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Published: June 18th 2007
June 18, 2007
On our train journey from Oxford to Edinburgh, we had a few inconveniences and mishaps. The first leg of the trip was about an hour on a very crowded train. Many of us were jammed into the entrance way to the car, standing up for the whole trip, swaying back and forth, trying to keep our luggage from tumbling over. We had to change at Birmingham, and we raced across the station to find our platform, only to be uncertain which train we were to take. The 12:00 to Aberdeen? Or the 12:03 to Edinburgh? Everyone began to pile on the 12:00, but then ran to the other side for the 12:03. In horror, we realized we had lost track of one student. Had she gotten on the wrong train? Lucy ran through the cars, calling her name, but then the 12:00 to Aberdeen had to leave. My heart sank as I imagined that lone student discovering that everyone else had remained behind in the station and she was all alone on a train to Aberdeen….not Edinburgh. Where was Aberdeen, anyway? In the next ten minutes we discovered a few things that calmed
our worst fears. The train to Aberdeen also went to Edinburgh, and was actually due to arrive there an hour earlier than our train. In fact, this student was the only one on the right train! We, in contrast, were taking the longer route. This student also had a cell phone, and we were able to make contact and reassure her that she was on the right train. She arrived in Edinburgh one hour before us, and we easily met up at the station when we arrived soon after 5 pm.
We walked through a fairly gritty part of town, along the Cowpath to the students’ accommodations at Budget Backpackers, one of many hostel accommodations in town. This is better than some hostels, in that all the students have double rooms - many hostels have students in rooms of 6 or more, sharing with strangers. But the amenities are limited. They get sheets at the desk, and they can rent a towel for 50p, with a 2 pound deposit. Bathrooms are shared by both men and women.
Lucy and I are renting a flat for the four nights we are here, and it is quite nice, with a
full kitchen, television and DVD player, washer and dryer, and extra large fluffy towels. We each have our own room. It is in a historically listed building, with a view of Edinburgh castle, looming on its volcanic cliff across the way. We had to climb up several flights of stairs to enter our flat from a terrace overlooking a leafy courtyard. Our first night here, we ordered in pizza and had all the students here for dinner. It is a great setting for Lucy and I mid-way through the trip, and students have come by to find a quiet place to discuss their assignments or just write.
Monday morning we visited Edinburgh castle. We got a great guided tour and really enjoyed the many excellent views of the city. They are building the bleacher stands for the annual Military Tatoo held in August. This is a quite elaborate three weeks of military display teams, fife and drum corps, bands, etc. with 9000 spectators at each performance filling the stadium erected on the Castle parade grounds. We saw the Scottish crown jewels and the Stone of Destiny, on which centuries of Scottish and British monarchs have been coronated.
walked down the Royal Mile, the old cobblestoned street that connects the Castle and Holyrood Palace. I went in to several of the tourist gift shops, which seem to all sell the same line of goods. Plaid woolens, scotch whisky, and decorative boxes of Scottish shortbread make up about 70% of the products. I did find a delightful shop of handcrafted knitwear designs: Canongate Crafts and Jerseys. It’s a small family-owned business that sells their own sweaters, hats, felted bags, etc. Very creative and beautiful. I bought a felted shoulder bag as a souvenir for myself. The proprietor of this shop recommended Clarinda’s tea room down the street for lunch, and that was a good choice. Clarinda’s made me feel like I was in my grandmother’s front parlor, with its lace tablecloths, Victorian portraits, prints, and plates on the wall, and hand-written menus. I had a very satisfying lunch of shepherd’s pie, iced pumpkin cake, and a pot of Earl Grey tea.
After lunch we all met at the Palace of Holyrood. We took the self-guided audio tour, which was a fantastic way to see the Palace. You get as much information as you want, at your own pace.
As at Stonehenge, I found these audio tours also create an orderly and quiet atmosphere in a crowded tourist attraction. Holyrood palace is still a functioning Royal residence, and when the Queen is in Edinburgh, this is her home. Both the Castle and the Palace were homes at various times for Mary Queen of Scots, and I learned a great deal about her interesting but sad life today. In Brattleboro the night before I left on this trip, I had been to a performance of Schiller’s Mary Stuart at the New England Youth Theater, and that was a great preview for me of this visit to her homes in Edinburgh.
After the Palace I walked a bit through the town and did a little window shopping on Prince’s Street. I went inside Jenner’s department store and was both surprised and impressed at its old-fashioned interior. Then I bought some groceries and went back to the flat for some dinner and reading before bed. It does not really begin to get dark here until about 10:00, so it has been hard to get to sleep much before 11:00, which is late by my usual standards. Tomorrow (Tuesday) we take an
all-day bus tour to the Scottish Highlands and Loch Ness!
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