Monday, January 11, 2010

All I want for Christmas is a kilt! Part 2

Christmas arrived! After a long first night in Edinburgh, we slept in Christmas morning and were woken up to a delicious bacon and sausage breakfast that Sean's dad cooked! I had brought Sean and his dad a present for the holiday and right after I gave Sean's dad, Jackie, his present, he ran to his room and got my present - a great coffee table book all about Scotland, the history, the land and the people. Also, he gave me a 5£ note that has Jack Nicklaus on it. Since he is an American golfer, Jackie thought that it would be appropriate to give me the note, and 'although it is only worth 5£ it has sentimental value' he said.

After the gift-giving we, of course, headed over to the pub for our morning pint of beer (or cider in my case) before Sean's brother-in-law came to pick us up to take us to his sister's house for Christmas dinner. Walking into his sister's house, felt like I was walking into a movie where people only spoke like Sean Connery! I know Scottish people have a different accent, but I only know Sean, so to be around so many people that say lads and lassie was quite surreal. My favorite Scottish phrase however is 'wee' - which means small. For example: Amanda, would you like a wee bit of wine? OR Wow, he sure is a wee boy. Not a word I will ever really fit into my vocabulary but it was fun to hear it used all day! All the Scottish guests were: Sean, Jackie, Sean's two sisters, mom and brother-in-law and his two nephews and of course me and the other American friend Sean brought, Eric. In the picture of us three, Sean is on my left and Eric to my right. Being the only girl staying with these boys and Sean's dad, I felt like a little sister and the boys made sure to take good care of me.

The Christmas dinner was quite similar to our American dinner, which made me very happy! Turkey, potatoes, veggies, etc, but the difference in the regular menu is that instead of having a big bowl of stuffing, they make what are called stuffing balls. I guess it was kind of like the size of a meatball but it was stuffing. I normally don't adore stuffing but these were delicious! Maybe one year when I am home for Thanksgiving I will attempt to make them! Another exciting difference was the desserts - no pies here! They had cheesecake and this tasty treat called trifle - which was basically layers of fruit, custard and whipped cream. Delicious.

After dinner everyone got 'crackers'. I thought this literally meant crackers for like cheese, but refers more to like firecrackers. Each person got a little wrapped column and then you pull each end and with a loud bang out pops a present, a paper crown and a wee joke. Do you like how I used the word wee?!?! You're supposed to wear your crown all Christmas day, and me and my purple crown made it through most of the day! After dinner everyone chatted, sang songs and was merry. Towards the end of the night I finally got to talk to my family! My phone didn't work in the UK so after calling from Eric's phone a few times to Grammy's house and hanging up, Mom smartly figured out how to call me on his phone and I got to say Merry Christmas across the ocean.

Towards the end of the night my little cough started flaring up (probably a combo of the travel and the freezing cold temps in Scotland) and Jackie insisted on making me a 'hottie tottie'. I had no idea what that meant, but it was basically hot whiskey and lemon juice. I know I was in Scotland and I SHOULD try whiskey, but it's really not my favorite drink, so when he gave me some of his 70 year old whiskey, I felt honored but reallllly didn't want to swallow it! After that he made me drink a cup of hot milk (pretty sure I haven't had a full glass of milk since I was a little girl) and then make me put on layers and layers of clothes and covered me with two comforters so I could sweat out my sickness.

Surprisingly, I felt much better the next morning, which was good because it was touristy day! We took the bus into town with Jackie. He used to be a tour guide and absolutely adores Scotland and knows almost every useless (but also interesting) fact about Edinburgh! It was like having a personal tour of the town. We got off on the main drag - Princes Street and proceeded to walk towards the castle. Passing the National Gallery of Scotland, we got a gorgeous view of the snow-covered castle. I told you last blog that there has been something built on this huge rock since the 1100s, and with Jackie I found out that the rock is actually an inactive volcano. Ever since the first building blocks were laid, the Scots have just kept adding onto the area more and more. The oldest building on the rock is St. Mary's Chapel - famous for being the oldest and the smallest chapel in all of Scotland. Jackie added that it was named after Queen Margaret of King Malcom Canmore who is famous for bringing Catholicism to the area. With lines of tourists out the castle, we decided our two sight-seeing days would be better spent seeing the rest of the town and proceeded to walk on the brick sidewalk down the Royal Mile. Royal Mile is the stretch of road connecting the castle to the palace and is of course, one mile. Jackie described it to us that the Royal Mile is like the spine of a fish and that all of the bones of the fish are like the small little roads branching off of it. These little streets are not just any streets though and are called closes (short little walkway that run through buildings that connect the road with the inner courtyard of a residence or a small tunnel between buildings that connects higher streets to a lower street). Originally they were built to connect the Old Town to the Loch (another Scottish word meaning lake) at the bottom of the hill. I guess you could say they kind of look like alleys, but are much more romantic and have a better history. Back in the days before plumbing at a horn's notice, people would all dump thier 'waste' out the window and shout 'Gard loo' meaning watch out for my poop coming down the close! Because most of the closes are hills, the waste would just drain down to the river. Lovely.

Partway down the Royal Mile I picked up my ornament - a fun set of bagpipes on an ornament. Typical Scottish, and I think it will bring some laughs to my tree at some point in the future. We then stopped off at Deacon Brodies - a pub. Apart from their tasty beer, this bar has quite a story behind it! Deacon Brodie is a famous Scottish citizen that I guarantee you all know. In the 1700s, Deacon was a upstanding citizen - a respected cabinet maker and townsman. By day, he would enter his customer's houses to install the cabinets. Secretly, he would place their keys in a mold copy the shape of the key. Then, he would return at night and having a key, easily entered and stole all their valuables. Do you know who he is yet? Dr. Jekyl and Mr. Hyde! The story is based on Deacon Brodie! Eventually, he was found out and fled to Amsterdam. Stupidly, he wrote his wife a letter and put a return address and was brought back to Scotland to be hanged. Ironically, he was hung in the gallows that as an elite member of society he helped design!
After warming up in the bar we ventured out again into the Old Town and I couldn't help but be impressed by almost every building. Some buildings have the initials of the married couples that lived there previously, some are built of leftover stones and not two bricks in the entire wall are the same, some have iron railings outside with curves in the iron so that two hoop-skirted ladies could easily pass each other without hitting their massive attire. What amazes me the most is that all of these stone buildings are still standing, and in quite good shape, after years and years of wear and use. From high points in the city you can see the roofs and when I see the chimneys I can't help but think of Mary Poppins floating around with her bag and umbrella!

In one of the old buildings is now a whiskey museum, so we poked in to the gift shop to gaze at the many different varieties of my least favorite liquor! Although I had no desire to try any of them, I was quite amused by one brand called Knockando. Looking at it you don't think much, but then when you you say it outloud, you realize it says 'no can do' which is basically my philosophy on whiskey in general haha.

A little further down the Royal Mile we came up what some call St. Giles Cathedral and some call the Kirk of Scotland. Originally a Catholic Church, it hasn't been officially called a Catholic place since 1668 when it changed to Presbyterian and was named the Church of Scotland and became named the Kirk of Scotland (kirk means church in Scottish - look how much you are learning!) With its soaring ceiling, a lot of which is painted Scottish blue and white (Edinburgh's city colors) my favorite part of the Kirk was a side chapel called the Thistle Chapel. Belonging to the Order of the Thistle (the highest honor possible in Scotland), this small chapel was ornately decorated with elaborate seats, personalized for each Knight from their own wooden canopy to their shields hanging on the wall behind their seat. This isn't the best photo in the world, but because of the dark you can only kind of get an idea of how impressive the woodwork was and how important you must have felt to sit in one of these seats!

I don't know much about the Order of the Thistle, but I did learn that the thistle is the national emblem of Scotland! That nasty little plant actually is loved in the country and for good reason. Legend has it that the Vikings were moving into the attack the Scots and that during their silent movement was interrupted when they stepped in a patch of thistles in bare feet and of course grimaced out loud with pain and alerted the Scottish troops who then defeated them! Maybe I will think of that next time I pull them out of the yard!

Since it was becoming later in the afternoon we wanted to pack in as much as possible and decided to jump on a tour bus. Jackie, tired but happy he could inform us about so much Edinburgh stories headed home, and Sean, Eric and I hopped on the double decker tour bus to whiz around the sights of the city we hadn't yet seen. At the start of the ride sat the enormous Scott Monument. Built in honor of Sir Walter Scott, this monument more looks like it should be the top spire on an old Gothic church. From the top are the best views of the city, but seeing as it was snowy, not much could be seen so we didn't venture up. After passing the Castle we came to another Scottish legend - Greyfriar's Bobby. The story goes that a little dog named Bobby was so sad when his master died that every day for 14 years he would trot to the cemetery and lay on his master's grave. Now in front of the cemetery is a statue built in honor of the cute puppy.

The bus ride provided us the chance to get the layout of the city and to see more far-away sights and ended with a beautiful sunset over the castle as our bus finished its round. Dinner was another Scottish favorite - Steak Pie. Kind of like a pot pie but 100 times more delicious, this hearty meal warmed me up after the hour in the icy temperature on the open-roof bus!

Saturday night was a resting up evening and Sunday morning started with some more Scottish treats - haggis. It sounds kind of gross - sheep hearts, livers and lungs with some onions and spices, stuffed in it's own stomach and boiled. In the end, it sort of resembles a sausage and with the tasty Brown Sauce (basically brown gravy but thicker) it was surprisingly tasty. I never thought I would find all that appetizing but I guess the Scottish ways were growing on me.

Full and warm we headed off to the outskirts of town to Rosslyn Chapel. Some of you might recognize the name from the Da Vinci Code - it is the place rumored to have the Holy Grail buried underneath it's foundation. Built in the 1400s, it is the most detailed place I have ever seen. The main chapel - the Lady Chapel - is made up of carvings that took over 40 years to complete. Although you are not supposed to take photos inside, sneaky little me managed to capture a few for you guys! In the first one you can see the Lady Chapel. If you look closely you will see that on the right there are columns that connect to the archways on the ceiling and on the left is the wall of the chapel. On each archway are little square blocks that stick out from the pillars. At the bottom of each of the lines of these cubes is a carving of an angel playing an instrument. Interestingly enough, one of the angels is playing an old set of bagpipes. Can you imagine some in Jesus' time playing the bagpipes?! All 213 are said to be 'musical boxes' that supposedly create a glorious song and when played correctly will bring out the secrets of the Church.One man dedicated a lot of time to trying to solve this song puzzle and composed a song that has been played in the chapel, but so far no deep secrets have been revealed. It is said that the song can only be played by the original instruments from the time of Jesus' life. I imagine it's going to be a bit difficult to recover those instruments, so I guess we may never know the real secrets of this sacred chapel.

Another amazing element of the Lady Chapel are the 3 columns that face the congregation. The first two were made by the same sculptor and for the 3rd, he wanted to make the most beautiful pillar known to man. To do this, he took a trip to Rome to be inspired. While he was gone, his apprentice completed carving the 3rd pillar without permission. The apprentice made goregous spiral carvings that climb up and around the pillar and have the following quote etched in: "Wine is strong, a king is stronger, women are stronger still, but truth conquers all." I thought it was not only a feat in stonework but that the quote was really impressive as well. Upon the master's arrival back to Rosslyn, the sculptor was so mad that he killed the apprentice. Of course he was punished by death and even worse is that he is carved into the corner of the Chapel - the corner that stares directly at the AMAZING column from this daring apprentice. Named the Apprentice Pillar for this reason it is probably my favorite part of the Chapel and I wish I could have got a better photo for you all!

Because the church has been under construction for the past few years (they digitially edited all that construction out in the Da Vinci Code movie), this Knights Templar haven had a canopy over the top so I couldn't get a good look at the church as a whole. The nice thing about this reconstruction was that you could take the stairs to the roof and get a different kind of view of a church, inspecting the towers, stained glass and gargoyles all on eye's level.

For our last night in Edinburgh we partied Scottish style and the next morning I realized it probably wasn't the smartest decision I had ever made. Luckily I felt fine enough to pack and catch my flight to my next destination - Amsterdam. Sadly, I feel like I didn't really get enough time to spend in Edinburgh. Before I went, Sean told me not to look up anything about the city and to just come with a clean slate and see what I think. Well, I was very impressed and loved the charming roads, story-telling buildings and of course the cider! I think I could have done with some warmer temperatures but overall Edinburgh was a trip back in time. I am hoping that one day I can return and maybe next time I will even venture up to see the Loch Ness Monster!

Smuirich (another Scottish term for you - it means kiss!)

PS - I put up a few of my favorite photos from Scotland on the right for you to check out some more sights of the city!

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