May your trails be crooked, winding, lonesome, dangerous, leading to the most amazing view. May your rivers flow without end, meandering through pastoral valleys tinkling with bells, past temples and castles and poets’ towers into a dark primeval forest where tigers belch and monkey’s howl, through miasmal and mysterious swamps and down into a desert of red rock, blue mesas, domes and pinnacles and grottos of endless stone, and down again into a deep vast ancient unknown chasm where bars of sunlight blaze on profiled cliffs, where deer walk across the white sand beaches where storms come and go as lightening clangs upon the high crags, where something strange and more beautiful and more full of wonder than your deepest dreams waits for you---beyond that next turning of the canyon walls. ---Edward Abbey (thanks Trudy Hall)

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Ayyyyyy Scotland!

Baird tartan (hunting) kilt
Our first views of Scotland from the bus

Up the Royal Mile Road
The Royal Mile Backpackers Hostel

June 13—The bus drivers changed several times.  One guy had to take a breathalyzer test before he turned on the engine.  Arriving at the bus station and walking up the wet and slick stone and slate streets to the hostel past the beautiful coal soot-stained edifices and gothic structures, I felt like I had traveled back in time.  The décor was in really good shape and retained the black soot that helped bring out the third dimension of the figures.   We walked into our room with three young party animals drinking beer in preparation for going out bar hopping.  They were in it for the long haul—months, actually.  

Guinness tastes different here

We bravely went to a nearby pub to try haggis, so we started by ordering a Guinness.  I was surprised that the beer was not too heavy; in fact the top foam reminded me of a nice latte.   We split the tower of mashed potatoes, mashed turnips and the mystery meat, and gave it a try.  I was not disappointed.  Though it won’t be on my everyday list of things to eat, I found it pretty good!  Haggis is made of organs of a sheep for the most part, and doesn’t sound all that great, but with enough spices and cooking, it’s ok!
Izzy, our walking tour guide

City Scene

Beautiful castle-like buildings in the lush greenness
June 14—We walked up the street to find the free walking tour of Edinburgh.  Izzy started the tour teaching us to say, “Ay” instead of “Yes.”  She told us about how in the 15th century, the buildings were about 15 stories tall with only a narrow walking path between them—how creepy, dirty and unsafe they were.  
Darn lion's got Les's hat!

Then she explained how the thousands of family’s chamber pots drained into the nearby lake polluting it so that no one could drink from it.  The city said that the streets were so messy that you could only throw out your waste at 9AM and at 10 PM. So after a long hard day of labor, the men would take their families to the pubs to drink the only thing that was safe—beer.  At 10 the men would trip home only to hear someone in the tall darkness yell, “Guard de Loo!” (watch out for the family’s waste).  The man would look up hoping to avoid the dump; this is when Izzy said that she wanted the phrase “to be shitfaced” to come from this scenario.  
Mortsafe: keeps graves safe from robbers

This mortar is made with the ashes of burned witches
We learned how those who stole were punished.  The thieves were nailed to the door in the center square by the ear.  People would throw rotten vegetables and the human waste from their chamber pots on him/her. 
Flying the Fl
If they couldn't stand it, they would have to rip their ear to get away.  The options for work were to be a pirate or a prostitute.  No one wanted someone with a torn ear because they were not only a thief, but also a coward!  The lifespan was not very long either.  Near this central courtyard were bricks in the ground in the shape of the heart.  It was tradition to spit on this heart to express vehemence toward the oppressors above. Today, no one who knows about this would step on the heart full of spit.  We went to the Greyfrier’s graveyard, where thousands of bodies were reburied after moving them from another churchyard, and others who had headstones and little cages around them (mort safe) so that people wouldn’t dig up the body to sell it to the nearby doctor’s college for anatomy study.  Some couldn’t afford a mort safe, so family members sat on the grave at night for 2 weeks (body would decompose enough), bringing on the phrase to take on the graveyard shift—or was it the guys in the graveyard tower who guarded the graves at night from robbers?  She said that they lacked trees to make ash for brick mortar, so they used the ashes from the witch burnings to build the wall around the yard.   
Where J.K. Rowling did her writing of Harry Potter

A school that J.K. Rowling saw as she wrote Harry Potter
Across the street is where it is said J. K. Rowling did most of her writing for the Harry Potter series.  There’s a private school (the original money was for a school for orphans) that may have inspired Hogwarts in the distance from this coffee shop.  
Honoring Bobby who stayed by his master's grave for 11 years

Ol' Bobby

 Izzy also told the story of Bobby, a faithful dog who lay on his master’s grave for most of 14 years.  People brought to his memorial sticks and other dog toys to honor him.  We passed by the annual flower clock—this year it is devoted to the 2012 Olympics in London—and ended where the old polluted lake has been drained. 

We walked to get bus tickets and lingered at the movie that was playing in the park: Indiana Jones—the one about the Holy Grail.  It was nice to see Sean Connery from here.  

The Olympic Torch Ran By Our Hostel!

The Olympic torch came through town
June 15—I set my alarm so that I would get up and see the Olympic torch going by the window, though I didn’t really have to, as busses and trucks with loud speakers announced the coming of the runner about 15 minutes before her arrival.  I climbed out the window onto the ledge and was able to see all the action of police up the road and see the torchbearer with her entourage, as well as common citizens, running alongside her.  It was a very short moment but worth it!  
Hostel Room for 12

Castle view from our hostel

Memorial to Sir Walter Scott
Rain Rain Go Away... (song)
 Later that day I had fish-n-chips and cider in a grass market pub before climbing the stairs to the castle hostel for the night.  At 3:30 AM I heard boys singing at the top of their lungs walking up the street, and several of our roommates wobbled in about that time.  One fell with quite a loud noise in the bathroom next door and came in complaining.
Isle Craig, leaving Scotland

June 16—Our bus to Northern Ireland was very entertaining.  The driver served as a tour guide, showing us lush golf courses and naming small islands off the coast.  Then we hopped on quite a luxurious ferry that also had Wi-Fi!  So, we were able to contact Anne and Jonathan to coordinate our meeting in Dublin later.  Finding the hostel from the bus station was more of an ordeal.  Hardly anyone was in the street to ask for directions (we were to learn later that the old curfew was 6:30, and people have kept that tradition).
Old and Current Ronald


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