A day in the life, Edinburgh

Monday, July 13, 2009

I was Skyping with Karen and Steve last night (which was really nice) and one thing Karen said was that the stuff she likes most in the blog posts isn't the "then I saw this famous sight and here's the history behind it" stuff. (She's got Google for that kind of thing.) She was more interested in what life is like - how my days go by, what I eat for breakfast, that kind of thing. So in that spirit I kept track of what I was doing and thinking today, and here it is:

I wake up at about 8:30am. No alarm, which still feels a bit decadent. I often set an alarm for 8:00am, which is around when I wake up anyways, but I was so tired from the camping weekend on the beach that I didn't bother this morning. Also, I usually end up wearing one of those dopey Felix Unger eye masks things when I sleep because the sun rises at 4:45am, and sets at 9:50pm (though it stays light much later). Apparently Edinburgh is on the same latitude as Churchill, Manitoba! The dopey eye mask thing is vital.

I wander in to the communal kitchen and fix myself breakfast from groceries I bought when I hit town last Wednesday. Tesco economy Swiss Style Muesli (44p for the whole box!) and melon (which I slice up with an exacto knife I bought at the local Pound Saver, because the kitchen has exactly one knife, and it's a plastic butter knife), all mixed up with a pot of yogurt. Also a cup of tea and an orange. Carry everything back to my room and sit and email and eat.

Here's what the room looks like. A bargain for £21.50 per night.

Noodle around on the computer a bit more, and then shower in one of the two bathrooms shared by the six rooms in my "pod". The hostel is actually a university residence that's re-purposed in the summer months, which is why there are private rooms. Only one of the showers in my pod actually produces hot water, which I discovered in a chilling way on my first morning.

Get dressed, fold up the laundry that dried overnight, tweet about my plans, and head out to today's first destination - the National Museum of Scotland. I check the map in my ever-dwindling Rick Steves guide book and head towards the vicinity of the museum. Every once in a while I look over my right shoulder, and there's the castle, which is arresting and awesome. There's a guy in a suit sitting on a bench and I want to go up and shake him and say, "Do you even see that? It's freakin' fantastic! LOOK!!!"

You've seen the castle before, but it's my favourite thing in Edinburgh, so here it is again

I'm doing fine until I get to Grassmarket, when I strike off at a perfect right angle to the correct route. I wander amiably for a while, sensing that something is wrong, but not sure how to correct it. Then this thought enters my head: "Hey, another Salvation Army Hostel for Women? Weird! There was one just back there... and here's another market... wait a minute... Oh damn."

Eventually I stumble on the museum (right at the statue of Greyfriars Bobby, for anyone who's looking). The museum is free and I grab an audio guide and head down to the basement, where you're supposed to start. (More on the blessing and curse that is audioguides in another post.)

It quicky becomes apparent that I'm starting to suffer from museum fatigue, since I'm not really concentrating on the displays and thinking more about what I'm going to have for lunch. I wander around for a while longer and then go to meet up with the free guided tour that starts at 11:30am. I figure that will snap me out of it a bit.

The tour guide is ok, and he points out some interesting things in the antiquities area, but I distracted by man in the group who I'm quite sure is sporting a toupee. At least I think it's a toupee. I spend some time maneouvering so I can get a good look.*

The guide, gesturing at a very interesting stone carving. (Toupee Man not shown)

I'm also really enjoying looking at the Andy Goldsworthy pieces that are on display in the gallery, and take a bunch of pictures of them.

This one contains every bone from the skeleton of a beached pilot whale. The audio guide said it's woven together with no glue or fasteners.

I finish up the tour, though the guide doesn't even make it to the upper floors, and happily hand in my audio guide in search of lunch. Head back to the market where I purchase an outsized container of paella (£4) and sit down on a bench to eat it just as it's starting to rain. Seek shelter, tweet about lunch, and contemplate the fact that I think I'm getting a repeptitive strain injury in my left thumb from the tiny keyboard on my cell phone. Don't finish the paella, but go and pay an outrageous sum (£5.30) for a bag of mixed nuts and dried fruit, and then head back to the museum, which seems to be a good place for a rainy day.

The museum (round two) is pretty good, and I pay more attention to the exhibits I should have sought out first - the ones about the industrial revolution and steam engines and cool stuff like that. I leave at about 4:00pm to head to St. Giles Cathedral.

St. Giles is to Scotland what Westminster Abbey is to England, but by this point in the trip my Cathedral tolerance is quite low. I wander in though, and am imediately struck by how different a place this is to Westminster. It's lower and feels heavier, and the stone is darker. The arches don't soar like they do at Westminster or York Minster. The central tower is quite short and the pillars that support it are massive. It feels less refined, but that doesn't seem like a bad thing at all. It feels, in comparison to the other cathedrals I've already seen, very Scots. I donate a pound in the collection box and head to the Scott Monument.

More rain, but I pay my £3 to climb the 287 steps to the top and take lots of pictures. The stairs get quite narrow in the final stages, which makes passing strangers going the other way an arrestingly intimate encounter. At one viewing level (there are three), I run into a bevy of teenage girls who are waving and blowing kisses to some young guys on the ground. They break into giggles and squeels that leave me simultaneously contemptuous and slightly jealous.

Arthur's Seat, the Old Town, North Bridge and Waverly Station, taken from the Scott Monument

After the Scott Monument I start theshort walk back to the hostel to get ready to go for a run. Stop at a Boots (drugstore) to pick up some more hair goop, which is still on sale for £1 per tin! Also stop at Tesco and pick up more yogurt and fruit for breakfast (there's still loads of 44p meusli left) and some veggies to supplement my supper. Get wet again as it buckets down rain very briefly.

Back at the hostel I dry off, check email, munch on pricey snacks and procrastinate going running. Eventually I head out and end up having a really good run. All the hills must finally have made a difference because I run 11.3 km at a pace that's actually faster than my normal easy pace, on a route that includes some serious elevation gain. I don't go all the way up to Arthur's Seat again, but I do get up to the crags, and do not have to stop once for a walk break on the way. Even better, while running around the park I meet a runner coming the other way with a dog, and the dog is carrying the guy's water bottle for him! As I pass I say, "That's handy!" and he says, "Ah knoo!". Get back to the hostel feeling great.

Stretch, shower and then fix some supper. This is the first time I've eaten supper "in", and I make up a plate with some leftovers from the Gullane weekend - a chunk of stilton cheese and half a bun, along with a Scotch pie purchased at an artisinal butcher shop where the proprietor had such a proper Scots accent that I only understood about one word in three. I supplement with the snow peas I bought at Tesco, because I've been dangerously low on vegetables here. (Interesting side note: whereas the Canada Food Guide recommends 5-10 fruits and vegetables a day, here in the UK they must figure that's a pipe dream. Here they're just hoping for 5-a-day, and I think that must still be a struggle, especially if chips, crisps and mash don't count.)

Supper in front of the tv, just like home! (30 Rock - "The Rural Juror" episode)

After supper I wander out for a pint at a neat little pub on Fleshmarket Close (York had snickeways, Edinburgh has Closes). It's tiny and quiet and they have a newspaper with a big section on the new Harry Potter movie, so I am happy. Walk back to the hostel in the rain and do a load of sink laundry, then sit down to upload photos and blog.

Come up for air about 2 hours later. Seriously, that's how long it takes me to crank this stuff out. Uploading photos, writing stuff, adding the photos to the post (which takes about eleven steps...), previewing, checking, revising, blah blah blah. I really struggle with figuring out how divide my time between planning the next thing, experiencing the current thing, and documenting the last thing.

And now with the post safely published I can get on with figuring out which train I'm getting to the Falkirk Wheel tomorrow. Here's hoping for good weather.

* I never came to a definitive conclusion about the toupee, but I'm 99% sure that it was NOT real hair. Either way, though the guy needed some serious assistance with his do.


Heather Moore said...

I did not know about Greyfriars Bobby. What a sad story.

eme said...

If you can go on the Black Mausoleum tour (it held at night), very fun and neat: http://www.blackhart.uk.com/

Karen said...

Much appreciated. I feel more in tune with your days now.

Phonella said...

Yes, I'm with Karen -- thanks for a really interesting post.

Anonymous said...

The Falkirk Wheel?! That's awesome! I so wish I was there. Take pictures please.

Bronwen said...

Seeing your pictures of Edinburgh brought back so many memories. And then I just read you are in Stirling, which I spent 2 weeks almost 10 years ago. Love it, the castle is amazing...don't remember a whole lot else, but that I liked the town. Enjoy!

Kim said...

Two hours per blog! I believe it! I'm surprised it doesn't take longer actually... still enjoying as always...keep running those hills.

Lisa said...

I chuckled when I saw the pic of TV dinner and cutlery..I bought that same exact set at MEC before my trip to the mountains and really like it..the knife actually has an edge on it...

I'm just getting caught up on all your blogs posts as I was away from technology for some time...

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