Postcard from Holyrood Palace

IMG_4701The girls are burned out on castles, history, foreign languages and pizzas from Tesco, leek soup. I buy a box of corn flakes to tie us back home, we leave the house in search of lunch in Edinburgh, but the weather deteriorates along with Charlotte’s mood, she won’t wear her coat or reveal why, she’s mad I wouldn’t let her lock herself in the bathroom and now she’s getting cold and wet and will sabotage the day, anarchist’s logic.

But nothing like a good Indian meal and a glass of Coke to turn things around. The Starbucks are set like mousetraps on the street corners and we get caught by the cheery baristas, the promotional marketing promising everything is going to be just perfect, and it always is — ducking in and out of the rain, in English-style pubs for meat pies, bitters, elderflower lemonade.

And the castles are perched on high hilltops, or Edinburgh’s, a bulge of volcanic rock, a castle the guide explains has never been taken by force, although it has been besieged, which is different, and sprays us with dates and name-dropping and the girls start to flop around and look elsewhere.

And after using our imaginations for weeks now trying to picture William Wallace, Robert the Bruce, Mary Queen of Scots, we watch Braveheart and Mel Gibson’s hair, the castration scene at the end — and our imaginations are ruined, leaving Hollywood to fill in the rest.

How Scotland was part of a different continent millions of years ago and pushed together with England, ran right into one another, buckling up the earth to form mountains once the size of the Himalayas, now crumbled down to no more than 4,000 feet. A mash-up of angled rock and valleys gouged out by glaciers, lochs — the “Firth of Forth,” a bridge over an estuary separating Edinburgh to the south, the start of the Highlands facing north.

We started our 90 day trip in Scotland with the logic the weather would be the worst here, the greatest chance of snow early season, and we’d zig-zag our way counter clockwise back down to Ireland, to Wales, ending in England come January.

We came in via Newcastle to Arbroath, up to Inverness, the Orkney Islands, back down to Oban in the west, and returned to where we started back east, for nine days in Edinburgh. This week, we’ll leave out of the southwest from a small town called Stranraer, and ferry to Belfast.

In the royal dining room at Holyrood, the palace where the Queen resides when she visits Scotland, there’s a painting of King George IV in a kilt, important because the wearing of tartan patterns had been outlawed since the last Scottish uprising of 1746 — the king wearing a kilt signalled the start of a new national Scottish dress, helping to restore an important piece of their identity.

Charlotte says the music reminds her of home — I ask which home, and she says home-home, the music I used to play in the den, and puts den in air quotes, with attitude.

Dawn and I sit on the sofa in front of the fire in our Edinburgh flat, trying to penetrate an early Genesis album, but it’s cloaked in the 1970s and I don’t get it.

I’ve been keeping a list of whiskeys and beers I’ve tried with stars by the ones I like, but it’s become so jumbled and confused it now feels like too much work to untangle it.

We sit in the flat pretending we’re peasants or artists, trying to stretch our money, using bouillon cubes and making modest soups, drinking the single malts on special at the Tesco, eating every last piece of bread, finding creative uses for fresh herbs and then blogging about it — time passing through our hands, what little we save is no better than what we leave behind, it feels like an offering of gratitude for just being here.

Categories: musings, travel

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25 replies

  1. Ah, Braveheart! What a smashing piece of anti-English propaganda that one is (Not that we weren’t bastards to the Highlanders, because we certainly were.) Watched a documentary yesterday about Northern Ireland and the Plantations of the 17th Century (how England nicked land from Catholic landowners and forced Protestant lords on the populace). More national shame!
    Love a bit of dramatic geology and Scotland has some cracking examples – what better place to build a castle than on an old volcano? Fantastic

    Liked by 1 person

    • If I were still drinking my coffee I would have spit it up laughing over your comment here, which I read aloud to my wife just now. I don’t know why, I really wanted so bad to love the movie, you know watching it here in SCOTLAND and everything, but I just couldn’t. But that’s history for you, less entertaining than Wikipedia and less accurate.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Haha! Yes, not sure old Mel Gibson can be relied upon for his historical accuracy … I didn’t like the film, but then the real story (lacking the romantic element, of course and being rather more drawn out and grubby) wouldn’t have made a two hour film.
        Poor Scotland has a history of eventually being beaten by us, their more powerful cousins. However, I think they’ll get the last laugh – next time they have a referendum on independence, they’ll vote to be a seperate country, I’m sure, which will mean they’ll be free of our current government. I’ll be tempted to move north and join them 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

      • Drawn out and grubby is right…things don’t change much the more you learn about history. But if you read the old scripts carefully you can predict what the actors will say before they open their mouths.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Ah, so true. That’s the relevance of history – using the past to predict the future


  2. There’s a weird comfort in chain stores. Starbucks is going to give you what you’ve come to expect. Many years ago, I toured a beautiful cathedral in Munich. Afterwards, flush with the architectural grandeur, I had a Big Mac across the plaza from the carved wooden doors. It was the exact same Big Mac I’d had hundreds of times before in Cleveland. I thought both feats were impressive.

    Please. You knew exactly which home she was referring to. Don’t be so coy. Which early Genesis album? I’m curious. I went through them all in a weed-induced haze.


    • “Rarities” and “Trespass” are the two Genesis albums I’m trying to fathom; perhaps it’s not working because there’s no weed, but that’s a sorrowful way to look at things. I’m trying again now, with black tea and Legos: seems the sun has given up already here, and it’s just going on 1 PM.
      The chain thing is a funny phenomenon, how abroad, tourists will return to familiar places like Starbucks for the comforts of home. We fell into that with our kids, indulged them, and it’s a constant wonder to me how good the SBUX stores look here. I used to see drawing sets for stores like these in my office back in Seattle when they were being designed, and it’s strange to see them here live, in 3D, with real people, not stick figures.


  3. Ah Edinburgh! Wonderful city — wonderful castle. One New Years Eve – afternoon, we were touring the Castle with our 3-1/2 year old son and some friends. Jacob got restless, so we stepped into the armory, thinking all that armor would entertain him. Instead WE were entertained as we stumbled into a rehearsal for the night’s main concert. James Taylor and Capercaille (one of our favorite Scottish bands). We had our own private concert. Magic!

    A better flavor of Scotland is Rob Roy:

    And Capercaille does the music.


    • Like, Sweet Baby James JT or another James Taylor? We stepped into the Frankenstein pub today but weren’t feeling it, with the kids and the vibe and so forth…went to one of those Nicholson chain places they make look so unique, and generally are, but couldn’t get a table and went to a kind of generic pub-place for fish and chips. Kind of anything works when it’s cold and dark at 2 in the afternoon and you just want that comfy feeling. Nice story, you and Jacob. I had to take some more pictures of the castle today from Grassmarket. It’s so amazing to just look at, built up on that rock. Awfully hard to scale, I’d think.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Yup — Sweet Baby James JT.

        I love that castle. My then-boyfriend and I hiked to the top of Salisbury Craigs (the cliffs alongside Holyrood, in front of the mountain Arthur’s seat one evening at sunset. That’s where (and when) he proposed …


      • That is quite the scene, and quite the place you described there. Lots of people up climbing there and I wish I were one of them this past week, but alas, next time. Remarkable, seeing JT here – wow. Thanks for sharing. – Bill

        Liked by 1 person

      • So sorry Frankenstein didn’t work out for you. Maybe another time …


      • It’s no worries! That happens some time. I always like to leave stuff behind undone, for the next visit. Glad to have had your ideas and stories Elyse, thank you for them. It’s a lovely place. – Bill

        Liked by 1 person

  4. You know some people plan their trips looking for good weather…Spain, Portugal, Italy…just a thought. Snow is in the forecast here. Oh please, I need two snow days.


    • Some people plan their trips with an understanding of the Schengen and the visa policy, but us less so. But such is life, and it’s all good — I wish snow for you there. Of course, I check the weather on my handy for Seattle, for some reason. And the familiar banter of snow, and everyone worked up in a froth over it. I would be too. May the gods sprinkle snow days on you my friend.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. How funny. Charlotte’s on the same mental page as my wife and me. We always referred to the place we were going to be building our our house as “home-home.” We wound up with a different place, but still think of it as that. I guess “home-home” comprises all the intangibles that “home” can’t quite contain.


    • What, you wound up with a different place other than home-home? That suck-sucks! What happened? She’s a home body like me and what better time to be home this time of year than now, when everywhere (except the Sierra foothills) it’s growing dreary, especially here. It’s fun to imagine what was going on in JK Rowling’s head, roaming these same streets. And how similar the cemetery scenes are to how it looks here, in real life.


      • Turns out the new place was home-home all along.

        I was in Edinburgh only briefly once, but in my Highlands stay I believe even my bones got wet. Only a good scotch and a nice coal fire can make you forget how that feels…


      • The wet is worth it, for the peat fire and the Scotch. It’s not much different than San Francisco in June, except they haven’t got the same kind of whiskeys there.


  6. Ah Nicholson street. I walked up that street every day to uni, which is right off so – even went to the Starbucks there many times. Kind of a dirty street that, but, memories.

    Another piece of anti-English propaganda you could try sometime is the new Starz Outlander series. It’s very good, unlike Braveheart! The British government banned the airing of it in Britain until after the referendum was over ha. Anyway, the book series was what spurred me to go to Scotland in the first place.

    It’ll be interesting to see what Britain does when their European referendum comes, and what Scotland does in relationship to Britain after that. Exciting times ahead!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Interesting, indeed. Both my mom and wife have read that Outlander series, and I’m likely next. We broke down and watched the first show from the first season of Game of Thrones even, because I think it was filmed in northern Ireland, where we’ll be soon. Funny how film can spark the imagination for travel — books, music, whatever. I’m looking forward to some dark, damp days in Ireland and doubt I’ll be disappointed.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. I was thinking today about how few Best Picture winners I would actually care to see again. Braveheart was a one-and-done for me.


    • I really wanted to like it but it was entertainment v art, and I guess I sound like a dick saying that, but there you have it. I was entertained for a time. But felt kind of dirty too.


  8. i love your peasant’s approach.


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