Saturday, November 14, 2009

DAY FOUR: Calton Hill, Arthur's Seat, and St. Giles Cathedral

“You cannot antagonize and influence at the same time.” – John Knox

23 October 2009

We had to be out of our hotel at 11am that morning, so we left our luggage downstairs and said goodbye to our comfortable room.

During the first three days of our stay in Edinburgh, we saw several monuments atop various hills in the city; our only destination was getting to those monuments and seeing what they were. We simply walked in their general direction, keeping them in sight. On our way toward it, we stopped off at a large, enclosed grave yard and walked through it. I liked the grave plots, most of them were sectioned off with stone—like monuments in and of themselves. We were confused to find one monument in the graveyard with a statue of Abraham Lincoln on it: we came closer to find it was a memorial for the Scottish-Americans killed during the Civil war.

We found our way up to the monuments atop Calton Hill and walked around. I did some sketches of Edinburgh, looked at the various monuments which had less value to us that we expected (they were for people we’d never heard of).

We then found our way down the hill and back to the other side of Edinburgh to Arthur’s Seat, where Julene wanted to do some more walking. There’s a park at the base of the hill, so we strolled through the area—saw Hollyrood Abbey from behind a stone wall, looked at the Lake at the base of Arthur’s Seat, and in general just enjoyed the park.

We went back down the Royal Mile to go to St. Giles Cathedral (The Church of Scotland), to sit in there a while. I did another sketch there and took contraband photos. (You were supposed to pay for a permit to take photos, but since I’m not selling these, I just took a couple to remember the church by.)

It’s believed that there’s been a church built on or near the site of St. Giles Cathedral since 854, first as a parish church, and then as a Catholic Christian church (renamed St. Giles) in the 1100s. John Knox headed the Reformation in Scotland, with which St. Giles took part, little by little during Knox’s administration. In other words, St. Giles was not reformed overnight by riots, the smashing of windows, or the looting of precious altars and statues (like it was in England). The church became a Presbyterian Cathedral in the 1600s when William Forbes was made the first bishop of the Edinburgh diocese; it now retains the title of Cathedral.

Being in St. Giles Cathedral wasn’t too much unlike being in an Anglican Cathedral as far as its gothic architecture and stained glass windows go, but it was less ornate than any of the Anglican Cathedrals I’ve attended so far. The quire was simple and wooden, and in the crossing of the Nave and transepts, rather than given its own section, as in most Cathedrals. St. Giles was small, too, which gave it the older feeling of many of the smaller parish churches we’ve gone in on walks with Norman foundations.

It seems that every time I go into a new Cathedral, I like it better than the last because there’s always something new that’s so impressive. The Thistle Chapel, for example, was one of the most ornate Chapels I’ve seen anywhere in any Cathedral, and was well worth the look. It’s built to give honor to the Knights of the Thistle (reminiscent of the Order of the Thistle—a high honor for those who have given distinguished service).

It’s interesting to me how people who have such a long heritage hold on to that heritage for so long—and especially to see that heritage in their churches where the church and the state is not separate in the same respect as it is in America. It’s not to say that I think it wrong to hold on to heritage, it is perhaps the only thing that is right, because heritage includes God, includes faith, includes who you are, and I find myself wishing that we held the same pride for our country within our places of worship, though I understand the good reasons behind not doing so—one of them being that our church is an international one.

This brings me to one last thought I had while in St. Giles church: I miss patriotism. I miss the time when you could be proud of being an American without people thinking you the worse for it. You don’t find this within the church, but I do find it among my peers: the animosity toward our country by its own citizens is something that terrifies me—if we can’t even love our government, or our culture how will we ever be able to live up to being the promised land we were prophesied as being? In Scotland there is so much national pride, a pride I only wish we could humbly emulate.

After leaving the church it began pouring, so we took refuge in Chocolate Soup where we had another hot chocolate.

We decided to go to New Town that night because Jim (a tour guide at Edinburgh Castle who spoke to us and told us about a lot of Scottish men and their contributions to the world) told us there were 27 pubs on Rose Street. So, we went to Rose Street and counted, naturally.

It turns out there were only 17, but at least it kept us busy for an hour.

Most everything was closed around 5pm, so we went back to our hotel and asked to sit in the lobby, which we were allowed to do. We did homework until it was time to start off for the Coach Station.

We said our goodbye’s to Scotland, ready for clean clothes and breakfasts that didn’t consist of rice-cakes and digestives.

DAY THREE: Edinburgh Castle

Narrator: Emerson Cod, private investigator, made a business of murder. But before he could get down to business . . .

“I feel like ice cream.” – Emerson Cod (Pushing Daisies S1 E3)

22 October 2009

The third day of our trip in Scotland was probably the best. When we left our hotel room the sun was shining in Edinburgh. Yes—shining. I hadn’t been able to get money out of the bank because my bank freezes my account every 30 days, so I called to get it cleared up and they told me to wait two days and this was the day to attempt withdrawing money. Like I said, the sun was shining. I was able to withdraw money and pay off my debts to Julene and Jackie.

Afterwards we walked toward Edinburgh castle and stopped at the Scottish National Gallery where I saw one of John Singer Sergeant’s most famous pieces, pieces by Van Gogh, Money, Van Dyke, Gainsborough, Rubens, Lorraine, Vermeer, Rembrandt, and Boucher—I know most of those names may mean nothing to you, but I’d just studied them in my Humanities classes, and I loved learning about those artworks and then seeing their work in a gallery and thinking, ‘That looks like a Van Dyke,’ looking at the plaque and being RIGHT. Jackie and I toured the place as fast as we could, getting pretty excited about what we saw after every corner we turned.

We then left for the Castle but the admission was £12. No one wanted to go in but me, so I convinced Jackie we would regret it if we didn’t, and she convinced Julene—so we went in after much deliberation. Needless to say, it was VERY worth it, and we didn’t regret it.

We saw the 1 o’clock gun go off, we walked into St. Margaret’s Chapel, the oldest building in Edinburgh, we looked through the church-like war memorial building, saw the Scottish crown jewels, including THE stone Scottish and English monarchs have been crowned on for centuries (the English since 1305, the Scottish even before that), and then we saw the prison barracks where they held American prisoners of war (treated as pirates) during the war for Independence. One of the American men carved ‘Lord Nord’ next to a carving of a man hanging from the gallows on one of the prison doors. Lord North was the prime minister who imposed the tea tax. I got a nice laugh out of it, though neither Julene o Jackie found it quite as funny.

Not to forget: we saw the grounds of Edinburgh Castle, and the view of Edinburgh from the top of the hill.

(War Memorial)

We left the Castle around 3pm and walked down the better-half of the Royal Mile, ate at Quizno’s and when to ‘Chocolate Soup’ for a hot chocolate. We did some shopping, watched and American street performer, and walked back to our hotel the long way.

Jackie and I went in search of ice cream before watching Braveheart to get in the Scottish-pride spirit. All was great from there on out.

Monday, November 9, 2009

DAY TWO: The Docks of Edinburgh

"Timid men prefer the calm of despotism to the tempestuous sea of liberty."--Thomas Jefferson

21 October 2009

Our second day in Edinburgh we walked down to the docks, and the shopping mall nearby. First we took a long walk down Leith Street where we found about fifteen places we could eat over the next three day—cheaper than the food on the Royal Mile. Oddly enough, we didn’t end up eating at any of these places; we ate on the Royal Mile. It took us a while fo din a way down to the docks, but we finally did.

It definitely wasn’t pristine down there, but it smells and sounds like the ocean and that’s enough. When I saw it I felt home-sick, not because I lived by the ocean, so much as what it represents, that it represents home, someplace I feel peace and wish I could be most of the time.

Before we left for the docks, we asked the lady at the front desk of our hotel about the lighthouse, and she had no clue what we were talking about. It occurred to us that maybe lighthouses aren’t as important to people in the UK as they are to Americans—or at least to my family, we always visit lighthouses.

We didn’t get particularly close to it, but I did find something slightly resembling a lighthouse, and so I’ve dubbed it the Edinburgh lighthouse, even if it isn’t really.

The ocean is like a memory, always constant memory—even when it is right before you. It’s as if you forget how you miss it until you’re in it again, and so memory is turned and all you’re doing is remembering the time before. The cold, the breeze, the salt, the sound of the gulls, and it fills you up. That’s what I thought when I got up that morning, I thought, “I’,m glad we’re going to the seaside, I need to be filled up again.’ I didn’t think it in those exact words, but I realize now that I awaited the healing power of being near seawater, that somehow it really does pour energy and inspiration back into you. I’m guessing that’s why my parents never take us to Kansas for our family vacations. There’s something about the ocean.

We walked down by the docks a little hwile and then stopped into a mall to warm ourselves again. IT was there we decided on tickets for ‘The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus.’ My first movie in the UK—in Scotland—FINALLY! (Current plans are being made for ‘Bright Star’ on this coming Wednesday or Friday. I am content.) The movie wasn’t for two hours, so we walked down by the docks into the nicer part of town, an found a Sihk temple, sat by the water and talked.

Then the movie. I loved it. Jackie and Julene didn’t care for it as much, they thought it was strange and said it was ‘dollar-theatre’ worthy. I scoff. That’s an insult, but that’s because I don’t believe in dollar-theatres, and as Charles Ballard says, ‘Movie-snobs of the world, unite!’ Because he and I have had several conversations about how we are definitely movie-snobs, but I think my whole family is, secretly. For example, my Dad, when told that I wanted the Cary Grant and Audrey Hepburn movie ‘Charade’, told me I wasn’t allowed to buy the cheap version off of Amazon, because the print wasn’t a good one (in so many words, that is). Luckily, I got around this by getting it for Christmas from my roommate who doesn’t know about such things.

 The idea behind ‘Dr. Parnassus’ was that he believed stories kept the world going, that they enlightened, enriched, and made people better, but the devil believed that without stories, the world would continue and so they made a wager—Dr. Parnassus would have to prove his theory and in return receive immortality—and so he did, for years. But as the times changed, people became less and less interested in his stories. His imaginarium posed such a world: choices. Everyone perceives the world differently—and then there are choices to be made—different for everyone, between good and bad, moral and immoral.

But it raises the question: Do stories keep the world going? Does faith? And is the world the paradise we let it be full of choices that will make us immortal and forever remembered—in one way or another—or will ultimately destroy us? ‘Yes’ On such a deep level that I’m sure wasn’t intended. Our stories are all we have of loyalty, of love, of fights for freedom—and the faith that we harbour by telling them can make us into better people. The world is like a vacation away from heaven and everything we have here is more than we had there (apart from the presence of God, of course), but there are choices that will either get us back safely, or will destroy us. Glorious metaphor, really.

After several long debates about food, we finally settled on eating at Pizzahut. I know that sounds awful, but the Pizza huts here are like California Pizza Kitchen’s—good food, and a nice place to sit. But they’re cheaper than CPK, so better. We came back to the hotel, and Julene and I did homework while Jackie watched the Chelsea vs. Liverpool Soccer game (3-0, Chelsea).

We watched ‘The Thomas Crowne Affair’ and then went to bed in our comfortable and clean hotel room.

It was also my mother’s birthday, but I was in Scotland and so forgot, but I have since repented.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

DAY ONE: Scotland--Arthur's Seat

"That is the most offensive thing I have seen in 20 years of teaching--and that includes a elementary school production of 'Hair'."--Sue Sylvester (from Glee, Ep.2)

I owe this post to so many people.

Scotland. 20 October 2009.

I opened my eyes to Scotland about 6.20am on 20 October 2009, despite difficulty sleeping. Fountain’s Abbey, previously in first place as the most beautiful think I’d ever seen, was immediately bumped to second place, even though I hadn’t yet gotten a great view of Scotland, it being only 6.20 in the morning. Since that time, I think Herefordshire (western England, near Wales) in the fall is the most beautiful place I’ve been, but I’m beginning to learn the unimportance of ‘bests’ and ‘favorites.’

The coach ride into Scotland was bearable, but less than pleasant, although I do have to say that despite its short comings as a comfortable trip, there were no snorers aboard. There was a man sitting behind me who smelled of smoke and who had such an awful cough I was certain he’d die in his seat. He didn’t.

We finally got to Edinburgh (ed-in-bur-ah) about 8am. It didn’t take us long to find our hotel—King James hotel. (Out of the coach station, down to South St. Andrews St., left on Prince Street, voila!) We had to pay extra for a three person room because we weren’t smart enough to only send two people inside to check our luggage, but it turned out for the better: we were able to go straight up to our room and take napes. Room 448 was spacious enough, had three beds (two pushed together to create a double bed), a clean bathroom with a shower, toilet, and shampoos and soaps that were refilled everyday (I stole several upon leaving), a flat-screen TV, a desk, a small table, an ice-bucket, a hair dryer, ironing board, and towels. Sort of an odd description of the room, but I wanted to give off the impression that I’m certain it’s the nicest hotel I’ll ever stay in without my parents for years.

After our nap we walked down what we learned was the boring half of the Royal Mile on our way toward Holyrood Palace and Park, and Arthur’s Seat. When Orson Pratt (Mormon missionary) was sent to Edinburgh, Scotland to preach the gospel, he hiked Arthur’s Seat often (I touched what Julene, Jackie and I single-handedly dubbed the Orson Pratt Rock—in reference to the fact that I want to touch everything. I walked up the hill off the path and said, “Orson Pratt probably rested on this rock,” and touched it. Julene took a picture.). I picked flowers and pressed them so I would always remember the meadows and when we got to the top, I realized why he frequented the top of the hill. We sat for a little while, took pictures of the view, and came back down, frolicking through the fluffy grasses in the meadow. Frolic is a good word, right?

Atop Arthur’s Seat: “We’re here—and we’ve come to the realization of absolute freedom. Four days—or three and a half. £40 for our coach to Edinburgh and back. £100 the King James hotel. £10 for Carmel flavored rice-cakes, Pringles, digestives, and Reeses peanut butter cups. Throwing rocks off of Arthur’s Seat atop Edinburgh? Priceless.

“But it’s beautiful. Edinburgh is beautiful. Churches, abbeys, the Royal Mile, the ocean, the cold breeze, and the absolute green.”

We walked back down the Royal Mile and came across the Edinburgh Museum (free admission), so we went inside. It was larger than we initially supposed so it took us over an hour: it had information about Edinburgh’s beginnings there nearly-current. It was a make-shift museum, with some legitimate artifacts, which was interesting because of how used we are to glorified display cases.

Still tired from getting only 4-5 hours of sleep that night, we went back to the museum and watched 21, then got ready to go out to a pub to get fish and chips. Despite Julene’s reluctance (she didn’t like the idea of going to a pub at night), Jackie and I refused to pass up the experience. We went to ‘The Tass’ for £6.50 fish and chips. It was good, the pub was low-key, and overall we enjoyed ourselves.

We came back to the hotel and watched Hands Across the Table, one of my favorite movies (with Fred MacMurray and Carole Lombard). Jackie and Julene enjoyed it.