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42 Hours in Edinburgh
By Jeanette Lemmon


On Sunday morning, August 11, I was up early in my excitement for my planned trip to Edinburgh for the Festival and Military Tattoo.  I had arrived by train in London the previous day from our home in Lyme Regis, Dorset, and settled into our London home overnight.  It was cloudy and a bit windy as I walked to the train station in Anerley to take the train to London Bridge Station then the underground Northern Line to King’s Cross Station.  I was early, of course.  I would rather be four hours early than a minute late, but as it was, I was only an hour early.  Seats are few and far between in the station, and the ladies’ room is downstairs and costs 20 pence to use.  When you are carrying luggage, it is most inconvenient to go downstairs, but one does what one must do!  Because of terrorist activity in the city, there are no trash bins in the stations, so people leave empty sandwich wrappers and plastic water and Coke bottles setting here and there on the floor or around the base of columns.  I carried mine on the train with me and disposed of it there.

The train left as scheduled at 11 a.m. and moved northward past The Emirates, where the Arsenal football (soccer) team plays, then onward past the Alexandra Palace on past Stevenage and countryside until the first stop at Peterborough.  We passed fields of baled hay, straw-colored under the cloudy skies.  When the sun broke through now and then, the fields turned golden in the light.  The edges of the fields were filled with wildflowers, some yellow, some white, but the predominant one was rosebay willow herb, a deep pink flower on a tall stalk.  We went through several tunnels which made the ears pop.  Some people dozed and some read, but I kept looking outside so I wouldn’t miss a thing!  There were billows of dark clouds, puffy with layer upon layer of them.  Often it was cloudy in front of us with sunshine behind us.  The steel blue of some clouds on the horizon made the golden fields and green hillsides stand out starkly, very beautiful actually.

As we went farther north, nuclear plants began to appear in the distance at either side of the train.  We made a stop in Doncaster and were delayed 20 minutes while a power switch on the train was repaired, then we were on our way to York.  More nuclear power plants could be seen along this route.  On the right in York could be seen the Minster in the distance and on the left was a large ferris wheel.  It was mostly cloudy by this time.  We went on to a stop in Darlington then one in Durham from which the cathedral and castle could be viewed.  A large angel with widespread wings dominated a hillside near Gateshead.  We went on into Newcastle, across a high viaduct railway bridge over the river, and into the station.  It began to rain rather heavily as we continued north with glimpses of the sea near Alnmouth.  Bamburgh Castle and the Holy Island of Lindisfarne were visible in the distance.

After passing through Berwick-on-Tweed, where my mind took me back through years of Scottish history as the city passed back and forth from England to Scotland, the scenery began to change.  Hillsides of fir and pine lined the railway tracks, and I knew I was in Scotland.  Patches of purple heather welcomed me.  We stopped in Dunbar then continued on past Prestonpans and Musselburgh before arriving at Edinburgh Waverley Station where my husband Jim was waiting for me.

It was spitting rain as we walked out of the station, turned right and passed the Scott Memorial on Princes Street before crossing the street, walking past Jenner’s department store and into the entrance of the hotel, The Mount Royal Ramada, sandwiched between Jenner’s and Marks and Spencers.  I was soon on my way to the National Gallery then a brief look through Jenner’s while Jim finished some paperwork.  Jim saw his group of tourists off for a Scottish evening at the Thistle Hotel then he and I walked to George Street where he wanted me to see The Dome restaurant and bar.  The interior is splendidly decorated.  It was first part of a medical school then a bank building and is now a restaurant.  You can take a virtual tour and read its history at www.thedomeedinburgh.com.  I drank a Coke as we absorbed the atmosphere of the beautiful setting.  Palms and enormous vases of white lilies complemented the wonderful interior.  We then went to a buffet at Saigon, Saigon, a restaurant in the area. before going to The Café Royal at 17 Register Street to see the décor with six pictures made up of Royal Doulton tiles depicting inventors at the moment of invention.  These were first exhibited in Scotland in 1886 and purchased by the owner of the pub afterwards.  You can visit the pub/restaurant by going to www.undiscoveredscotland.co.uk/edinburgh/pubguide/caferoyal.html.  After a brief walkthrough just to see the décor, we went around the corner to 1-5 West Register Street, to The Guildford Arms pub, another place Jim wanted me to see.  It was crowded as there was a jazz sextet playing, part of the Festival entertainment, but we were able to squeeze in for a white wine and real ale, and just as I took my first sip, the jazz group broke into ‘Back Home Again in Indiana.’  How appropriate was that for this Indiana girl!  When they finished, I told them I was from Indiana, and they wanted to play the song again!  You can see this 1898 pub at www.guildfordarms.com.

The next morning after Jim saw his tourists off on a tour of the city with a city guide, he and I had breakfast in the hotel restaurant overlooking Princes Street with views to the castle then we walked east along Princes Street toward Calton Hill.  On the way, we stopped at the Calton Hill Cemetery, where Jim showed me a statue of Abraham Lincoln atop a monument to Scottish soldiers who fought for emancipation.  We walked up Calton Hill, around the monuments there – one a tower in the shape of a telescope in honor of Lord Nelson and another that is a partial replica of the Parthenon in Greece, begun in 1816 to commemorate those who defeated Napoleon the year previously.  However, money ran out, so the architect, Playfair, never saw the completion of his project.  Calton Hill offers wonderful views down over the city and to the Firth of Forth.  I found a lovely view with some thistle growing in the foreground for my photo.

We then walked on to Holyrood Palace, stopped briefly in the gift shop, then went to the Scottish parliament building, a £375,000,000 building that has received some design awards, but personally, I can’t see the beauty in it.  We went into the debating chamber and toured other parts of the building before walking up the Royal Mile.  When we reached the End of the World pub, formerly where the city wall was located, the street was closed off to make a pedestrian walkway for the Festival.  Buskers performed here and there along the way up the hill – saxophonists, jugglers, comedians, pipers, guitarists, etc.  Leaflets were thrust into our hands for various shows in the Fringe.  Booths selling jewelry, paintings, scarves, t-shirts and many other items were set up outside St. Giles.  I went inside the church to hear a baritone then a soprano perform while Jim went back to the hotel to greet his tourists after their morning sightseeing.  They had the afternoon free so he came back to meet me after he had answered their questions and made sure they knew what time to be ready for their outing to the royal yacht Britannia.

I am an avid reader of the Ian Rankin novels featuring Inspector Rebus.  Rebus likes a pint, and his favourite bar is The Oxford Bar.  It is located at 8 Young Street.  I wanted to see the bar, to picture Rebus there.  It is difficult to tell if the bar is open; it looks like a derelict building.  There is no fancy décor.  It has been favored through the years by writers and artists.  It is also known for its meat pies, something else Rebus enjoys much to the detriment of his health.  I had a Coke in the back room – Jim his real ale, where Ian Rankin is said to meet his friends on Thursday evenings.  You can see The Oxford Bar at www.oxfordbar.com/framelinks.htm.  Rebus beer was featured in August on tap – actually Duechars IPA with one extra secret ingredient.  There also was a Rebus whisky featured in August, and the Writer’s Museum in Edinburgh had a special exhibit of Rebus and Rankin.

Jim took me to La Lanterna, an Italian restaurant for lunch.  Excellent!  It is at 83 Hanover Street, and you can read about it at www.edinburgh-eating.com/12076.htm.  Jim then took me into two bank buildings by St. Andrews Square to see the wonderful architecture inside.  The Royal Bank of Scotland is set back from the road, a statue of a man and horse in front of it, the man the former owner of the stately house which now is home to the bank.  The ornate plaster work, the carved oak doors, and the dome featuring 120 glass windows shaped like varying sized stars are truly outstanding!  It’s wonderful to have a tour guide husband who knows all of these fabulous places to share with me.  The other bank is a couple of doors to the south and entered from the street.  After Jim left with his tour group, I walked through Princes Street Gardens then up to Rose Street, a street full of tiny cafes and shops, on my way to the Book Fair held in conjunction with the Festival.  After a look through the mostly antiquarian books, I went back to Princes Street and did some shopping before going back to the hotel to prepare for the Tattoo.

I left early for the Tattoo so I could walk past more lovely classical buildings of the Athens of the North, a name often given to Edinburgh.  Umbrellas had been going up and down all day for five minutes here and there, but the rain moved out in time for the Tattoo.  There was a brisk cold wind coming in from the west, and my seat was on the west end of a row.  Although I was wearing a coat, I froze through most of the performance!  The flags atop the castle blew vigorously throughout the evening in the varying light displays.

This year’s Tattoo commemorated the 60th Wedding Anniversary of the Queen and Prince Philip and also 100 years of Scouting.  The mass pipes and drums entered from the Castle onto the esplanade to begin the program at 9 p.m. sharp, the program beginning late to allow the light show on the castle to be visible.  The bands were composed of The Royal Scots Dragoon Guards, The Royal Corps of Signals, The Black Watch 3rd Battalion The Royal Regiment of Scotland, 2nd Battalion The Royal Gurkha Rifles, Scottish Universities Officers Training Corps, The Auckland Police, The Royal Caledonian Society of South Australia, and The Royal Army of Oman.  They played a medley of 14 Scottish songs, including The Skye Boat Song and Mhairie’s Wedding, before giving way to the Taipei First Girls’ Senior High School Honour Guard and Drum Corps, a fantastic group of musicians, dancers and rifle corps.  The gun displays were outstanding, all performed to a backdrop of colourful lights on the front of Edinburgh Castle, green to pink to yellow to purple, blue and red.

The Middlesex County Volunteer Fifes and Drums performed next.  From the Boston area, they were outfitted in Revolutionary War uniforms and performed nine selections including two drum numbers, a fife solo, and concluding with Yankee Doodle Dandy and The Girl I Left Behind.  They made me proud!  The Massed Commonwealth Highland Dancers entered the esplanade and danced up a storm to the Appalachian Round-up, waving scarves and flags of the Commonwealth countries.  A group of scouts filed onto the field as Scouting’s 100th anniversary was celebrated.  They were followed by the Imps Motorcycle Display Team composed of boys age five to sixteen, who entered with a roar of engines.  They were formed in the 1970s to provide an outlet for deprived boys from east London.  Boys must retire from the group after the age of 16.  They ride their motorcycles in various formations, criss-crossing between one another, leaving the watchers on the edge of their seats and holding their breath.  They also did pyramids, standing on one another’s shoulders with five motorcycles at the base.  I was relieved when this display finished!

The Band of The Moscow Military Conservatoire came next, looking boring in their basic military green dress uniforms and playing traditional Russian music, but they suddenly livened up and began to do comical dance moves as they played.  At one point, they did a Saturday Night Fever move then one row would bend down at the knees slowly and then come up again while the next row went down slowly.  They kicked to the side, first one foot then another, and twirled.  They had the crowd laughing and received thundering applause as they finished.  The Mounted Band of the Blues and Royals came on, the leader on a white horse, a drummer on a black and white horse, and the other musicians on black horses, some of which decided they didn’t really approve of all the sound around them.  Their riders had quite a time keeping a couple of them in order, and one left a large deposit on the ground.  It was quickly cleaned up by two young boys with shovel and broom, much to the amusement of the audience.  The Trinidad and Tobago Defence Force Steel Orchestra is the only military steel band in the world.  They played Caribbean calypso music before the Massed Military Bands did a tribute to styles of military music through the years while pictures of past military uniforms and battles were projected onto the front of the castle.  This segment honoured 150 years of the Royal Military School of Music.  The army in Iraq and Afghanistan is entertained by modern rock bands wearing desert khaki so the display concluded with this type of music.  This was followed by music to celebrate the 60th wedding anniversary of the Queen and Prince Philip this November, and the musicians were accompanied by The Tattoo Choir and joined by the Moscow Military band.

The Massed Military Bands and Massed Pipes and Drums stirred us with Everything I Do, I Do It For You then the Finale began with all 1,000 performers on the field at once.  The National Anthem was played then Auld Lang Syne with everyone holding hands and singing before the Evening Hymn and Last Post were played.  The Lone Piper played Crags of Tumbledown from the top of the castle, where the torch flames had fluttered in the wind all evening below the periodic blasts of fireworks above the castle.  The entertainers marched out to Scotland the Brave, We’re No’ Awa’ Tae Bide Awa’, and The Black Bear.  Fireworks exploded above the castle once again and another year’s Edinburgh Military Tattoo came to a halt.

Jim was off with his tour group at 8:15 a.m. the next day, and I was on the train back to London at 9:30 a.m., my head full of wonderful memories of my favourite city – Edinburgh.  I can’t wait to go back!  I wish you a visit there in the near future.  You will be enriched!


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