Wednesday, 31 March 2010

All Aboard

I hope you don't get seasick, because we're going to spend the next 25 years, in blogging terms (I have that many pictures), aboard the Royal Yacht Britannia. Sarah strongly recommended we visit, she was still bubbling from her last time, so we duly went. She was right. It was good.

First off, a disclaimer. I'm not nautical. I grew up in Oklahoma, that's my excuse and I'm sticking to it. That's one handicap, the other of course is that I'm foreign, and so probably don't properly appreciate all things royal and such. Nevertheless, the yacht is a cool place to visit and since I have a squillion photos, visit we shall. I'll try to remember one or two pieces of information to go with the pictures... If you really want the details, look here.

It's a pretty big boat, but owing to the fact that it is big, I guess it is properly called a ship. It has 3 masts - they all looked alike to me. The main function of the middle mast is to separate the crew from the guests. Also, there are pennies underneath the masts: pennies for the angels, the recording said.

These are the life boats, properly termed boats. Bill noticed right off they are posh: they are enclosed, unlike any other life boats I've ever seen.

This room is of course at the front of the ship, but don't ask me what it's called. Something to do with navigation, no doubt.

I remember this is called the fo'c'sle, which was at one time called the forecastle (I just looked that up).

There was a photo of all the crew out there at the front of the ship sun bathing and another where they were exercising. Somehow black and white photos from the 1950s don't portray the sex appeal you would normally associate with those events, but I did remember the name of that part of the ship all the same.

This bell is at the back of the ship, in front of a room I forget what it's called. It has bamboo furniture and a great view, sort of like an enclosed balcony, being in the front at the top level of the ship. It was one of the Queen's favourite rooms, apparently. There are clever little cupboards that hide the games and the drinks bar, which I'll show you when we go indoors tomorrow.

No doubt the bell at one time served a purpose other than to order more drinks, but for now, it appears to be a photo prop for all the visitors.

Before we leave today, please note that the ship is painted a tasteful navy blue, per instructions of the Queen, instead of the usual black. And that

gold stripe down the side? It's real gold - 24 carat. After that, I'm afraid it's all anticlimactic.

Sunday, 28 March 2010


I mentioned earlier that Bill forgot his jacket. He knew just where to get another.

We always try to drop into Armstrongs, in the Grassmarket, when we are in Edinburgh. It's just such a fun place. The only thing I

remember ever actually buying there was a navy blue leather jacket. Bill walked out of there this time with a dark grey jacket, very well

made, for about £30. It was actually a normal looking jacket, in spite of the carnival atmosphere these pictures paint!

They actually have vintage clothes from the 20s, 30s and 40s, where most places these days call what I wore as a teenager and a young

professional 'vintage'. What a lot of nerve!

I was in non-buying mode, my usual these days, but I was tempted by this rainbow of cashmere sweaters, all priced between £25-35. I tried on a beautiful teal coloured cardigan but it was way

too small and that was enough to snap me back to non-buying mode. I'm just no fun these days, I know.

Armstrongs have another shop, called the Rusty Zip, but we don't think it's nearly as good as the shop in the Grassmarket.

When leaving the area, I caught sight of a close for sale! I just had to check it out. Turns out it's a flat in a close. It's a great location, only 250 metres from Edinburgh Castle (that would be considered, I believe, a 'good address'.) 'Only' £165,000 for a one bedroomed flat. First floor in American, means 2nd floor; in Britain you start out at the ground floor, usually, but not always.

Edmonstone's Close

First Floor Flat

CITY CENTRE LIVING AT ITS BEST! Stylish 1st floor flat (only 3 in stair) part of prestigious Buredi/Traverse Theatre conversion. Historic location/superb setting in private courtyard. GCH. Gated entrance with secure Entryphone. Hall; Sittingroom with French doors to "Paris" balcony; Galley style fitted Kitchen; Double Bedroom with built in wardrobes and Bathroom. Minutes from the Royal Mile, City Centre, Parliament, University (Pleasance), Fountainbridge and the West End.

I can't tell you any more because my computer doesn't seem to recognise the type of file offered by the solicitors office (lawyers, that is) who list it for sale. However, another one of the 3 flats in this close is available for tourists to rent.

A two bedroomed flat, it can sleep up to six and the pictures look like everything is really modern and clean. For a long weekend, those 6 people could pay only 'from' (that always worries me) £378. The best part is that the flat is spacious - all of 277 square feet. Guess it had better be 6 small people, huh? But, hey, you'd be right next door to Armstrongs!

Saturday, 27 March 2010

Deacon's House

Whilst we didn't need lunch, having had an ample Continental breakfast, though it was a bit strange owing to the B&B being run by Asians and the breakfast room by a young woman from Eastern Europe. I often turn to drinking tea when I think the coffee might not be to my liking. Unlike with coffee, I have little or no opinion about how tea should taste. Turns out, however, even I know that the water has to be boiling to make tea; I gave up after half a cup of warm, dirty water.

Anyhow, it was time for a sit-down and something wet so we headed into this interesting little close off the Royal Mile, Brodie's Close, to Deacon's Cafe.

I wasn't that impressed with their scones (Bill liked them fine), but at least the tea was at least drinkable. This was formerly the shop of a man named William Brodie, a Scottish cabinet-maker. You'll have heard of him in a sideways fashion, as he is the character on which Robert Louis Stevenson based his story of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.

The room itself, with thick walls and the stone behind the kitchen, was interesting.

While Bill was placing our order, I was looking around and spotted this wooden chest next to a drafty window. I decided to snoop and opened the chest.

Sure enough, there was a human skull - or a facsimile - inside; served me right for letting my curiosity win.

The whole idea of a close fascinates me, just as did the courtyards in New Orleans, both being enclosed spaces whose street entrance is often rather mysterious. For that matter, huge amounts of inner city space in Europe is enclosed behind wide doors, elegant in style but often dirty and painted with graffiti. Don't let that fool you; what's behind is often magic.

On the subject of closes in Edinburgh, however, another that I was quite interested to see on my first visit, having worked plague cases in the U.S., was Mary King's close. There is much in Edinburgh that screams tourist trap and Mary King's close is among that. This history does seem to ring true, not that I'm an authority.

If the whole plague thing interests you, perhaps you would like to read a fictionalised account of the village Eyam (pronounced EEM), in Derbyshire. Year of Wonders is not a happy story, but unlike some that I refuse to re-read (The Lovely Bones being one), I do occasionally pick up Brooks and relive that time.

Friday, 26 March 2010


Bill and I both love Jenners department store. It's one of Bill's best qualities, I think, the fact that we both get excited about the same things. Bill thinks Jenners is the 2nd best shopping place in the world, after the Galeries Lafayette in Paris. Well, Galeries Lafayette is pretty tough to beat.

I visited Jenner's on my first visit to Edinburgh, before I knew Bill and before I'd ever been to Harrod's, the outside of which is a nowhere nearly a beautiful as Jenners.

I fell in love with all the wood everywhere,

not to mention the ornate stone work on the outside and the lush goods available to purchase inside. Trust me, there is an atmosphere in places like this that is completely different to J.C. Penneys, Sears, Wal-Mart even. I think it's to do with the number of digits on the price tags or the instant name recognition of the clothing designers. It could just be that they clean more often and spray expensive perfume around.

Back on my first visit, I just went in to have a cup of tea and to luxuriate in the atmosphere. It was a great place to watch people. I've never seen so much tweed in all my life.

I gather that sometime between my first visit and now, Jenners has been purchased by House of Fraser. I'm sure that no matter who owns the place, for everyone in Edinburgh it will always be Jenners.

My photos don't nearly do it justice. There are far better here and here.

Thursday, 25 March 2010

Edinburgh Sat

Let's face it, there is no way I can do justice to the fabulous buildings in Edinburgh. In any case, we weren't there for long and we weren't there on holiday, but to visit Sarah. Poor girl had been sent home from work earlier in the week with a virus and was just beginning to recover, so we tried not to roust her out of bed too early on the Saturday. I took loads of pictures, but I'm not finding them very satisfying at the moment. However, we'll see what I can come up with.

One of my favourite things in Edinburgh is the monument to Sir Walter Scott, built after his death.

Another favourite building is the Old Waverley hotel, where I'm not likely to ever stay. Apparently the clock tower is part of a building behind, not part of the hotel, something I'd never realised before.

We also climbed up to Edinburgh Castle, which I find rather dull during the day. It is much better viewed at night when it is lit up beautifully. Neither is the inside my cup of tea, it being a thoroughly military establishment. It has large rooms decorated with armour and spikes, if I remember right. The one thing I can recommend about the castle, other than viewing at night, is that you can get your picture taken with a handsome young man in a kilt (must find that picture to show you). The castle was even less impressive on this visit as much of it was undergoing maintenance work. Somehow a bright red concrete mixer destroys the romance of the place.

You should be warned: there is nothing and nowhere in Edinburgh city centre that doesn't involve stairs. Good job I'm an athlete, eh? (Laughter is supposed to be good for your health so feel free, just don't hurt yourself rolling in the floor.)

We wandered around Castle end of the Royal Mile, which is the road between Edinburgh Castle and Holyroodhouse; actually, a series of roads, but only because Brits change road names every few feet). If I think the former is boring, I find the latter fascinating. Holyroodhouse isn't always open, as it is one of the Queen's residences, but it was formerly the home of Mary Queen of Scots and if you plan to visit, I strongly urge you to read about her life and time. I'd just read a historical novel and that was enough to make it magic for me.

It was on my first ever visit to Edinburgh when I stayed with my Scottish Grandmother, as Bill Bryson refers to the little old ladies who run bed and breakfasts out of their homes in Notes from a Small Island (which I've just read Brits have voted as best characterising their country). She would tell me what I should see each day and she really did get huffy if I veered from the programme she'd specified. I think she sent me to shop for a kilt or something silly, but I went instead to John Knox's house, immediately after having visited Holyrood. It was a wonderful contrast.

On this visit we noticed a lot of men -- far more than the usual strays -- wearing kilts, etc. Turns out there was a Six Nations rugby event going on (that's Scotland, Ireland, England, Wales, France and Italy) that weekend. I used to have two young men who worked for me in my old job. One played rugby, the other soccer. It was fun to hear their good natured banter about which game (and class of people) was better. I know you're wishing I'd taken pictures of those kilted men, but they're all much of a muchness, really.

The exception was a man staying in our B&B whose hair cut didn't match the kilt or the tattoo on the back of his calf. He was a big man, having to stoop to duck the big wood beams in the basement where we ate breakfast. The kilt, the wool socks and the hefty shoes suited him, but his face and hair were quite dainty, foppish even; I'm sure it was the pointed sideburns. On top of that, Bill placed his accent in the south of England, Essex way. Surely it's illegal for him to wear a kilt in Edinburgh?

We headed for the Grass Market,

a square of shops, to buy Bill a jacket. He'd mistakenly thought he had one in the back seat of the car and it was still cool enough to need one. He knew just the place and I'll show it to you later. This took us up through Milnes Court (built in the 1600s), where Bill pointed out these cute little windows, the ones with leaded glass on top and wooden doors below.

He said they functioned as a refrigerator, or cool box, useful for keeping rats out of food. Perhaps it worked something like the one at the cabin in Colorado, belonging to first husband's step-father. There was a metal cage poking out of the kitchen window with doors closing out the cold. Almost as quaint as the wood cook stove, the outhouse, the feather beds and the 'guzunder' though we didn't call it that; it's a British term.

We spent some time in the Scottish National Portrait Gallery. I can't say I cared a great deal for it. There was something really impressive about the endless rooms of pale green carpet and huge walls covered in red felt and trimmed in braid. I tried to picture the expression of the person who got the order for all that carpet and all that felt. The portraits were mostly giant sized and many were very attractive to look at. There did seem to be a predominant theme of dead animals, hunted down and slaughtered by the master of the house and purchaser of the portrait, no doubt. A bit gory for my taste. Still, it passed the time and it was free.

Right, I'm

going to

throw in a few more pictures

I took and then refer you here

if you want to see


Wednesday, 24 March 2010

Sarah's Place

I've shown you my house, Simon's and two of Helen's houses, so I may as well show you bits of Sarah's. It's a two bedroomed flat in Leith, an

area of Edinburgh about 10 minutes from the city centre (where all the cool stuff is). She has a room mate who was always out when we were there, so we never did meet her.

The last flat I visited Sarah at also had this winding, stone stairwell and she was on the

3rd floor there, too, I think. I remember Bill commenting that it felt rather French and of course the Scots and the French have been

buddies for a long time, on the principle of 'the enemy of my enemy is my friend' if nothing else. Unlike many large buildings in Britain, this one was built as flats, not converted.

The rooms don't feel very small, except that the kitchen is tiny and they have a separate W.C., but I didn't manage to get very many pictures that show you how it looks, so you'll just have to settle for a few hints. I think I would enjoy living there, if I didn't own 20 times too much stuff.

She's five minutes' walk from an nice Italian restaurant where we had dinner and from a lovely little street cafe, except for sign next to the tables offering colonic irrigation. She gets the

bus to work, at a bank, and she sounds as though she's really enjoying her life, which is lovely to hear.

Sunday, 21 March 2010

Auld Reekie

You'll know that we've been over to Manchester any number of times in the last year or so. So much so that we were starting to feel guilty about not going up to see Sarah, so we finally booked a weekend and went. It's only about an hour and a half by train, but Bill preferred to drive. He likes to take the scenic route so it took about 3 hours. This time we went up through Coldstream on a smaller road rather than taking the A1 (I keep wanting to call it an interstate or a highway, even after all these years!) motorway which takes you through Berwick-upon-Tweed. It's all pretty scenic, but I expect the curving hilly roads are more fun to drive, especially in a 'new' red sports car, eh?

There is no way to show you all there is to see in Edinburgh. We only saw a few things over the weekend and still walked our little socks off. I've been here several other times, more for fun than work for a change. Other than to see Sarah a couple of times whilst she was at University here, one of the last times Bill and I came up was for a Stones' concert. It was totally amazing watching them and hearing music I've grown up with. It was great. They did a helluva light show, but nothing like the sun setting behind them. It was a summer night and never really gets dark that far north, but the sunset seemed to go on for technicoloured hours (and yes, we were completely sober and straight). Anyhow, that was then this is now (to quote S.E. Hinton).

I'm just including some shots I took from the car to give you a feel for what the buildings look like. I am more used to seeing terraced houses than when I first came over, but Edinburgh's are on average two stories higher. They are a different colour - in fact most of Britain's cities are characterised by the colour of the local stone. There is a marked difference between Edinburgh city centre and 'New Town', built in the 18th and 19th centuries. Anyhow, I thought you might like seeing the terraces, with their chimney pots to draw oxygen to the coal fires,

As with most of Britain town centres, there are business on the ground floors and flats above.

This door way with the face carved and painted on the door frame caught my eye.

And the cobbled streets with endless terraces

There was a busker standing in this very spot when I first ever walked out of Edinburgh Waverley, the train station. I remember a much younger man, but I don't think it's the same one in spite of 17 years having passed .

I had purchased Europe through the Back Door by Rick Steves. One of the things he suggested was to carry a tape recorder and capture some of the exotic sounds of your holiday. I recorded a flute played by a girl wearing a long romantic dress in Cambridge, the sound of the train that carried me out of London and the bagpipes played by a handsome young man outside the train station when I arrived in Edinburgh. To be continued...

P.S. Happy Birthday to the sweetest man in the world: Bill!

Saturday, 20 March 2010

Hanging Out

I had a good day out with Vivien last week. We met up at the Laing Art Gallery in Newcastle.

We spent most of our time at the Laing having a coffee and a chat, just catching up. She kindly gave me a turquoise silk scarf she didn't want (pays to put out the word!) and a key chain with a token that can be used in a grocery trolley instead of a pound coin. (Most supermarkets here have some sort of system to keep the trolleys from being taken off site, either an electronic sensor or just a £1 coin that you get back when you return the cart.)

The main feature at the Laing this time was a photographic exhibit about the pop bands in the 60s, mainly about the Beatles and the Stones. It was OK, but nothing to get wildly excited about. I thought the pictures of Jane Birkin and Marianne Faithful were the best part, to be honest (they both have official websites as well).

The best thing I've ever seen at the Laing was when they exhibited dresses designed by Bruce Oldfield and worn by the likes of Princess Diana and Jemima Goldsmith. The best thing I noticed this trip was this gorgeous art nouveau window.

Then we had lunch at Oldfields. It was incredibly good food. The service was excellent (and well it should be as they tack on 12.5% for it). The food is locally acquired. They seem to be in cahoots

with some of the local cultural venues, as our bill came with flyers for Opera North (as if) and some theatre, probably the Theatre Royal

up the road. A trip to the loo allowed me to satisfy my curiosity

about what the back looked like. As we were the last of the lunch group to leave, I snapped a few pictures. It is much as one would hope being part of Milburn

House, a truly amazing place. I have some photos from there I'll show you sometime (Sometime could be a major category in this blog, couldn't it?).

Then we went over to the Baltic to walk off our lunch. The Baltic used to be a flour mill. It is now

a venue for contemporary art. Fortunately, just as at the Laing, admission is free. Neither of us is

very appreciative of modern art.

At one point, seeing the name Damien Hirst on an exhibit gave me pause, as we'd just left an exhibit of bones (don't ask me!) upstairs and I remembered the link between culture an Oldfields restaurant. My meal had been named 'Mr Hirst's beef', but when I got home I was showing Bill the menu and I read that Mr. Hirst is also the name of a farmer in Northumberland who supplies them beef. Whew!

The best thing about the Baltic, I think, is the views of the

quayside. That, and the shop has some wonderful stuff in it, as did the shop at the

Laing. I think those shops may be where I do my Christmas shopping...