Thursday, June 19, 2008

Edinburgh - how DO you say that?

My dad’s side of the family is Scottish, so the final stop on our UK tour - Scotland - was something I was particularly looking forward to.  It was an overcast and misty day when we took the ferry from Belfast over to Stranraer on the southwest coast of Scotland. 

Most of us spent the ferry ride doing our final transcriptions from Ireland.  We were in groups of four or five and each group had to turn in one transcription from each region.  Everyone was charged with collecting two samples in every location, and then out of the eight or ten that our group had, we would choose one to transcribe as a group.  I’m sure the people sitting near us were curious as to why there were five groups of girls listening to recordings of people saying “When the sunlight strikes raindrops in the air, it acts like a prism and forms a rainbow,” and then discussing whether that was really a schwa or if it was stressed enough to count as a caret.  And was that “th” sound voiced or not?  Did our speaker make a “w” in between “two” and “ends” or was it a glottal stop?  These were the pressing issues of the day.

Clearly, we were happy to be leaving the ferry and walking onto the shores of Scotland when the ride was over, and I’m sure that our co-ferry-riders were too.  Unfortunately, our ferry was late getting in due to rather rough seas, so we had missed our train and had to take a bus to Ayr, where we met a train headed to Glasgow.  In Glasgow we had to walk from one train station to the other - by this time in the trip we were getting pretty good at hoisting our packs onto our numb shoulders and sticking together when crossing streets, so the walk was uneventful if you don’t count the rain.  Only Stacey had been smart enough to bring a poncho instead of an umbrella, so her pack stayed dry even if she did look a little goofy with her poncho billowing over her backpack.  The rest of us just toughed it out…what’s a little rain when all of your clothes smell like you’ve been wearing them for two straight weeks anyway?
We took a final train to Edinburgh and tramped over to our hostel.  The Edinburgh Youth Hostel was brand new and boasted 300 beds, but we were put in private rooms with bathrooms en suite, which was fabulous.  We had been expecting to all be put in one huge bunk-bedded room, and to be sharing two or three showers as we were in Ireland, but the accommodations were closer to a sparse dorm room. 
Our time was mostly our own while we were in Edinburgh.  On day 1 we had class in the morning and then the rest of the day to ourselves.  We made tentative plans for whoever wanted to meet for supper to be in the hostel lobby at 5:15 and went our separate ways.  My group - me, Julia, Alissa, and Jessica - decided to see the sights along the Royal Mile so we headed straight for Edinburgh Castle.  It was pretty expensive to get in, but we spent a good four hours there AND we saw the 21 gun salute in honor of the anniversary of the Queen’s coronation.  We hadn’t even realized that June 2 was the special day, and then as we were wandering around just inside the gates, guards came up and shooed everyone off the walks and a lone piper began playing Scotland the Brave.  Soldiers in full dress came out, the army marching band played, and the governor and his family were handed earplugs (the touristy riffraff were not so lucky). 

We had a lot of fun at the castle, poking in corners and just generally enjoying ourselves.  We decided to fully embrace being tourists for the day, since that was really the only thing to do.  From bagpiping statues to the military prison showers, we found the castle quite enjoyable.

After we left the castle, we moseyed down the Royal Mile.  We glanced in some shops, but didn’t feel like making any purchases that we’d only have to carry with us the rest of the day, so instead we people-watched as we made our way to the new Scottish Parliament building at the other end of the Mile.  The building is post-modern, and in all honesty I wasn’t very impressed by it, but according to Julia, whose father is an architect, it’s quite an architectural feat.  I guess I just have a greater appreciation for the buildings that are hundreds of years old and still look classy.  The new Parliament building was interesting to look at though; I’ll give it that.

We met the majority of the group for supper, which was kind of my gig I guess.  When I was in Edinburgh 8 years ago with my dad we went to Greyfriar’s Bobby’s Bar for lunch one day and I wanted to take the group there because I remembered the food as being traditional, tasty, and inexpensive.  The story goes that Greyfriar was a monk whose dog, Bobby, remained faithfully committed to him even after his death.  Supposedly the dog spent every day sitting on Greyfriar’s grave for 14 years after Greyfriar’s death, until the day Bobby also died and was buried near the monk’s grave.  The bar is right outside the gates of the cemetary where the monk and his dog are buried.  Now that I write it here, it sounds a little morbid, but it doesn’t seem that way when you’re enjoying a delicious Scottish meal.

We were lucky enough to get an absolutely beautiful day on Wednesday, the group’s last day.  Almost the entire group took the four-hour train ride up to Inverness to see the Highlands for three hours and then take the train back to Edinburgh, but Julia, Jessica, and I stayed in Edinburgh.  Julia and I spent the morning hiking up Arthur’s Seat, a big hill or small mountain that sits right in the middle of Edinburgh.  It’s amazing: when you’re hiking in the park there, you feel like you’re miles away from any civilization, and then you reach the summit and are reminded that you are actually smack dab in the center of one of Scotland’s largest cities.  The park was gorgeous; the peat moss cushioned our feet all the way and the sun heated our backs as we climbed.

The group reconvened for a final celebratory dinner that evening in the private upstairs room of a restaurant near our hostel.  We recounted the day’s activities, and heard all about the various experiences people had during the trip that hadn’t been shared with the whole group, and some that we did all know about already but were funny enough to retell.  We remembered Julia, Alissa, and I accidentally pulling our fan off the wall in London, Peggy pulling the fire alarm in a train station bathroom (a chain hanging behind the toilet proved not to flush the toilet as she assumed it did), Lauren and Krista being told by an Irishman that they were too tall and could they please sit down, and Sarah patting a grown woman on the head - the woman and her daughter were sitting a row ahead of Sarah on our flight over, and Sarah thought she was patting the child’s head.  Since this meal was the only one our entire group shared, it was naturally loud and giggly, but we were in a private room so it bothered no one.  When everyone left the next morning I was surprised at how sad I was to say goodbye, even though I was very much looking forward to traveling with a significantly smaller group - two of us - after having spent so much time traveling in a herd of 23 backpacked Americans.

Posted by Emily MacLeod on 06/19 at 08:57 AM

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