Tuesday, October 09, 2001


Our first full day in Scotland is before us. We are sharing a bathroom with five other men for a few days more. Breakfast is a nice deterrent to wanting to get in the shower. The breakfast spread consists of bananas, oranges, orange juice, cereal, three types of bread for toast, cheese English muffins, regular croissants, whole wheat and grain rolls, four types of donuts, a variety of cookies, cheese, ham, coffee, tea, or hot chocolate. This is a big difference. We linger over our coffee and breakfast. The castle has been there for years and it will wait another hour until we shower.
We meet Merlin, who it turns out is an American who had lived in Cologne, Germany for 15 years and has moved here in January. He is friendly, very friendly. He is the complete opposite of what we left and is willing to do anything in his power to make our stay as pleasant as possible. He recommends the Red Tour bus to get an idea of the city and what it has to offer. We take him up on his suggestion.
We climb aboard the top level of a double decker bus and sit in the open air that has an autumn crispness to it without being chilly. The leaves are starting to turn. The bus leaves the curb and the tour guide starts to pour out information. His accent is thick and we are looking at each other, with that “Did you understand that?” look between us. Then …This monument was built to commemorate the works of Sir Walter Scott, the author of Ivanhoe and a number of other books that we had never heard of. Oh, good, we understood that. Oopps, missed that one, maybe we can catch the next one. When the guide spoke slowly, we were better able to understand. By the end of the hour, we had maybe 25% of what he had said between the two of us. It was an all day ticket and so rather than getting off at the castle and do the tour there, we decided to take the tour once again. We had a different guide. We understood more.
What is now Edinburgh was originally land that was split in two by a glacier. The land was formation from active volcanoes. Edinburgh is quite hilly, but gradual, sneaky, misleading hills that you don’t realize are going to wear you out until you are half way up to where you want to go. There is an old section and a new. The old section was the only part until the late 1700’s. The city was overcrowded with upwards of thirty people living in a single room. All human waste, garbage and miscellaneous dead cats were tossed out of the windows after 10:00 pm. Disease naturally, was rampant. After bridges and lochs (dams) were constructed, the new part of the city emerged.
Today, the city has a population of 500,000, the same as the state of Wyoming. It has an entirely different feel to it then London did. There are no tubes here and the buses are run by a variety of competing companies. A day ticket bought for one line will not get you a free ride on another. The streets are nowhere near as crowded as the streets of London. Even in the busy times of the day, it is relatively quiet. The old section is quaint and lovely, but there is not the sense that you need to rush off anywhere. The pace is much slower.
This is the land of Mary Queen of Scots. For quite some time, from the 600s through James VI of Scotland, who was Mary’s son, Scotland had their own royalty. When James VI assumed the throne of Scotland, he was also the next in line to ascend the throne of England. When Elizabeth I died, she had no successor and James VI of Scotland became James I of England. This was the uniting factor. Poor Mary had a tough life. She became queen at 9 months of age, when her father died. She was sent to France for her education and became proficient in reading and writing five languages. Then she only lived in her own country, Scotland for seven years, before fleeing to her cousin’s home for protection. Her cousin was Elizabeth I of England and families being what they are, Elizabeth put Mary in prison for nineteen years, before Elizabeth had her executed. The irony being that since Elizabeth did not have any heirs, Mary’s son succeeded her.
This is also the land of many other famous people in history, more than I will be writing about. One famous religious name is John Knox. He was a Catholic priest, who later embraced Calvinism and became the founder of the Presbyterian religion, which is the official Church of Scotland. Robert Burns, Robert Louis Stevenson, Sir Walter Scott, three famous authors as well were from Scotland. In the field of science, the inventor of logarithms and the inventor of chloroform were Scots too. Chloroform was initially invented for women to have some relief in childbirth. The church would not condone it stating that God wanted women to experience the pain of childbirth. It was not until Queen Victoria used it for her birth of Prince Leopold that the church sanctioned it. The morality rate of mothers was staggering at the time, due to homebirths and the lack of sanitation. The rate of infection was staggering.
Since medical schools were getting more involved in teaching anatomy, they needed corpses to teach with and for students to dissect. The men that were paid to do the public hangings were given 1.01 pound for each hanging they performed, but the medical schools would pay 7.10 pounds for the body. Since there was a greater need for bodies than the hangings were producing, the new occupation of body snatcher was created. Men would dig up graves and steal the newly dead to sell the bodies to the medical schools. Two guys made a living out of killing people specifically to sell their bodies. When they were caught in the act, they admitted to fifteen killings, but it is believed to be closer to thirty-four. One of them confessed and was released only to drown. His body was donated to the medical school. The other was hanged and off his body went to medical research.
The other interesting piece we were able to decipher from the tour was the reason for a statue of a small Skye terrier. The story goes that a police officer or a Bobby as the British call them, adopted this dog. The dog was a faithful companion and when with him on his route each day. After two years, the officer died suddenly and was buried. The dog kept a vigil by his grave everyday only leaving for a meal that was provided by a local tavern. After the meal, he returned the gravesite. The people from the tavern finally adopted him, but he still kept the vigil until he died at sixteen years of age. An American woman author wrote a book and it was made into a Disney movie. There is no love here for this American and her version since it is supposedly filled with mistakes in the story and she had never even been to Scotland. In every book, toy, or souvenir store, there are at least three versions of the book for sale.
After two tours on the bus, we were so overcome with history, that we were dry to the bone and needed a pint. We had passed by the ‘World Famous Frankenstein Pub’ and decided it would be a great place to quench our thirst. The barperson, a young woman from NYC, came to work here since she just graduated college. She wants to explore. She has Irish parents, so she has dual citizenship. The pub looks like a mad scientists lab with large tubes of liquid bubbling and changing colors. There are videos playing of all of the Frankenstein movies and there are bolts of lightning elsewhere. The chairs look like the seat you would sit in before being electrocuted. When you go to the bathroom, there are sound effects. So you know how disconcerting it is to be in the Men’s room and hear a woman let out a lung-wrenching scream?
Ron left his little pocket map on a seat somewhere and was lost without it. Actually, he was lost. We knew we needed to get back to the train station in order to find our way home, but we got lost and had to backtrack blocks. We were both hungry and decided to stop at Burger King for a quick meal. We were both impressed with how tasteless the food was. There was absolutely no flavor whatsoever, not even the ketchup. Since the nightlife here is definitely not London, we went home for reading and typing.
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