Back to Scotland
Edinburgh Travel Blog› entry 17 of 19 › view all entries
Early this morning, even before breakfast, I bid farewell to Wooler and head back to Scotland. I catch the 7:30 am bus (walking uuuuuuuuuuuuuphill with my backpack suitcase!) to Berwick on Tweed and the 9 am train to Edinburgh. All goes smoothly. There are more people on the bus than one would expect at 7:30 am on a Saturday but there's still plenty of space.
I am met at the train station in Edinburgh by my CouchSurfing host, Sujai. He is effusive and gracious and much cuter than the picture on his profile. He shepherds me via local bus to his apartment on the southside of E'burgh.
Along the way, he has a running commentary on everything we're seeing, how to orient myself, how to manage the buses, everything I could need to know to enjoy my day on my own. He's got a cricket match that afternoon and invites me to come watch but, um, I gently decline. He's not even a little but suprised. Cricket fans, even in the UK, understand that they love a poorly represented, little understood, and under-respected sport. With a really weird vocabulary.
After giving me the keys to his place, making sure my guide is supplemented with his guides and maps (this man loves to host!), and letting me drop my bag (my own room! with a mattress!), we part ways.
The day is somewhat overcast and threatening rain but there are tons of people out on the streets. I really really like the vibe of Edinburgh. Very lively, very lived-in, very friendly. It feels like Chicago, but on a smaller and more mangeable scale (I love Chicago but, damn, it's big!).
The "downtown" is a major shopping area and is full of people simply doing their Saturday shopping. Tourists, students, and locals completely intermingled. I spend an hour or two wandering through shops, having some lunch, and picking up a few things I need. I then drop into the park that separates the Old Town (really old) from New Town (only sorta old). It used to be a loch till they drained it and turned it into a park.
The Edinburgh Castle towers over it. Edinburgh is actually on old volcanic land and the castle is perched up on a major hunk of rock. How anyone could scale those walls and defeat it is beyond me (but they did). Trying to find a not-so-steep way up to the castle, I come across the Church of St. Cuthbert.
I can't get away from him!
OK, so I have to go inside. It's a local church with a local congregation. Nice gift shop (hmmmm, maybe my church should get one of those??) and a really pretty interior. They even have a Tiffany stained glass window. Snazzy. Actually, they have some religious art they I find compelling, but the pictures turned out waaaaay too dark (sorry).
From there, it's up to the castle. Yeah, I had to climb, there's no avoiding it, dang it.
The castle is, of course, tourist mecca but what the heck. The free tour that I end up joining is led by a college student named "Doug" (he instructs us not to call him Douglas because it makes him feel old) who looks damned fine in a kilt. I think he knows it too. I don't care. I resist the urge to take a picture of his legs.
It's a castle. Chapels, armories, etc. etc. etc. Queen Mary gave birth to James here. Cromwell mucked things up. The Scottish Army still has jurisdiction here. They have a burial ground just for military dogs. The Scottish crown jewels (all 4 of them) are here. They have a very nice War Memorial Chapel that's worth a look-see. Superb freakin' views of Edinburgh. Today, I deeply regret dunking the good camera in the ocean.
The castle anchors one end of the Royal Mile.
I meander my way from the end back (I think) towards the train station and my bus home. I miss the train station somehow (turns out I walked under it) and end up in a kind of theater district. I'm in the mood for pizza and my guidebook recommends a couple of places in the area.
The first place refuses to seat me because I'm a single diner with no reservation. I'm torqued (and wet, it's raining) but the place next door accepts me. I realize that I have arrived at prime dining hour for the theater crowd (6:30 pm) so I decide to forgive the first restaurant and tip the waiter heavily if he doesn't ignore me.
He doesn't and I have a lovely slow dinner of wine, appetizer, more wine, pizza, a bit more wine, and dessert. Thanks to the service (and the wine) I do indeed tip graciously and amble out. Having now mostly figured out where I am (and were I took the wrong turn), I weave my way back to the train station to find the right bus.
I arrive home as Sujai does. He lost at cricket but he's so danged cheerful it hardly seems like a bad thing. We begin to discuss cricket and before I know it, we've been talking (and viewing YouTube of) cricket for probably an hour and I actually.......
Believe it or not. It's not really any weirder than American baseball and Sujai is such an animated (and patient) teacher that I really finally "get" cricket. I wouldn't even mind seeing a match (a 3-hour match, not a 3-day match!). He's miraculous.
Our conversations continue to ramble (and remain really engaging; he's quite the host) until I am ready to fall face first to the carpet. His afternoon of cricket has done him in too, so we say our good-nights.