Monday, June 29, 2015

an Edinburgh Sunday

It falls into place for me, it does. Sometimes, I cannot see how some days will develop and I'm somewhat surprised when nothing crashes and, in fact turns out quite well. I suppose this is such a day. I take no credit for the good result -- there was no great planning behind it. As often in life, it was a matter of luck.

Breakfast at Ramsays offers many choices, but I find myself scaling back a bit. Islay was for mornings of wee drams and Scottish salmon, for roasted tomato and scrambled eggs. Now I must recall the saner moments of maybe a boiled egg or two (for the energy I'll need today) and some fruit.


After, I talk a bit to my hosts. Sharon was born along the Royal Mile (the main historic street in this city) so she has Edinburgh blood seeping through her. Together with Norrie, she runs this small guest house with creative enthusiasm. She tells me -- I'm always redecorating! By the time you come back, your room will look different again! And she is right that I will come back. If I go to Islay again, I have to stop at one of the two big cities on my way out. Edinburgh wins, as does her guest house.

They suggest I take a walk to the Royal Botanic Gardens. It must be scrawled all over my face: loves flowers! And they mention a market not too far from the Gardens and, too, I know from a conversation I had yesterday with a shopkeeper that in that same area (Stockbridge), there will be a very special race in the afternoon. Alright! My day is set.

But I don't head for Stockbridge right away. As the clouds let go of a few drizzles, I head up restaurant alley -- Broughton Street, which Sharon has tagged as always having been rather Bohemian and I have to say, there's evidence of that...


And then I cross the great divide between New Town (where I am staying) and Old Town (where 90% of tourism takes place)...


... and I head for the Royal Mile, which links the Palace with the Castle (and this always makes me smile, because we have one such "royal mile" in Madison, linking the university with the legislative headquarters in the Capitol. Same thing, no?).


I walk up High Street...


... toward the castle and then I have had enough and I come down a multitude of secretively hidden steps to the New Town again.

I'm ready for some New Town strolling. What's this? Another store with children's clothing? A wee girl is trying on wellies. I want these! -- she says with conviction.


Snowdrop is, of course, too young for wellies. I settle for a lovely jacket, a jumper, a t-shirt that has a mouse holding up balloons telling you to have a nice day. I like that: a child's message to the world -- try to have a nice day, okay?


And now the Royal Gardens. First of all, I must note to all considering a venture here -- they're free, unless you want to go to the "Glasshouses."

Everyone wants to go to the Glasshouses. Indeed, there is a line with a two hour wait for the Glasshouses. Why? Because there is a Titan Arum (otherwise described in the media here as the New Reekie, because it stinks) in full bloom right now. Perhaps you don't know this plant? Well, neither do the Scottish people as it is the first time in recorded history that a Titan Arum has bloomed here. These plants bloom only every million years or so, and therefore if you miss it now, you'll not have another chance to see with your own eyes how very.... ordinary it is. The reason I happen to know this is that, of all things, my university back home, had a Titan Arum spring forth in bloom oh, maybe a decade or two ago. It flowered in the building right next to my office. No lines, no fuss. I saw it and yawned.

My walk through Edinburgh's Botanic Gardens proved once and for all that you can have many seasons in one day here. It rained. The wind blew. It drizzled. It did not drizzle. The sun came out. The sun disappeared and it rained to high heavens. And then the sun came out for good. Well, sort of. All this in the space of about two hours.

And here's my Gardens verdict: exquisite! Superb! I loved every minute there.

Let me invite you for a walk. Without much commentary. And know you're seeing just a wee bit of the extensive display.




(timed release selfie)


(when it rained, these guys hid in each others arms)


(these two preferred playing with swords than looking at a meadow of flowers)


And so on. Oh, and don't forget the view onto the Castle...


I'm almost ready to leave. But there is this sign announcing that the exhibit of Nicolas Party's pastels has been extended through today.

Let me take a look. One of the best things about travel is that you find things you wouldn't have otherwise known to look for. Who is this Nicolas Party?


You wont have heard of him. I can't even find a wiki page, though he isn't a completely new face on the art scene. (read about him here.)

A one sentence summary would read something like this: he once was a graffiti artist, but after studying at the Glasgow School of Art, his work exploded.


At the Botanic Gardens, the house dedicated to exhibitions explodes alright -- with sunshine and wall painting and canvas painting and it is all so beautiful!


There isn't anyone there. The entire citizenry of Edinburgh is out chasing the Titan Arum. Well fine, but in my mind, the real treasure is right here, free, without lines.

I walk out of the Gardens and as I walk toward the heart of Stockbridge, I look for the market. I must be on the right path: he's carrying a bag of foods.


And yes, I am surprised to see him in a kilt. I see kilts, of course, in the expected places: on the Royal Mile, to get tourists to throw down coins...


At a wedding.


(And not only on the groom.)


But rarely on a gent carrying groceries from the market.

Okay, onto the market. It's kind of an interesting one because it really doesn't address the produce needs of a common household. Yes, I found a stand or two with fruits and such, but most of the vendors lure you with the smells and flavors of (freshly) prepared foods. The biggest draw is the paella. Me, I sampled these:


...wondering all the while if someone could taste the difference between a Hendricks Gin macaron and another Gin macaron.

And now it is nearly three and I need a pause. For tea and a scone. Here:


As I sip my tea and contemplate smelly plants and the state of the world, a woman comes in with her baby and, too, what I have to guess is the baby's aunt. They sit next to me and they place the little boy in a high chair and feed him a cheese sandwich with cucumber. A proper British late afternoon snack. Of course I ask all about this adorably friendly little guy. How old? Eating sandwiches, is he?


Nine months. And yes, he's usually quite good when out and about, though this was his first sandwich in a restaurant.

I smile many times over.

And now it's three -- I am ready to witness the big race. This is its twenty-fifth year and so it is, in this neighborhood at least, a big deal!

Here's how it works: the organizers drop from the bridge yellow ducks into the river. At the next bridge, the first duck to come in gets a prize. I do not know who actually gets to claim a prize. I don't even know how it is that so many people know about this race and turn out for it (my b&b hosts had never heard of it).


But I do know that it surely displays some of what we could call back home British humor. The organizers wade into the river and splash each other and eventually, at least one or two fall down and get drenched. The crowd roars! After that, it just gets a tad wild. Someone plays a bagpipe, and the race of the ducks begins.




I leave you with that image of the ducks moving right along. I do not know who won and of what consequence this is for humanity or even for Edinburgh people. But it surely brought out the grins in a whole lot of those standing around me.

Dinner? Well, I go to the second closest place to me -- just across the street from where I am. The place is called The Ox and yes, it is a pub, with pub food, though I think you'd be pleasantly surprised if you want to veer toward healthy eating. My fish soup is very good...


and I am delighted to get with it (upon request, but still...) a bowful of kale and another of a spring salad.

And the sun comes in and out and the people walk in short sleeves and who can find fault with any of this?!


  1. I remember seeing the lines for the Titan Arum when I was an undergrad. I thought it was so bizarre when I finally went and realized, it wasn't that beautiful and definitely did stink. Memories aside, it looks like you had a great day!

  2. Scots are great botanists, historically anyway... so I envy your time at the Botanic Gardens! Also at the giant Rubber Ducky Race... there's one in Buffalo's Northtowns, a fundraiser for Kawelle, a project in Kenya a friend of mine co-founded. I hear it's great fun... and who cares who wins. Probably the same attitude in Edinburgh!

  3. Love the botanic garden photos - some of them remind me of paintings. And I love the cultural details you captured, like the kilt-wearing for grocery shopping and the race of the ducks (I also don't get it, but what the heck - people having fun while not hurting anyone is to be encouraged as much as possible).

  4. Agreed: fun without malice or bad consequence! Surely something we can embrace!

    Thanks, all, for your words here -- it makes solo travel that much less... solo!

  5. I loved the duck race! My spirit soared! Children would adore it, and adults could be kids too for a while. I was interested in how and why it began, so:
    You can buy the ducks in all the shops and businesses, and the donations go to a hospice fund.

    I adored the little boy (let's call him Arthur) with the play sword. For a moment I was able to BE that boy, how exhilarating it can feel to be a kid. I remember!

  6. Oh Nina.. those lil snowdrop clothes are adorable! I love the flowery jacket and the street scene on the romper! I alos like that you can see the castle from almost anywhere in Edinburgh. Great trip. I so want to add Islay to my trip next June!
    Ruth in Oxnard CA

  7. What a lovely post! We have a duck race on our river walk but if I recall it is a charity fundraiser.

  8. I read this post yesterday but ran out of steam so I’m late to the party with comments. Your words and photos jarred many memories. This entry was a smile-maker.

    First photo, though, sent shivers. When I see people eating soft gooey eggs out of a shell… well, I shiver. I imagine myself scooping gooey egg and flecks of shell. *shiver* I know, I know… irrational.

    Edinburgh is glorious! OMG. It’s bigger than big with quiet buildings that are impossibly elegant as they loom from the pavement. My eyes find pleasure in repetitiveness – especially anything horizontally stacked. The buildings are quite somber… one might even say gloomy, but my eyes gasped for the majesty, quiet dignity.

    The Royal Gardens nearly took what little breath I have left! (Forgive my dark humor. It’s an element of my coping.) The fields of flowers swayed into my heart inviting me to grab a sword and join the boys in a romp. (Um, in today’s verbiage, I maybe just wrote something naughty.)

    And just when I thought it couldn’t get any better, you introduced me to Nicolas Party. Fabulous, fabulous, fabulous! The colors! The clean lines! Forget about drams… I could drink gallons of this man’s art! Realism married to whimsy and color – my favorite combinations.

    The 9 month old little boy eating his first sandwich. *sigh* I burst into a tiny squall of tears. So precious. I’m a silly old nutter.

    About 11 years ago when in Ireland, Siobhan and I went to back spit County Cork (which describes just about any place in Ireland) and joined the crowds to watch the release of bazillions of little ducks. Quite hilarious.

    Thanks for sharing your beautiful day so beautifully. Your selfie was one of the best. Perfection! As I’m fond of saying, “I was the tail on your kite.”


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