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Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Ole Reekie

The Hall of Heads
I bum around Edinburgh for the next couple of days.  One day, I spent only 3.50 pounds, going to all the free museums of the city.  One particular favorite was the National Museum that had Botticellis, Raphaels, and a Da Vinci.  There were two round stairwell rooms filled with busts (I like to call it the Hall of Heads).  But my favorite painting was one done by a Scottish artist.  It was of the highlands...the way the light played on the canvas was beautiful and I really connected with the painting (it was done by Peter Graham, called Wandering states).

The beautiful Jessica
I met up with my pal Jessica and we did a whiskey tour.  The Scottish Whiskey experience is actually pretty good value.  It starts of in a barrel ride, which is pretty simple and it explains the INCREDIBLY complicated process of making scotch whiskey.

We try a variety of whiskey and I'm surprised to find that I like the whiskeys from Isley best.

 This feels so right; me being a member of the Scotch Whiskey Appreciation Society
Those whiskeys are incredibly smokey and rich flavored.  I've never been much of a whiskey drinker but it just wins me over. With a nice whiskey you can sit, relax and enjoy without drinking too much.

Next, Jessica and I eat some haggis (surprisingly tasty; must have been changed for the tourists) and then we went on the literary pub crawl. This was really fun; we were presented with two sides of Edinburgh: the historic, classic side and the seedy, evil underbelly.  Most of the writers here had some sort of nefarious reputation and usually spent quite a lot of time in pubs, gentlemen clubs (settle down, thats not what it meant back then...well...usually), and in secret societies.

At the end, I can't decide which side of Edinburgh I appreciate more.  Edinburgh is certainly has a dark, shady past and lots of bad shit went down here (I found out more about that on the Ghost Walk...but more on that later).

After the pub tour, we go tango dancing.  As I watch the dancers, I feel a little regret.  My very nice former  boyfriend Scott (Hi Scott, you made into my blog!) was taking tango lessons and I never danced with him.  It looks amazing; I wish I had now.  Seeing the sensuality, the closeness and the passion of the dance is inspiring.  The couples separate; most aren't together at all.

I talk with some people...the one thing I love about traveling is that you learn so much about other peoples lives and possibilities.  The world feels open and opportunities exist everywhere for different lives, different paths.

The next day, I explore Edinburgh castle.  It has your typical castle type things; a long history of mystery, murder, war and romance.  My favorite place is St. Margaret's Catherdral.  Its the oldest building on the site (built around 1200s) and its so small and quiet.  Most people just poke their heads in and the find something more interesting.  But I sit and think about Margaret and her life.  She was a woman destined to be a nun but was convinced by Malcolm, then almost 40, to marry him.  She did and became queen of Scotland.  Apparently, she was an amazing queen and she helped the people of Scotland by increasing the education, access to health care and generally help creating a more civil society.

She died pretty young, in her 50s.  Her husband had died in battle and it was reported that she died of a broken heart, so deep and abiding was her love.

I walk down the Royal Mile; perhaps the most touristy place in all of Scotland.  I love the shop names: Thistle do nicely is a personal favorite.

Spooky vaults....BOO!
I get onto one of the famed ghost walks and boy, was it worth it.  Our host, an actor and history student, tells us horrible and gruesome tales of mis-hangings, torture, murder and debauchery that took place in old Edinburgh. We travel down into the Vaults; apparently this is the most haunted place in Scotland.  Personally, I don't get much ghostly activity but it was still well worth it.  At the end of the tour, we are taken into a room, offered some drink and then told more ghost stories.  It was a good use of eight pounds; I learned a great deal about Edinburgh and apparently, all the stories are true.

My heart really warms to old Edinburgh (or old Reekie as it is known by) and I find I'm lighter and happier than I have been in months.  Maybe its the whiskey, maybe the tango, maybe the ghosts, I have no idea.  But I feel clearer and more confident in my ability to travel as a single woman.  I'm surprised that I never feel lonely; I'm pretty happy to keep my own company and get lost in the city and in my own thoughts.

Me surviving Ben Nevis...barely.
Next, the epic climbing of Ben Nevis; hopefully I survive the experience.