Friday, August 01, 2014

Fàilte gu Alba - Dùn Èideann

Actually, I should start writing about Glasgow (where we flew into) and Stirling Castle (where we headed afterwards), but our first few hours in Scotland were sort of a disaster.  An incident with a rental car, a castle visit cancelled, a stressful drive and a nasty and expensive surprise at the rental company conspired to sour within 4 hours of arrival the excitement and happiness I had felt (see my previous post).   

So what does one do then?  Well, you count your losses, and then you make the firm decision to move forward and enjoy your trip no matter what.  And that's what we did: we hit Edinburgh (Dùn Èideann in Scottish Gaelic) with every intention possible of having a great start to our trip.  Ha!

Pretty here. Pretty there. Pretty everywhere.

Have you been to Edinburgh?  It's one of those cities where you can just wander and keep wandering and have no specific aim or goal an simply enjoy it because it's incredibly pretty, very dense, full of artistic events, and an absolute delight to look at from every angle!   And that's pretty much what we did for two days: walk, stop, admire; walk, stop, admire; repeat.  Well, we did some other things (to be mentioned below), but whether from Princes Street Gardens...

Or from atop Calton Hill (my favourite place to see the city! absolutely stunning! wherever your eyes went there was a view to discover!)...

Or walking down from the Edinburgh castle (and getting a message from [NOT]god saying "Worry not, what's done is done, and I don't care about you or anybody but hey, look at my sky painting! soooo pretty!!!")...

Or catching a glimpse of the cliffs of Salisbury Crags in the distance amongst all those gorgeous buildings...   

Or seeing Tron Kirk on the Royal Mile, from the distance, surrounded by countless picturesque buildings...

Well, you get the picture.   It's one of those European towns.  And incredibly, though the city itself is very old, plenty of buildings are rather new, thanks to the unbelievable wealth the UK had access to through its colonies... but that be another story.

The nooks, the crannies, the fog

(yes, it's one of those ultra long posts, sorry!)  We got a somewhat mixed weather.  Our first day there there was just a bit of a drizzle, and partially clear skies (hence the photos I could take above).  But our second day there was more rain, and plenty of fog!  So much fog, in fact, that you couldn't see the city at all from Edinburgh Castle!  But that same misty atmosphere added to the charm of the city, with its narrow alleys, the cobblestone streets, the towers...

I mean, even the drab New Town (which is new only in comparison to the Old Town; it's from the 18th and 19th centuries) looked slightly prettier in the wetter weather.  And sorry for using "drab".  I mean, the city is impressive.  It truly reflects the ideals of the time - order, reason, regularity.   As urban planning, it's quite the sight.  But that regularity, the similarity in patterns and colour, all that is... well, cheerless?  Which is why I was happy to catch this splash of blue from a couple walking in front of one of the buildings:

And this, one of my favourite photos.  We had just visited the National Gallery of Scotland (more on that visit below) and headed to the gallery's café which happened to have some tables outside.  It was drizzling, it was foggy, and enjoying a warm coffee, a warm pain au chocolat, and looking at ethereal-like buildings in the the distance across the park was, simply put, perfect.   I love those moments where movement stops, you stay still, relax, and absorb.

O Stout! O Whisky! (and other stuff)

This was my most unvegan trip of all.  Like, totally.  By far.   Among all the things I can rave about, the vegan unfriendliness is not one.  In Toronto, I can basically walk into any restaurant, approach any street food stand, and get something vegan.  And not just plain salad, you know? FOOD.   In Scotland... well, see what my very first meal was.   I took a look at the menu, I was starving, and plain ole fries was not going to cut it, so I gracefully admitted defeat and ordered a meat burger.   (I guess I was also in a mood of not making life difficult, after our morning experience, so that may have played a role)

But what Edinburgh couldn't offer food-wise... it more than compensated drink-wise!  Yay!  Finally, a place where people appreciate rich, thick, dark beer!  So along with my carcass burger I got to enjoy a nice local stout!  I forgot to write down the name.  But whatever, it was good.  Gooood.  And it was clear that wasn't a fluke and that I'd get to enjoy plenty more brews... at this other fantastic place!  Brew Dog!   This was on our second day.  And I loved the place!  To begin with, don't you love the blue dog?  LOL   Then, once inside, they had this sign that read "No Live Sport. No Football! No Shots! No Stella! But we do have boardgames."   The place was funky, so was the music, and the beer selection had plenty of funky names too, though we settled for, what else, a stout with some non flamboyant name I can't remember.  Brew Dog rocks, me says.

You know what else I had? Scotch Whisky.  You'll think that's quite unsurprising.  I'd agree.  So what do you say to Scotch Whisky... mixed in with your morning traditional Scottish porridge? huh?  Now that's something else, innit!   Our Bed & Breakfast (Ben Cruachan) had this choice with your porridge - cream, honey, or whisky.  Well I wasn't going to pass up trying it with whisky, right?  Plus, it was some sort of very light coloured, very soft one.  Not bad at all!  (Note: the whisky is poured over the porridge and mixed with it; it's not to be drank on the side; it's supposed to be MIXED IN).

So where food failed me (yeah, I had some vegetarian pakoras somewhere, too, but meh), drink failed me not.  Ha!

Of rainbows, skirts, and dolls 

You see, we visited a couple of churches.  And there was one thing that was rather curious about them:  their use of colour and some symbols.  I'm not sure if you can tell from this photo, but these winged beings were painted red, purple, pale blue, orange... they were quite colourful.  At first, because of the design, I thought this could be some Norse influence (just a fleeting idea, don't stone me).  Then we spotted a pretty colourful rainbow in another part of the church.  I just figured some very progressive priest had added that?  Still seemed rather odd...

But our visit to the National Gallery of Scotland (first photo) solved the mystery.  In the section for Scottish artists we came across a Celtic revival movement.   One look at that art and all doubts vanished.  There were rainbows.  There was colour.  And they were gay.  As in bright and colourful, mind you, though some did look a bit like a modern definition of gay...     

Related to that or not, what do you say about pastel blue seahorses with flowing rich golden manes at The Merchants Hall?

Another curious (or hot, or sexy, or weird, depending on your ideas) thing was that kilts are big in Edinburgh.  A kilt and jacket outfit can get so expensive some places advertised down payments of 600 British Pounds and 9 month plans to pay the rest.  Wow!  Whatever they might have cost, we probably saw men in kilts in every block.  And truth be told, some of them Scottish men can truly rock a kilt, like the piper in the second photo below (oh, btw, something more ubiquitous than kilts? redheads! it so happens that Scotland has the highest proportion of redheads in the world, at 13% of the population!)

Finally, and this probably doesn't quite fit here, but I didn't know where else to put it, there was the Museum of Childhood.  Apparently the first museum of its kind in the world, we went there to see some automatons (you know, self-operating machines/dolls).  And we did see them but, unfortunately, they sat quietly behind glass and none of them were operating.  At least we also got to see tons of what today seem to us like ultra creepy dolls.  It's really strange to look at the things children from previous times used to play with, really really strange.

All's well that ends well

See?  We passed the test and had two amazing days in super pretty and romantic Edinburgh despite our rocky start!   It was actually even better than I expected (food problem and all).  So on our third morning we headed to pick up another car and press on with our original plans to see the rest of Scotland!  Next stop... Drochaid a' Bhanna (Bonar Bridge), in the fabled Scottish Highlands!

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