right across the street from the seat of the devolved Scottish parliament).
The Royal Mile consists of a number of streets that run into each other along its length (a few hundred yards over a mile), all of which are paved on cobblestones and lined by old buildings hawking ridiculously touristy souvenirs and playing tinny recorded bagpipe music.

Despite being touristy, though, it was a good place to find things like a woman demonstrating the traditional style of spinning wool into yarn,
and there was usually a man outside the Saint Giles Cathedral (technically a High Kirk, since Scotland doesn't have bishops) playing the bagpipes...although my favorite piper was inside the kirk: a little cherubic angel piping away on the woodwork in the Thistle Chapel.
I also was a proper fangirl and went to The Elephant House, the cafe where J. K. Rowling wrote much of the first few Harry Potter books.
It was a good cafe in its own right, and doesn't seem to have been overwhelmed by crazy fan was really just a nice place to sit and have a cup of tea and look out the window over Greyfriars Kirkyard and the Castle.
And of course, I walked through the Edinburgh Castle. It's a fortress on top of a basalt plug from a 340 million year old volcano that has protected the city in various iterations for the past 900 years, and saw the Honours of Scotland and the Stone of Destiny, among the most evocative symbols of Scottish nationalism (largely because it was a hard fight to get them back from the English).

Look, pictures of me at the castle! These courtesy of my friend Anne, who I've known since I was eight years old, who just happened to be visiting Edinburgh for her spring break while I was there.

It also happened to be my 21st birthday while I was in Edinburgh and Anne was visiting, so even though a 21st birthday outside the States is slightly momentous, I got to spend it with an old friend. (Interestingly, we both realized that though I've known her longer than nearly any of my other friends, we had never before consumed alcohol together...which I guess made the 21st-birthdayness slightly more momentous.) We did not do anything wild and exciting, but we did have a nice dinner. Scottish people don't go out for Scottish food, so a nice dinner was Indian and Thai, but I did also get a chance to sample some of the ultimate in Scottish fusion foods: , a vegetarian haggis samosa and a fried Mars bar.

Anne was very excited about the chippy where I got the fried Mars bar - here she is on the street waxing eloquent about her chips.
To do the birthday thing properly, we also went out to a proper Scottish pub on the Grassmarket, today known for having good pubs but formerly known for being the site of the town gallows. This particular pub, The Last Drop, remembers both the grizzly last drop into the noose for over 300 people throughout the city's history and also the final request of many of those hanged...a last drop of proper Scottish whiskey.Among it's neat little quirks, the pub had chalkboards on the back of the doors in the bathroom. Can you find the message Anne left for me? (My response includes a sheep, to make it a bit more Scottish.)
And here is the obligatory "look, it's a picture of us in a pub!" though frankly we could be anywhere.
We had a good time, but I must admit that this was not my favorite pub in Edinburgh. We also went to the University of Edinburgh's Library Bar, a very academic-looking pub inside the oldest Student Union in the world with a balcony up a spiral staircase from the bar and walls lined with wooden cabinets filled with books, which was pretty cool. My favorite, though, was the Royal Oak, Edinburgh's main folk and traditional music pub.

Lots of Scottish music, both old and new, and a really nice crowd of people who just like to get together and play folk music. For my last night in Edinburgh, and my last night in Scotland, I saw in the lounge downstairs with a bunch of guys and guitars singing everything from Bob Dylan to Rabbie Burns. One friendly older man, upon hearing that I was studying fisheries, sang Farewell Tae the Haven for me, the best Scottish song I've heard about troubles with the fishing industry and a fairly accurate representation of what I heard out in the fishing ports about the decommissioning. For those of who who know my penchant to sing sea chanties in the shower, you'll also be amused to hear that they also convinced me to sing one myself (I did Paddy on the Railway as a proper American tune but also appropriate for the weekend of St. Patrick's Day). And I got to end my time in Scotland singing the Mingulay Boat Song and Barrett's Privateers and Leave Her Johnny with the guys who run this folk music show. It doesn't get any better.

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