Wednesday, December 23, 2015 Road Junkies 0 Comments

, Chapter 20:  

Day 23:  Edinburgh 
For the second morning in a row, we woke up with the certainty that we need to move to another location.  The room at the Doubletree was OK, but we had a little neighbor, a 4-year-old girl, next door who apparently is in training for some track and field jumping event or perhaps gymnastics for the 2028 Olympics.

In addition, the room was pretty small and not exactly cozy warm.  This is a bit more of an issue since we had to leave our little heater behind in Dublin when we flew the restrictive Ryan Air to Edinburgh.  After doing a too-long series of one night stays, we both have almost zero clean clothes.  In a room with no radiators and often cool air blowing from the ceiling level vent, it’s going to take a long time to get clothes dry.

Weighing our options, we decided to move to the rather new Residence Inn by Marriott in the Quartermile, a mixed use redevelopment of the former Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh site and not too far from the Doubletree.  We were able to book a spacious one-bedroom suite with a full kitchen for just a few pounds more than the Doubletree.  And the Residence Inn had a guest laundry on site.  Washing machine and “tumble dryer,” as they’re called here.  A no brainer, and we’re hoping the third hotel will be charmed.
The taxi driver who transported us from one hotel to the other waited while we checked in and drove us to the Scottish Parliament.  To continue our survey about why Scotland rejected the vote for independence, we asked the taxi driver Gordon for his take on the matter.  Gordon surmised that people were just uncertain about how independence would affect the country as a whole and themselves individually.  In his particular situation, he was concerned that Edinburgh’s losing its position as the second largest financial center in the UK would deal a blow to the city’s economy and thus impact his livelihood as an Edinburgh taxi driver.
At the Scottish Parliament, we underwent the typical bag x-ray and walk through metal detector security screening before entering and making our way to the visitor desk.  We opted for the self-guided tour of the chamber gallery and the exhibition areas.  While it seemed we were given carte blanche to wander around the building, employees were discreetly stationed at the entries to areas outside our limits and would kindly point the way to where we needed to go.

Though there is historical evidence of a Scottish Parliament dating back to 1235, this particular iteration of the institution dates back only to 1999.  Though the Parliament of Scotland stood for almost 500 years, when the Kingdom of Scots and the Kingdom of England decided to unite as Great Britain in 1707, the Scottish Parliament was dissolved in favor of the one in London.
Parliament's Debate Chamber
For almost 300 years, the Scottish Parliament remained dormant, though there was always a contingent of Scots who favored local rule on local issues.  Finally this movement led to success in 1999 when Tony Blair’s Labor government initiated a referendum of the Scottish people on the topic.

Like state governments in the United States, the Scottish Parliament enacts laws on matters of local concern, such as education, health, agriculture, justice, social services, and transportation.  Issues of a national interest, including foreign affairs, defense, and immigration, remain the purview of the UK Parliament.
Parliament building exterior
With a controversial love-it-or-hate-it postmodern design, the Scottish Parliament building opened in 2004, three years overdue and more than £300 million over budget.  It was designed by a Spanish architect who created a collection of low-slung buildings meant to harmonize with and permit views of the surrounding rugged scenery while symbolizing the connection between the Scottish people and their environment.  The building has won numerous awards, yet it has also ranked fourth on the “UK Buildings You’d Most Like to See Demolished” list. 
Parliament exterior
We found the chamber striking, and while there we struck up a conversation with Hugh, a security agent stationed in the chamber gallery.  Eventually the conversation turned to the independence referendum last year, and Hugh expressed his concern about whether Scotland has the resources to succeed as an independent nation.
Parliament building lobby
Leaving Parliament, we walked across the street to visit the Palace at Holyroodhouse, a royal residence which grew out of an abbey established at the site in the early 12th century.  The palace has served as a royal residence since the 15th century.  Before Scotland’s union with England, many Scottish monarchs reigned there, including the turbulent tenure of Mary, Queen of Scots.  It was at Holyrood that her husband murdered Mary’s Italian secretary in a fit of jealousy.
Holyrood Palace
Today the palace serves as the official residence of the British monarch in Scotland.   Holyrood has undergone numerous additions and transformations over the centuries.  Most of the current palace was built in the late 1600s and consists of four 230-ft sides built around a grassy quadrangle.  Like most such buildings, only a small portion is open to the public.  At Holyrood, the self-guided tour with an excellent audio guide led visitors through the 17th century royal apartments, parts of which are still used by the royal family.
When we exited the palace tour, we walked to the adjacent ruins of Holyrood Abbey, built  between 1195 and 1230.  In its long history, the abbey changed hands from Catholic to Protestant and back to Catholic before its roof collapsed in the mid-1700s.  It was never rebuilt.  Numerous burial sites are located within the remains of the ancient nave, and when we arrived there a seven-year-old boy was gleefully balancing on top of the tombs as he walked from one to the other.  Then he discovered that if he ran really fast and stopped quickly, he could send a spray of pea gravel flying.
Holyrood Abbey
Seeing no adults supervising the mischievous imp or explaining the inappropriateness of his behavior to him, I finally could take no more.  Though retired for fifteen years, the teacher in me came out as I reprimanded him:  “Would you stop that?  This is not a place to run and play.”  Finally then he ran to an older couple who asked him what I had said to him…as the three of them departed the area.
Upon leaving Holyroodhouse, we walked back up the Royal Mile looking for a place for a bite of lunch.  We hadn’t walked two hundred yards when Clarinda’s Tea Room caught our attention. With eight little lace-covered tables set in a chintz and china parlor, the cozy shop served up a bit of interesting history with a delicious light lunch.  Clarinda, it seems, was the romantic alias of a beautiful 18th century young woman named Agnes Maclehose, who used the pseudonym to exchange poetic communications with her friend “Sylvander” whose true identity was the famous Scottish poet Robert Burns.
Burns wrote to Clarinda: "Ae fond his, and then we sever; Ae farewell, alas for ever"
Sustained with that romantic story and a bit of nourishment, we decided to walk over to Calton Hill Park to look for a letterbox.  We had looked at the map, and Calton Hill was only about three-fourths of a mile away.  Before we arrived at the park, we were reminded of the wise words of our first Edinburgh taxi driver Nick.  He had warned us about judging distances in the city by a two-dimensional map because Edinburgh is an unexpectedly three-dimensional city.  Often two adjacent places on the map, he warned, will be at entirely different elevations.  And that was indeed the case with Calton Hill Park.

We needn't worry when we had Jacob's Ladder, a steep pedestrian pathway carved into the volcanic rock of Calton Hill.  Mention of the path was first recorded in 1784, but it has been around much longer.  One of its early uses was for funeral processions from Old Town to the burial ground atop the hill.  Over time, the course of the path has been altered to accommodate building projects.
Jacob's Ladder
The vertical distance to reach Calton Hill Park from our starting point on the Royal Mile was equivalent to a sixteen-story building.  I’m not going to lie; therewas some huffing and no small amount of puffing before we reached the top.  But, oh, the reward when we did.  In addition to a sweeping view of the city, the park is home to numerous impressive monuments. 
National Monument
The National Monument, designed after the Greek Parthenon in Athens, was begun in the early 1800s as a memorial to soldiers and sailors who died in the Napoleonic Wars.  Construction of the monument was to be paid by subscription, but after it was only partially completed, funding dried up and construction came to a halt.  A variety of proposals have been floated over the years to “complete” the monument in the manner the architects envisaged.  But the consensus has been to retain its current, uniquely Scottish character.
Nelson Monument
Even before work began on the national monument, the highest point on Calton Hill had been capped in 1815 with the Nelson Monument to honor the hero of the 1805 Battle of Trafalgar.  The design is intended to depict an upturned telescope, an instrument closely associated with Nelson.
Dugald Stewart Monument
Though construction on his design for the National Monument was halted in 1829, the following year architect William Henry Playfair was tapped to fashion another monument on Calton Hill.  This one would honor Dugald Stewart, a Scottish philosopher and mathematician credited with popularizing the Scottish Enlightenment.  As with his previous commission, Playfair (ironic name?) borrowed liberally from the Greeks and contrived a circular temple modeled after another famous memorial in Athens.

Before we left Calton Hill, we searched in vain for the letterbox which was hidden along one of the approach paths.  As we passed back through Old Town on our way toward the Quartermile and considered our options for dinner, we realized we were quite near the Doric, where we had enjoyed such a great meal on Monday.  We didn’t have to think twice.  In fact, we didn’t need to think at all, as our feet beat a path toward the self-billed oldest gastro pub in Edinburgh.  And again, the food—locally sourced and impeccably prepared—did not disappoint.

When we left, with just a mile or so back to the Residence Inn, we again decided to walk, even though part of it was vertical.  About half a mile into the journey, I realized that I had left “the scarf” at The Doric.  I have three other scarves with me on this trip.  Perhaps I could just write this one off as lost.

Not!  This is no ordinary scarf.  In fact, it’s a stretch to call it a scarf.  It has become more like a soft and cozy gray 40” by 80” traveling companion.  It is lightweight but not too sheer, warm but not too bulky.  In fact, it has served as both neck scarf and lap blanket on this trip.  Often in a chilly hotel room, I have wrapped it around myself like a snuggly sarong.  Abandon it at the restaurant?  No way!

We were climbing down on the vertical stretch of the walk on the way back to the Doric, but once we recovered my friend Graycie—I mean, the scarf—we were a bit loath to restart our walk to the hotel.  Since we were close to the central rail station, we had only to cross the street to find a queue of taxis waiting for fares.

Back at the Residence Inn, we picked up our bags from the front desk bag storage and moved into room 608, which had not been ready when we checked in.  Delighted with all the extra space and thankful to have no budding gymnasts as neighbors, we settled in for a few days.

Tomorrow we plan to do a bit of shopping nearby to pick up some needed items and food for the next couple of days when restaurants will mostly be closed.

Daily Stats:
  • Started in Edinburgh, ended in Edinburgh
  • Mileage -  4.4 on foot        
  • Weather - 39° to 52°, showers, windy