Sunday, July 17, 2011

DAY 2-3 of London-Edinburgh Trip

LONDON TRIP DAY 2-3 July 1-2

We're finally off to Edinburgh after our flight was delayed for more than an hour. And when we asked which gate we should be waiting at, we were told that "as soon as we know, we'll tell you." This didn't quite sit well with me, the steady planner, especially after witnessing a puffy old Englishman huffing his way to a gate trying to fetch a plane to Glasgow only to be told it wasn't the gate after all, and that he had 2 minutes to find the right one, by running to the screen in the middle of the airport as the attendant at the gate had no idea where he should be. He missed his flight, needless to say, juggling his rucksack (knapsack) like a colicky baby and then collapsing in front of the vending machine when he knew all had been lost. He bought a package of pastilles, downing them in his mouth without even swallowing.

Luckily, there is a tour guide leading tourists from Japan and I lean over to snoop and notice that their flight number is the same as ours-- it seems like my far-sighted vision has become stronger as my up-close vision gets worse, and I feel like we're at least running distance to the proper gate.

We're told to board and shuffle over to the gate with all the other people who seem to know instinctively which gate to go to and get on the barely full flight to Edinburgh.

I'm so thirsty, I break down and pull out a pound to buy a cup of tap water, as we're told nothing is free to eat or drink on the plane by the BMI attendant. But he breaks down and gives me a cup of water without taking any money for it and I read a Boots Pharmacy magazine on fashion and make-up tips that someone left on-board, with lots of talk about bronzer and maxi-dresses and how yellow and orange are the new black for nails and clothing.

It's 9 thirty when we touch down in Edinburgh and the fist thing I notice is how light out it is at this hour. We'll be staying in the Hopetoun area of the city, which is half an hour from the airport and about the same from the Royal Mile. As we drive to the flat in our taxi, a double-decker bus (it seems all public transportation buses are two levels in Great Britain), with tartan seating stops alongside us and there are dogs on the bus,too-- little corgies and terriers on the laps of their owners staring out at us. Then we catch sight of Edinburgh Castle, the focal point of Edinburgh, perched above the city on a heap of volcanic rock and always in view no matter where you are and glowing a beautiful bronze.

We pass dozens of monuments and even catch sight of the shimmering Firth of Fourth-- say that four times quickly-- it's the mouth of the estuary that flows into the North Sea.

We make it up the 4 flights to the flat which we'll call home for the next four days, and our nieces and nephew are groggy from jet lag, too, but greet us at the door in their pj's.

Our apartment is like a loft, surrounded by windows that open out on an angle. They surround the kitchen as well, where Evie, our niece, shows Rich the little standing porch and a fridge and freezer that are about the size of a mini-fridge.

Rich and I decide to stroll the neighborhood along Leith Walk. Even though we're exhausted, we're also starving-- that Thai food in London was 10 hours ago. The shopkeepers are rolling up their awnings, but we head to LA FAVORITA anyhow, a local Italian eatery I had looked up that came highly recommended from reviewers, and where the owner is outside clearing the cafe-style tables. "Can we still order food?" I ask him. "We just arrived from London." "I never turn away a customer," he smiles, and we order a brick-fired pizza called Golfo, with prawns(shrimps are called prawns in Scotland and England), smoked salmon and broccoli.

It's really fabulous and we have it as "take-away," gobbling it up in the loft kitchen, where it's still light out at 10:30 at night. We flop onto the pull-out bed and set the alarm, as tomorrow is a day in the Highlands, and we're all being picked up by 7.

Okay, it's 3 in the morning and STILL light out! Nobody told us about this, but Rich figures we're on the same latitude as Juno, Alaska, and we try to navigate the drapes to cover the wall-to-wall windows in the living room where we're staying, so we can get some sleep. The pigeons are making a bizarre sound on the rooftops, not cooing, more like screeching or pleading for Mother Nature to make it dark enough so we can all get some sleep. Then the alarm goes off. Rich is convinced it's a mistake, that I must've set it for 4 o'clock, but it's nearly 7 and we scramble to get ready for our trip to the Highlands.

Andy is our driver and the mini-bus has plenty of room for us 7 Wallaces. We're told from the start that our last name holds great weight in Scotland, and I wish I'd brought along my Wallace plaid scarf, but it's made of pure, itchy wool and I'd thought it would be too warm for the Highlands.

It's quite cool at the moment, though the sun is shining. "You've brought the sun with you," Andy says, and we're off to Stirling Castle and the Wallace monument.

When Scottish people joke that there are more sheep in the country than people, I begin to see why. On either side of us in the lowlands are fields of green where sheep(Andy keeps joking that they're 4 legged haggis),horses, and some Angus cattle are grazing.

We see the odd Scottish highland cow,too,

and it really feels like the old country, or what I envision the old country to be and quite fairy-tale like, with abandoned little castles and fortresses jutting out of the landscape,

fields of pine, boggy meadows,

and patches of purple thistles, the Scottish national flower.

Once the site of thousands of coal mines, (according to Andy), the fields are now grazing land filled with farm animals and fresh air. "This is the first time I've been able to take my jumper off," Andy tells us. "Be careful of the Scottish sun," he says to me. "It can fool you, but it'll leave you pink and burning."

I'm enchanted by the brick cottages
with their brightly-painted doors and flower gardens, and the sheep-- already hiding in crevices, looking for shade behind scrub or rock.

As we arrive at Stirling Castle, Rich and I opt to walk the town with my sister-in-law, Lynda, while my other sister-in-law, Carol, and the kids explore the castle.

We'll reserve our castle experiences for Edinburgh. "Careful of the midges," Andy says to us, which are little gnat-like creatures that apparently bite like mosquitoes.

We catch a piper in town and I grab another delicious coffee that's too good to put anything in it, so I drink it black and stare at the candy shop with the Loch Ness monster in the window covered in bon bons.

We ramble through an old cemetery covered with ferns and hollyhocks,

then work our way into a mossy park, where the grass is so spongy, I have to take off my shoes. The green is like velvet against my feet.

We look up and see the Castle, with dozens of people waving at us. We wave back and then Lynda gets a call from the kids. "We're waving at you," they say, laughing.

A friendly couple on bicycles shows us the way back to the castle. Then its off to see the Wallace monument

where we read about William Wallace, passing the famous Stirling bridge where he defeated the English at first.

We climb the steps to the top of the Wallace monument... there seems to be over 2 hundred of them-- and catch breath-taking views

of the highlands and Stirling castle.

"Do you feel like you're in your homeland?" I ask Rich, overwhelmed by the beauty and history myself and imagining his great grandparents, crossing over from Paisley and settling in Kearny, New Jersey,in the 1880's. "Not really," Rich smiles. "Maybe if we'd kept up with the traditions, the foods other than Mum Mum's shortbread." But I can tell he's pleased about his last name, and how many gifts there are with the name Wallace in all the shops, and pubs with the name Wallace,

and that you can find Wallace plaid everywhere,

and how we're with so many Wallaces on this trip, and with more joining us in London.

Then it's off to Loch Lomond (all lakes here are called Lochs.)Andy tells us how he'd love Scotland to be a country all on its own and that there will be another election soon to decide independence, and that he hopes this one won't be rigged. He talks of how the Highlanders have nouse (pronounced, nows) which means a keen sense of common sense whether they've gotten schooling or not, and how he hopes the nouse will kick in come election-time.

We arrive at Loch Lomond and Andy takes us to a blueberry patch to pick wild brachenberries, the Scottish word for wild blueberries. They're much tarter than our New Hampshire wild blueberries, but we keep picking them anyhow, stuffing our faces, especially my nephew Ben, who is 12. He puts some in his pockets as Andy stops us and says, "Look behind you... on one side is the lowland and in front of you is the highland, and right now you have one foot in each."

When we climb down from our little Highland trek, we wade our feet in the loch and Andy tells us to pick up stones. "The more you skip, the more days of sunshine you'll have." Andy's full of things like that. My nephew skips stones for over an hour until he can make it to four skips. "I want it to be sunny the whole time we're here," he smiles, while Evie picks up beach glass in between skips.

By the time we get back to Edinburgh at 8 o'clock we're exhausted, but hungry again and head to The SMOKE HOUSE for some food-- our first fish and chips of the trip. The chips are delicious and manage to stay hot and soft at the same time. And the fish batter (called veteran-style or traditional),is crispy but not the least bit greasy, even though it looks like it should be. The kids order salmon and we all get salad, this time with dressing, not mayonnaise,like at lunch, though the Brits and the Scots really do like their mayonnaise, and very thick. There's no such thing as cocktail sauce in Europe. You get either tartar or mayonnaise mixed with a bit of ketchup, called Marie Rose sauce.

We try to sleep to the wailing sounds of the pigeons, and I can feel the pink burn that the Scottish sun left on my neck. We pull the covers over our eyes to bring in some darkness, as we dream of the highlands,

and how wonderful it is to be a Wallace in Scotland.


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