Day Sixty Three

So, today we are off to Edinburgh.
This means an early start as we have to walk to the train station 20
minutes away and we have the better part of an hour’s journey in.
Not to mention making oneself presentable etc before any of that
even starts.
Did I mention how much I dislike (hate) an early wake up call? Full
credit to Chris, he’s a brave man for even attempting it. I have fallen
back in love with sleep on this trip and I am less than happy to
forfeit it.
The train is a model of efficiency, albeit with a few learning curves.
Apparently if you want to be sure of a seat you have to book it,
which results in a few rounds of musical chairs from stop to stop.
The train is packed, but we get seats and after a bit of a bumpy start
we, magically, are there. Chris has forgotten his camera in the rush
to leave, so both our moods are less than stellar at this point.
Edinburgh is a crush of people at first glance. As I mentioned, both
the Festival and the Tattoo are on, and every man, his dog and five
of their best friends has come in for one or the other. There are
hundreds of performers and sprukiers on the streets. They are there
to get your attention and get you to their show. After the calm of
the country, it’s more than a little confronting.
Just to add to the joy, it’s drizzling, threatening to rain.
We decide the best way to get our bearings is to take a tourist bus,
one of those hop on, hop off deals that takes us through the major
landmarks and provides a running commentary on what we see.
Although it’s not either of our favourite way of exploring, it proves a
sound decision.
We learn that Edinburgh is effectively split into two: the old town
that dates back 600 plus years, and the “new town” built in the
1700s when the filth and squalor of the old town became too much
for the gentry to bear. The two are connected via “the mound”
which was the dirt that was dug out in forming the new town.
New town is a our first stop and off the bus. On the way, we learn
that this was the home of the inventor of the telephone, the
inventor of Xrays, chloroform and the home to most of the medical
training in the 1800s. Oh and don’t forget income tax. That was
invented here too, as a “temporary” measure. Thanks guys.
New town is beautifully set out and planned. Elegant Georgian
houses and columned promenades abound. It is very sooted from
pollution though, which is a shame. It’s lovely as it is, but would
transport you in time were it to be cleaned. Our reason for stopping
here first, is to visit “The Georgian House” which is a vivid recreation
of life in the 18th century from both an upstairs and downstairs
point of view. A view of high society at the time, and the work it
took by the servants of the day.
Let me tell you. You would not have wanted to be born into service
in this time, it was bloody hard work. 18 hour days were not
uncommon, you owned only the clothes you stood up in which you
worked and slept in. If you were lucky and senior, such as a
housekeeper, you may have had a tiny bedroom. If not, you slept on
the hearth or many to a tiny bed.
This was a time of sumptuous and lavish lifestyle though. Perhaps
the first period of modern society with people trying to outdo
themselves beyond their station. Fine dining dinner parties, balls
and the season all played a part of the high life. Regardless of cost
apparently, or one’s ability to pay for it. The owner of the house we
toured bankrupted himself keeping up with the lifestyle in well
under less than a decade.
The housekeeper, manservant and cook ran a tight ship. Everything
gleamed and ran precisely…all without running water or any form of
sewage. Pretty gross, especially if you were 5th maid and it fell to
you to empty the chamber pots. Washing it seems too, was deemed
bad for you. So beyond a brief encounter with a face washer, they
didn’t. They must have stunk to high heaven, pretty silk dresses or
not.
Apart from the lack of running water, the real surprise of the house,
given how large it is, is how little of it is devoted to actual living
space. There are only a handful of rooms most of which are formal
or working areas. The formal rooms are off limits and under cover
when not in use. The main bedroom too, doubles up in use as a
receiving room for the lady of house’s day time visitors. This was the
norm of the day.
We finish our tour and jump back on the bus to hike up the mound
to old town. Old town comes loaded with a lesson in social history.
It’s where royalty lived in Edinburgh Castle on the hill (actually an
extinct volcano) but also where the poor lived check to jowl in the
tenements down below.
And if you thought service might have been bad, it was sheer
bloody luxury (as the Python guys would say) compared to being
poor and living in the tenements. Or worse, being unemployed, and
not even being able to afford that. Crowded, dirty, rat infested,
without sewage, without water, illness everywhere. It makes you
want to get on you knees to give thanks for Dettol, Pine-o-clean and
antibiotics. With chamber pots and general rubbish thrown out of
windows at 10pm each night, no wonder they wanted to build a
new town…..
We get off the bus again and attempt to visit the castle. The tour
guide tells us it’s National Trust, which means we won’t have to
queue for tickets, but this proves wrong. It’s not a Trust property
and with the city’s swelled population, the queues are hundreds of
people long. The area in front of the castle has been set up stadium
style for the military tattoo performances and tickets sales. If we
thought there were a lot of people below, there’s double that
amount here. With our limited time, we decide against it and end
up searching for a place for lunch instead and finishing the rest of
our tour which winds around the old town and dips back into new
town again.
By the time our tour ends, it’s late afternoon, and the rain has set in.
We drop in on a writer’s festival (these event planners really need to
coordinate their calendars….) set in one of the private gardens.
We’re lucky to be in it. The city has a history, past and present of
private gardens where the local residents pay a fee their exclusive
use. Other than festivals such as this, they are locked to the public. I
am more at home here, in amongst the books and authors as
opposed to crowds on the street. Many books to read and marvel
at.
In our book travels, Chris spots two Chinese restaurants that came
with good reviews. We set off on foot to check them out and decide
on dinner at the second, a seafood restaurant called Jasmine that
was well recommended.
It’s too early for dinner though, and we instead head out for a drink
instead at a bar called…..the Red Squirrel. Ha. Great name. The
blackboard menu offers “squirrel specials”, “squirrel deals” and had
acorns in the corner. The boys next to us tell their mates on the
phone that they are “at the squirrel”. Much amusement had on my
part…and a killer Bloody Mary. Fitting now that I think of it. For
Queen Mary, Queen of Scots. It has a kickass coarse pepper and salt
crust, and is topped with a whole chilli garnish. Spiced to the max
it’s yummy.
Dinner proves to be lovely too, if a little sweet. They seem to like a
lot of sugar here! We are both missing our Asian food. Asian
restaurants are few and far between here, and what we find is stuck
in the western 1970s interpretation of it. We forget how much we
are part of the Asia Pacific region at home and how it has influenced
our food.
Dinner completed, we track back to the train station for the trip
home. It’s been a long day and we are both a little over it. Today
was exhausting, mainly from the pressure of the crowds.
Makes me wonder what coming back home to a busy city will feel
like.

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