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Sunday, February 17, 2008


Edinburgh, Scotland is an historic, modern, old and young vibrant city. Its charm lies at least partly in its inherent contradictions, so exploring the city sometimes forces me to step back and remember that I am walking in the imprint of history. I definitely feel that way in Edinburgh Castle, and that is just the beginning.

Rob and I planned to meet Mike after the tour was over and to spend some time with him exploring the city. Mike and I became friends when I was thirteen. We began as pen pals, and we met for the first time when I was 21 on my first trip to England with my cousin Phyllis. Rob met him a bit later, and the three of us have been close ever since. These extra days in Edinburgh are special, and accidentally meeting Mike in the gardens on Princes Street in the shadow of Edinburgh Castle in the middle of a busy city is one more proof of a friendship that was meant to be.

But enough sentimentality. With guidebooks in hand, we are off! And we pick the big stuff at the start—Holyrood Palace at the foot of the Royal Mile. It’s the official residence of the Queen while she is in Scotland. The entire palace is not open to the public, but what we do see is history and where it took place. No photos allowed. An audio tour guides us through the palace and tells us its storied history peopled with famous and infamous personages who previously existed for me only in books. Now I am entering their bedrooms! Built in 1498 by James IV, Holyrood Palace is the site of some of the most dramatic events surrounding Mary Queen of Scots (read Antonia Fraser’s Mary Queen of Scots for this fascinating story). Here Mary was crowned Queen of the Scots, and here her Italian Secretary David Rizzio was stabbed upwards of 57 times. When I pause in that room, I shiver.

Holyrood Abbey, with a history of 800 years, stands in magnificent ruin. We walk in the drizzle among the ruins and tombstones and wonder at it all.

Then off to the Royal Museum and the Museum of Scotland, both situated in one huge building and offering two very different looks at the country. Fascinating is the Museum of Scotland which houses over 10,000 artifacts—a treasure trove of Scottish history. There is even a communal drinking cup made after the Scots beat the English in the Battle of Bannockburn in 1314. We spend a lot of time there and then move to the Royal Museum which has 36 galleries housing an impressive international collection of artistic, archeological, scientific and industrial exhibits. Marvelous!

By this time we have worked up a thirst and head for—not just any pub, but Greyfriars Bobby’s Bar, right behind the statue of the noble pooch who gained fame for his devotion to his dead master, watching over his grave for 14 years. Our drinks inside are welcomed, but the sight of a kilt-clad Scot with a Budweiser in hand seemed histrionically incongruous. To each his own, I guess.

Loving the literary connection, we continue our walk until we come to The Elephant House, the famous shop where J.K. Rowling created her boy wizard, Harry Potter. Cannot resist this photo op.

We walk and walk, and finally find a place for a lovely meal and more time to sit and talk. Remember, however, that Edinburgh is neither staid nor fuddy-duddy. Beneath the Castle, this is what we run in to! Riotous fun, loud, and exciting, and we enjoy it immensely.

Our last day in Scotland, the next day, is primarily spent in the Edinburgh Zoo. Rob and I like to visit zoos whenever possible, and this one, seemingly cut into the side of a mountain, is a maze of trails up and down. It is not our own Bronx Zoo; it doesn’t compare to London’s or to San Diego’s, or to any of the really great zoos we’ve visited. BUT it does have one of the most fun displays—the penguins parade along the walkways each day escorted by attendants, and we all get to line the path and watch. The penguins “choose” whether or not to walk. They all know what’s going on, and those who want to do the stroll just join in. It’s delightful. The penguins are the zoo’s pride and joy, and their tank display keeps us mesmerized.

Sadly, we leave Mike at the zoo. Oops I mean we part at the end of our day at the zoo. It is a great visit, but we are all heading home in the morning. For we three, though, it is only hasta luego.

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