Thursday, August 23, 2012

Scotland: The Cities

Cities will suck the life right out of you, but in a good way.  This is something I’ve learned is true all over the world.  London, Los Angeles, Munich, San Francisco, Genoa, Berlin, and Lyon have all left me feeling bone-tired and in need of a pint of something after spending a full day seeing their sights, and now I can add Glasgow and Edinburgh to that list.  The first time you see a new city requires a staggering amount of mental energy.  They demand that you take in everything they have to offer: their food (fast and cheap or slow and expensive but almost always good), their buildings (new, old, filled with stories and memories), and their people (folks that really aren’t that different from yourself, although they might speak a different language and have different pictures on their money). 

We saw Glasgow on our first full day in Scotland, which meant that we were still navigating the logistics of driving and caravanning with a large group.  We started at the Glasgow Cathedral, which easily rivals anything I saw on the continent in 2008.  Being a huge Harry Potter fan, I was delighted to learn that this church is also known as St. Mungo’s Cathedral. 

Glasgow Cathedral
Glasgow Cathedral (or St. Mungo's)

I loved the sacristy especially, which had several Bible verses spelled out in letter tiles on the floor.  The verses were all centered on the theme of walking and paths.  Around the central pillar it reads “Guide our feet into the way of peace”, and around the edge of the room there are four verses: “He that walketh upright walketh surely”, “Let us run with patience the race that is set before us”, “Hold up my goings in thy paths that I may slip not”, and “”. It seemed to me like the perfect place for pacing contemplation.  A few circuits around the room would be enough to stretch your legs, meditate on the words embedded in the floor, and take you past the fireplace once each turn. 

After lunch in the nearby café, the group split up to see things they each found interesting.  Being huge fans of the Arts & Crafts movement, we went on a trek through the main shopping drag to see the Willow Tea Rooms and the Glasgow School of Art, both designed by Charles Rennie Makintosh.  Sadly we arrived too late to get on one of the tours of the school of art, but we able to peer around some of the buildings.

Walking through Glasgow
Even though we didn’t go into many places in Glasgow, we did get to walk around a fair bit and see quite a lot of the city.  At one point we inadvertently walked through a small college in the middle of the city (University of Strathclyde), and unmistakably heard a student playing bagpipes in their dorm room.  Glasgow definitely felt industrial compared to Edinburgh.  If we hadn’t all been nervous about driving home in the dark, I think we would have stayed for dinner and a beer, but as it was we were still tired and turned for home before dark. 

If on our first day I took a few dainty sips of Glasgow, then I certainly tried to swallow Edinburgh whole on our second-to-last day.  August is the festival season for Edinburgh, and the city is notoriously packed, so we decided to take the train into the city early in the morning.  That would drop us off in the middle of everything around 10AM, and the last train back to Pitlochry (our starting point) left around 7:30, which we figured was enough time to hit the highlights.  An additional day in the city would have been nice, but I’d be saying that even if we’d spent a month in Scotland. 

After so much driving during the rest of the week, taking the train was a stroke of genius.  We had a short drive into Pitlochry around 7:30 AM, picked up our tickets from the counter, and spent out train ride discussing what we wanted to see.  Only half of our group wanted to see Edinburgh, so we had a row of seats to ourselves.  I worked on my knitting, and in another Potteresque moment, the husbeast bought coffee from the snack trolley.  We arrived feeling refreshed, and knowing that everyone could have a beer with dinner since nobody had to drive home. 

Pitlochry Train Station
The Pitlochry train station, nearly empty around 8AM.
It took some time for us to get oriented to the city, but we eventually found our way to St. Giles’ Cathedral, our first stop.  

St. Giles's Cathedral, plus festival tents

I have to mention the place we had lunch: The Outsider, on George IV Bridge Street.  The food and beverages were just delightful: I had coley (a white fish) with mushroom risotto and peas, and the husbeast had a tasty-sounding pork chop.  It was a really delightful place to eat in the middle of the bustle of the city.  Fortified with such excellent food, we got back on the Royal Mile and walked up to Edinburgh Castle.  Unfortunately, we hadn’t really timed it well in terms of the crowds.  We opted to take in the lovely views of the castle’s exterior rather than standing in the line to go inside. 

Edinburgh Castle
Edinburgh Castle from the outside
The rest of the group was very kind in humoring me in walking back along the Royal Mile and taking a slight detour:
k1 Yarns, Edinburgh
An LYS! In the wild!
I may have bought a little bit of yarn, but more details on that later.  I was very pleased at the selection of Scottish yarns they had available, and the person working when we went in was very helpful in helping one of our party choose yarn to take back for his girlfriend.  The husbeast acquired some cheese while we were yarn shopping.  Our next stop was at the other end of the Royal Mile: Holyrood House Palace, and the Queen’s Gallery. 

Holyrood House Palace
Holyrood House Palace Exterior
Holyrood was very interesting, and the audioguide included in the ticket price was incredibly detailed.  I particularly enjoyed seeing the rooms inhabited by Mary, Queen of Scots and her portrait.  The ruins of Holyrood Abbey, open to the sky, are a wonderful end cap to the tour of the palace grounds.  I also opted to pay for entrance to the Queen’s Gallery, which had some very fine paintings.

Holyrood Abbey
Holyrood Abbey Ruins
At this point, I looked at the time and realized that I was not going to be able to see one of the items on my list: The National Gallery.  It would close in 20 minutes, and was back at the Castle end of the Royal Mile.  We decided to walk back at a more leisurely pace, and did a bit of souvenir shopping along the way.  Since we were all feeling a bit footsore, we opted to make our last activity dinner near the train station.  By the time we finished with dinner, it had started to rain quite heavily.  This made the final walk to the train station a bit harrowing, as we were nervous about getting there in enough time to find our platform (sadly, 19 rather than 9 ¾).  Plus, I was wearing less than ideal footwear, and kept slipping in puddles.  I was also the only one with an umbrella, so we were all quite soggy when we collapsed into our seats on the train. 

Between the rain, my shoes, and the entire day of walking, I was quite exhausted and a bit cranky when we got on the train, but it was nothing that a peaceful ride and a hot cup of tea from the trolley couldn’t fix. 
On the train back from Edinburgh
My super-sneaky side shot of the trolley, plus tea & knitting.
Like any good adventure in a big city, the day left us worn out but richer for the experience.  Next time, tales of tromping around the Highlands. 

1 comment:

wildtomato said...

I love this trip update! Can't wait to read more.

I know what you mean about cities sucking a huge amount of mental energy. Pacing myself in a new place is the hardest thing to do, but if I don't, I'm a zombie the following day.