scotland & edinburgh: first impressions

[photo Pentland Hills, Edinburgh from the air: courtesy of Wikipedia Creative Commons]

In the Scottish Gaelic language, to which we would be introduced soon enough although we didn’t know it at the time, Scotland’s Edinburgh airport’s name is Port-adhair Dhùn Èideann. Language was to be a source of great amusement for both Hubby and me during our 16 day trek across the United Kingdom as you’ll see in later posts. As our flight circled in preparation for landing, I was glad I’d taken the window seat in the KLM Cityhopper we’d boarded in Amsterdam earlier that morning. I’d read enough novels by the Bronte sisters and Jane Austen and seen enough movies set in the UK that I think I’d formed an impression of how Scotland and Wales probably looked. Something hauntingly beautiful but somewhat depressing at the same time, as in the introductory photo above featuring the Pentland Hills near Edinburgh. And the weather, I just knew, would be dismal and terrible too.

But I would be wrong. That’s our hotel, the Holiday Inn (behind the zoo sculpture), this one located on Corstorphine Road in the Pentland Hills area of Edinburgh–just three miles from both the city center and the airport. True, the skies do look cloudy, but this was snapped September 30, and you can see by the way people waiting for the bus are dressed that the temperatures are almost balmy. The man behind the bus post with the backpack is Hubby, which will clue you on the type of clothing we both packed for the trip.

On the advice of Grannymar, our blogger friend from Ireland, we’d gone prepared with layers which would normally serve us well this time of year, whether in this country or Europe. The problem was the bottom layer I’d packed–mostly knit pullovers over which sweaters, jackets and raincoats might be worn or a scarf added. Living in a dry climate the past 14 years, I’d forgotten how hot cotton knit can feel in high humidity and warmer temperatures. Just our luck that the whole of the UK was experiencing record high temperatures at around 30°C. (A quick way to convert Celcius to Fahrenheit is to double the number, then add 30. So that 30°C figure translates to around 90°F or close enough!) After a day or two I was praying for colder temperatures and resorted to wearing a short-sleeved t-shirt I’d brought along to sleep in. It very old (1988 vintage LTD), much too large for today’s fitted styles, and printed with bright blue fish. I decided it was better for people to assume I was fashion-challenged rather than crazy for wearing turtlenecks and long sleeves.

Many things about Edinburgh impressed me–stunning architecture, cobblestoned streets, the pubs on nearly every corner offering inexpensive but tasty food and drink, charming tea  shops and bookstores, just the general charm and personality of the city, as reflected here in this close-up of just one of the hundreds of balcony gardens. Just as we were in India earlier this year, both Hubby and I enjoyed the ease and speed with which we were able to get about the city. Buses ran every 5 to 10 minutes until late in the evening when they were a little further apart, and for about the cost of two one-way tickets, you could get an all-day pass that allowed you to go all over the city as often as you liked. We were only there for two days, but when we weren’t on a guided tour on the Coach, we were happy to get about on our own.

And the people we met! On one of our bus excursions, we met a charming little girl of about 10 years who was riding in the upper berth alongside us. She was riding herd on two younger brothers, one of whom was nicknamed Monkey, she informed us, he was such a climber. That’s why they were on the upper deck. Her aunt who they were visiting sat a ways behind  with the baby brother. The whole family were in town visiting relatives for her father’s birthday. They were getting a cake and planned to celebrate that evening. They were looking for his birthday present. She went on to tell us all about them with such candor: which village she lived in, where she went to school, her grades and how smart her father thought she was, and which she unabashedly acknowledged. Bearing not even a hint of pretentiousness, totally comfortable,  the little girl and her family was but one example of the friendliness of the locals we would encounter throughout the trip.  I must add, however, that since we understood only about every other word, it’s a good thing she was so prolific.

Here’s just one example of one the churches of Edinburgh. It’s the St. Andrews and St. George Parish Church of  Scotland on George’s Street. The architectural style of the bell steeple and entry reflects the contemporary 18th century fashion for classical Roman forms and includes the “temple front” style portico with ceiling rosettes and clock. I chose it to show here because of–you guessed it–the stories around the shorter, round dome you see just to the left of the entry. According to our tour guide, the parishioners have two explanations for building the assembly hall in this round shape. One is that the Devil has no hiding place without the corners; another is that no one can hide when the collection plate gets passed.

Last but not least, let’s finish up with kilts. A Scottish kilt is a pleated, traditional outfit worn by the Highlander clansmen for hundreds of years. Yes, they are still worn, although the “traditional” plaid kilt wasn’t around until the eighteenth century. Before that Scotsmen wore knee length plaid shirts belted in the middle because they were too poor to buy pants.

Yes, there is a protocol associated with their wearing. First of all, they are most worn by the highlanders (northern Scotland), and then only or especially at special occasions. I snapped this picture of wedding guests taking a break outside the church.

The waistband should fit comfortably but snugly high on the waist, right below the lowest of the ribs. It should fall either at the knee or brush the top of the kneecap. The tartan, or plaid, pattern should reflect the traditional pattern of the ancestral clan, but if you don’t have a Scottish background, you might use a more universal tartan. (Google: Black Watch, Royal Stewart or Jacobite pattern for examples.) Appropriate accessories? A sporran is the leather pouch, used as a pocket, worn on a strap or chain that hangs in front from the waist over the groin area. Hose is worn in black or cream–never white. Black was originally for funerals, but is now a popular choice for everyday wear, while cream is best for evening or formal occasions. Ghillie brogues, which look like black and white boots, are the shoes of choice, while black or brown leather loafers–appropriate to the occasion–can be worn. The traditional kilt jacket is a “Prince Charlie” jacket, appropriate for weddings and other formal events, but for daywear or less formal events, a sports jacket, tweed jacket or even a sweater is appropriate.

As usual, I saved the best for last. How do you think these kilts–girls wear a kilt too, sometimes!–measure up to your new knowledge of kilt protocol? It’s not exactly the best quality, the picture I mean, but it’s what you get when you aim fast and low for that candid shot, and the perfect impression of our first full day in Scotland to leave you with.

Next up, a discussion about castles and things.

happy new year

What are you doing new year’s eve? Our plans are pretty simple. We’ll be staying at home, just the two of us; we’ll probably turn on the television to see how the rest of the world is celebrating. But we’ll be right here all cozy and warm and safe while the new storm heads our way–that is if the weather forecaster was right. Maybe we’ll be able to stay awake until midnight to welcome 2010; maybe not. It’s okay either way.

It’s not that I feel sad about the year that’s passing–we had some great times in spite of the state of the world, the trip to Peru, making new blogging friends, and visiting with old friends and family back east–it’s just that it’s hard to predict what’s in store  for the next one. We’ll just look ahead to the good things we’re planning, including a family trip to India in June. That’s when we’ll introduce Ben and Frank and the grandchildren to Hubby’s family on that side of the world.

Now it’s time to let you in on a little secret. Mice party too! I know this thanks to the pictures my daughter in New York took of Henri Bendel’s storefront. I think this is a perfect time to let you in on a few of the the details of partying from the viewpoint of . . . city mice.

How about these guys? Let the other mice in Bendel’s play all they want. Meanwhile these  little robbers will take advantage of all the noise and commotion to make off with this swanky little  Swarovsky crystal necklace . . .

and these pirates (2009 was a good year for pirates) gather exotic booty (thread, thimbles, lipstick, etc.) that must have fallen through the cracks from the exotic world of the display above them.

I wish I could show you the tiny little mouse orchestra playing a symphony nearby . . . but you’ll have to imagine it yourself while this tiny bride and groom help themselves to a human-sized bottle of champagne . . .

. . . Hey! What’s that guy (Santa’s robot helper) doing here? He doesn’t belong in this story! He is sooooooooo last year!

Oh look! Let’s join these couples at a full fledged disco party. By the way, is this the ball that’s supposed to drop at midnight? What time did you say it was? Nearly midnight already?! Gather round everybody! Get ready as the countdown begins:

10!    9!     8!     7!     6!     5!     4!    3!    2!   ONE!

H A P P Y    N E W     Y E A R     E V E R Y B O D Y    !

old and new discoveries of slc

After several days over the weekend of extremely cold and wet snowy weather, Hubby and I decided to take advantage of yesterday’s emerging sunshine revealing such pretty patches of blue sky. We took the afternoon off for a little R&R and final Christmas shopping spree. I tucked my camera in my pocket, dressed in layers that included my new warm hat with the feather in the side, jumped in the car and headed for downtown. One of my aims was to take a few pictures of the holiday scenes around town.

The first place I wanted to drive by was the storefront we’d passed by chance on the way to the Christmas concert last Friday night. It was still quite slushy out, so Hubby drove around the block once and we parked right outside the storefront so I could roll down the window and take a picture without getting out of the car. Guess what kind of store it was? The featured lamp seems to be just waiting for a Ralphie’s dad* to come by and take it home to surprise his wife.

Though it was only a four-block walk back to our car after the show Friday night, our two friends and we had ducked into a burger joint along the route for coffee and cocoa, and the chance to thaw out a bit from single digit temperatures before resuming our walk to the parking garage. It turned out to be a fortuitous move. Otherwise I might never have discovered my new favorite burger joint. Crown Burgers started in 1978 by immigrant brothers from Greece. Today there are several locations around town and two in Colorado. Otherwise it’s exclusive to SLC, and reminds me a little bit of mom&pop fry joints in the south except that sweetened iced tea doesn’t seem to be on the menu.

What makes  Crown Burgers good for me is that fact that they serve two or three non-meat sandwiches, as well as fries, onion rings, and a large variety of other hot sandwiches so that Hubby can get something too. Otherwise not many burger joints have much to entice non-meat eaters so we don’t stop at them very often. This place, being local, also has its version of the regional condiment fry sauce, which you’ve probably never heard of unless you’ve lived or visited in SLC. It’s a combination of ketchup, mayonnaise and spices. The nearest I can describe it is something between a Thousand Island dressing and a shrimp tartar sauce. It’s apparently an acquired taste, as I love it now but hated it the first time I tried it.

Their primary location is decorated like a European hunting lodge with a large fireplace. Other locations–like this one–have a medieval theme complete with tapestries (on the wall corner and other places about the large room) as well as heavy iron chandeliers. Isn’t it apparent what any bibliophile would find appealing about this decor? Quite out of the ordinary from a McDonald’s or Wendy’s.

In spite of the more upscale decor, customers still place their orders at a counter in front, and pick up paper-wrapped food when their numbers are called. As you wait to order you can see see pastrami being freshly sliced.

Since a stomach disorder had kept me from eating most of the day Friday, I couldn’t resist trying the Halibut Fishburger along with my cocoa that night, so I decided to try an ordinary hamburger this time–with mayo, lettuce and tomato, and shared a large order of onion rings with Hubby, who ordered a veggie burger. Someday I may work up the nerve to try the artery clogging “Crown Burger” which is a regular charbroiled burger piled high with a mound of fresh sliced pastrami on top.

After well-fortifying ourselves, we decided to drop by our favorite haunt, the city library. Here Hubby enters the library complex several feet ahead of me as usual. The store that has the Ecuadorean creche I wrote about a week or two back is up a ways on the right.

I rather like this picture–the quality of which is admittedly poor because the reflection in the glass interferes with the composition–because somehow it encapsulates for me the glittery excess of the season. Oh, and there on the right are the Ecuadorean figures I told you about in that prior post. Let’s see if I can get in a little closer without the shop’s owners getting their knickers in a twist.

There, much better in this position! By the way, the price tag for the set, without the wooden dough bowl, is $74.95. Not as bad as I thought. I can’t quite figure why I love these little people so much. I love the Fernando Botero sculptures in Washington DC’s Sculpture Garden. Lots of people I know don’t like them because they think Botero is thumbing his nose at fat people. On the contrary I like them because they seem so at home in their bodies just as they are without apology. Botero himself said artists are attracted to various art forms without ever knowing why. I’m perfectly content with explanation myself.

Here are some other ladies in waiting that I like. There’s also a lot of Alice in Wonderland memorabilia on this display that I like also. Isn’t it fun to windowshop? Almost as much fun as people watching!

Hubby leaves me to go into the library to check the holdings of foreign and classic old movies. I assure him I’ll be along directly, but sometimes I get so engrossed checking out the books in the library store discounted book shelves that I never make it into the library itself. This is one of those days. I see there’s a man on his knees between the short stacks so I try not to encroach his staked out territory and find an Oprah bookpick, SAY YOU’RE ONE OF THEM by Nigerian author Uwem Akpan. It’s a trade paperback and the spine isn’t even bent and it’s only $4. SOLD!

After the library complex expedition, we decide to head to Temple Square and see what we can of holiday magic. Here we are headed through the SLC street landmark iron eagle drapery at the west temple street crossing. When you see this, you know you’re close to the Temple.

There it there, on the right. Squint a bit and you’ll be just barely able to see the new angel Moroni statue standing at the top of the spire in the center. The old statue was struck by lightning on June 13, 2009 and replaced in August as it was scorched beyond repair.

There’s one more rather boring stop to make before we end our browse-about, to the grocery for cookie and candy making items for a full day of baking tomorrow, plus a final run through Toys-R-Us for one last purchase.  But that will be really boring, so I’ll leave you here for now. Tomorrow, besides our holiday baking, we have to think about wrapping presents and addressing cards. With any luck, we may just be ready–barely–for Christmas by the 24th. Hope you’ve enjoyed the drive-about of SLC. I’ll be along again in a day or two. Hope you’re enjoying the season as much as we are.

*Ralphie and his dad are characters from 1983 movie, The Christmas Story.

We’d attended the Christmas program on Temple Square Friday night. It was so cold during our walk back to our car after the show that we ducked into a burger joint to keep from freezing. Otherwise I might never have discovered