Edinburgh, Scotland

11 03 2011

Edinburgh, what can I say?  We arrived safely and the flight staff from the plane from Orkney over were very kind.

Then we met our assistant.  

Words can’t describe, but I will give it an attempt nonetheless.  She was rather butch and scrawny, ruddy cheeks and cropped hair.  And a huff that she felt the need to emit every few minutes and I began to think to say if she disliked her job so greatly, perhaps find another.

But I didn’t.

Instead I tried to make pleasant talk.  A Ben & Jerry’s vending machine?!  It amazed me, but she had nothing to respond with but a harumph.  We need to pick up our bags-humph.  So on it went and at one point I almost felt bad, I really did.  She seemed so disgruntled with having to assist us that I thought heavily on saying screw it and making our apologies.  But then she suggested to the girls and Glenn to get a trolley for our luggage, so Glenn went over to get one but the girls were distracted and didn’t.  He had to call their names to get their attention and she began huffing again.

That did it for me, maybe just my mom instincts, but no one has the right to get pissy at my kids for doing nothing but me.  I stopped feeling sorry for her at this point.Now that we had our luggage, we need to go get our rental car.  “That’s at the other end of the aeroport” said she.  I smiled with not a single obvious concern.

So she walks us through the most bitterly cold wind tunnel to get to the car rental wing and paced impatiently while we asked the rental clerk half a million questions about the rental car – it’s size and capacity and so on.  Then I needed her to take us out to our rental, another long journey with plenty more huffing from Miss Sassy-Pants.  She asked my surname, I’m certain to make sure the never again got stuck with the likes of Christman.

The rental, we would later learn, was only two weeks old.  It had 265 miles on it, the new car scent, and a pristine upholstery.  I almost feel bad that we will be living out of this car for the next 7 days, filling it with musty feet smells, dank cigarette scents, probably an unhealthy amount of gas emissions into the seat cushions.  So be it.

The roadways in Edinburgh are fast and bustling and Glenn was very glad to have had the open roads of Orkney to test out his driving skills before trying to keep up with the hectic pace of the city.  (I haven’t yet told him that London will likely prove to be ten times worse to drive in.)  After maneuvering through a few roundabouts so large they had their own names, we made it onto the City of Edinburgh Bypass (which I would later realize we should have stayed on and bypassed this city from hell entirely).  Musselburgh (Muscle-burrow) was not as close as it appeared on my maps, but I am learning that nothing is.  We located the Travelodge that looked like it had been visited by the IRA or something and I hustled everyone into the hotel as quickly as possible.

Glenn daudled outside for a fag and I tried to tell him in hushed tones it wasn’t the best place to stand around outside in, but he gave it a quick survey and loudly said it looked pretty safe to him.  Had he overlooked the busted out windows of the Little Chef which had closed down, or the graffiti on the walls?  What about the multiple signs stating that theives operated in the area and we should be careful about our personables?

The clerk inside wasn’t very polite, rather terse and seemed put out when I asked for directions to the room.  How should I know where the hell room 103 would be?  “You must be from overseas”, something we would hear a lot I learned.We hurried into our room, a very tight schedule as it was now 6 at night and my email from Nan at Mercat Tours said to get to their offices near to 6:30 if possible.

Nan had been very helpful in coordinating the best tour for me physically, but also that would be more informative than “scary” for the girls.  I told her we didn’t want any tours with actors and props and such to try to lure a scare from us, we just wanted to go to the underground vaults at South Bank and be witness to the world the elders had tried to push out of sight for so many years.  If Mr Boots popped out at us, so be it, but we didn’t want Joe Blow dressed as Mr Boots to do it for us.  Nan had told me which tour to take, quoted me 23 pounds for the four of us to take the hour and fifteen minute tour.  She also told me to park off of Blair Street in front of her offices and assured me that she would have it noted so that we wouldn’t risk being towed or such, but that it shouldn’t be an issue at all.

We parked off of Blair Street after somehow coordinating our way through the poorly lit narrow roads of Edinburgh.  We were fortunate to find a spot to park and we surveyed the area, which was not the safest looking of places.  I told the girls that they should walk in pairs, directly in front of us so that we could be certain of their safety, but as we walked down to the end of the road and rounded a corner, I realized the better decision would be to have one of us each walk with one of them.  I paired with Alannah and we led the party.  Now, I had been quite certain that the meeting place was just immediately around the block from the Blair Street location, but I was wrong.

Terribly so.

We walked for an eternity to get to High Street and then walked up the steep incline for an equally great distance to find the meeting place.  When we arrived, it was 7:10 and the guide there was selling tickets, but not yet for the 8 or 9 o’clock tours.  It struck me odd (should have been one of many red flags) that she offered a nine o’clock tour time when Nan had told me specifically that the tours ran at 7 and 8 only.  Nonetheless, we decided to hunt for nourishment to kill time.  If we’d wanted a beer only it would have been absolutely no trouble at all to have found as it seemed the only thing around were pubs, and not the ones with food.  That and curried food shops.  Neither were appealing.We’d walked a good half mile and morphed into moving icicles by the time that Kayla spotted Albanach across the pedestrian only lane.

The designed of the building was Elizabethan almost, and certainly appeared welcoming.  We ventured in hesitantly and surveyed the small eating area.  We were actually about to turn about when a lady asked us if she could help us.  We asked if they had more seating, for four she inquired.  Were we here to eat?  We managed to nod as our necks started to thaw out and she guided us up a row of steps to a cozy eating area and to a large half-moon table which overlooked the street below.  The prices were slightly daunting and the menus full of touristy names like Mull of Kintyre Macroni, which Kayla opted for.  I quickly decided on Bangers and Mash, with traditional Scottish sausage.  I was curious what the sausage was made of, but too hungry and cold to be bothered with asking.  Alannah ordered a chicken with pesto dish, which she stripped of all things resembling vegetables; and Glenn ordered King James’ Beefeater with chips (fries).  And the girls ordered up some frothy hot cocoa with a nice Christman dose of whipped cream dolloped on.

We asked our server for her best suggested draft beer, which resulted in her naming off a dozen or so types of beers, and each brand of those types.  We simplified the process by asking for an ale, light or dark she wanted to know.

Dark.

Your choice.

For that reason I cannot tell you at all what kind it was, but it was nasty, like most beers are.

But Glenn enjoyed his.

Our server was from Maryland and told us how quickly she picked up the accent here and how locals think she sounds odd but yet her family loves her thick Scottish brogue.

After eating I asked the waitress if she knew of a traditional dessert that I had read about, though I had no idea the name of it.  Banana cream pie with butterscotch or something, she immediately started nodding.  Yes, Bannafee!  I told her we wanted one, but with four forks because while I really couldn’t squeeze in another bite, it was something I had longed to try for quite some time.  The dessert she brought round was beautiful, a masterpiece in design and it looked so lovely I made everyone wait patiently until I had taken a few pictures of this culinary perfection.  It was like a banana cream pie on a graham cracker crust with layers of a thick cream and toffee cream, garnished with a handful of vibrant red raspberries and mint sprigs.  And it tasted better than it looked, if that was possible.

We finally squared up our bill and bundled back up to brave the ungodly cold wnd that seemed to find every means possible to bite at our raw flesh.  We hiked back up the steep hill and stood about the empty meeting place courtyard for about fifteen minutes, ready to give up, when up walked a unique looking man in dark clothes with a bony skeleton head pendant hanging from his chest.  He was selling tickets for the underground tour and told us it would be 29 pounds for all four of us.  I told him that Nan had quoted me 23 pounds and this was yet another clue that I missed.  He stared blankly at me and stated there was no family rate.  I shrugged and told Glenn to go ahead and buy the tickets.

We froze again for a great while waiting for the tour to leave and about 9:15 the odd man, Ramy, who would also be our guide, gathered us all around to begin.  It wasn’t a large group, us four, four other coules and two drunk girls.  We walked up the rest of the steep road and I struggled to keep up the pace.  He turned us onto a close and down an uneven set of metal stairs.  This opened out onto an alley and there we waited outside of the back of a bar while he went to check on something.

One of the two drunk girls chose that moment to go over to the brick wall in front of the crowd of about twenty people, hitch up her black skirt, pull her panties down between her ankles and squat.  If that hadn’t been obvious enough what was going on, a dark trickling stream soon began puddling at her ankles and her drunken friend came over to help her to her feet.  I lit a cigarette and tried to distract myself.  About that moment I heard her tell her friend something about asking that woman for a ciggie.  I turned around and began speaking to Alannah, hoping to avoid interaction with the piss drunk Scottish girl.  She made her way over and said madame twice before bypassing me for Glenn, who gladly offered her his ciggies and a light.  I glared.

Ramy finally reappeared and someone notified him about the piss drunk girl’s decision to piss on the wall and road, to which he shook his head and laughed.  He gave us a speech on whether or not we were up for the risks of casualty we were putting ourselves into and that he hoped we made it out alive.  We then began, again.He walked us into a tunnel way which turned out the be the vault, being used as a passage between the dining area and kitchen of a nightclub owned by a former rugby player who is credited with discovering the vaults 8 years ago (and yet earlier Ramy had stated that the tours were ten years strong).

He spent an eternity talking the praises of the rugby player and I cannot even tell you the name of the player since it was such a terrbly long speech.  We made our way into a fairly big room, called a tri level because at one time it had three levels, though the beams of the other floors were since gone.  A short story about how some big brute of a man had been terrified in this room and how a little old lady had her green sweater sliced in a manner that was obviously not torn in this room.  A brief history on Burke and Hare and the baby farmers and then he locked the iron gates behind us, kicking out the two drunken girls without their being aware of it and on we went.

Ramy took this moment to comment that he’d never seen any girl ever drop her trousers to piss, only men.

In this next room we listened to Ramy tell us how he had had 56 people faint in this room since he had begun doing the tours two years ago and that the guides considered it akin to popping one’s cherry to have a tourist faint on them.  And for as long as we stood around in one place in freezing damp temperatures in the dark room with the uneven floor, I would be surprised if someone didn’t faint.

Each new room had some story that was not very historical or factually based, just “I’ve heard other guides” or “the stories go” and so on.  The last room, we didn’t know it would be the last at the time, was the one where supposedly people had been slapped and punched and likewise accosted by the evil spirits in.  We might not notice it til we got home but we would probably be like most guests who returned home to find mysterious hand prints from ghosts on our overcoats or mysterious bruises on our body.

We were told to kill all of the lights and one lady was suspiciously singled out of the crowd (almost too eagerly) to be the chosen one who got to keep a torch at hand.  She was to stand in a selected corner and the rest of us were to stand about in a wide crescent.  Alannah stood in front of me and I held her tightly.  Glenn and Kayla stood off to the right of us.

Ramy asked once more which of us did not believe in ghosts and Alannah boldly raised her hand in the dim light of the room.  We should have anticipated something but did not when Ramy taunted – we’ll just see about that heh heh heh.

The torch was killed so we could commune with the spirits and give them time to communicate with us.  There was nothing but silence and darkness for a good two minutes and I was really wondering if they would just hurry it up already as there had obviously been no blood curdling screams.

Finally, the chosen one was asked to turn on her torch which was somehow nearly dead and only seemed to offer a small amount of light like a pin light might.  Then from behind her came charging goons in costumes straight at Alannah.  She screamed as they charged yelling at her, knocking her over onto the hardened wet floor and as I tried to grab her, I twisted my back.  She fell onto the floor crying and the guide began laughing.

I was irate.  That doesn’t even begin to describe it.  I was fighting mad and Ramy decided then to apologize and say that they make him have actors come in and he has to pick whom.  He was sorry, was she hurt?

We hobbled out into the cold air, fuming and I couldn’t get away fast enough.  We found our car and I plugged Billy in to get us the hell out of this god forsaken place.  I demanded Glenn to lock and double check the doors being locked and we drove to the end of the narrow street.

An ambulance without its lights on drove past us to the left, so we pulled out behind it figuring they at least knew their way around until Billy figured out where the hell we were.

This was a mistake.

There was a large truck, or lorrie, stopped to the left in the middle of the road and an officer trying to direct traffic around it.  We pulled in behind the ambulance as it made its way in the direction the officer pointed.

This was a mistake.

The officer looked at us, threw up his arms in disgust and came marching over.  Glenn lowered the window just in time to hear the officer begin screaming at us.

What the hell did we think we were doing?

His brogue was thick so I spoke up for Glenn; we’re trying to get to Musselbrough and our GPS is directing us this way.

It’s a no entry.

A what? asked Glenn.

Do you not know what a No Entry means? he yelled into Glenn’s face.

Was there a sign? Glenn asked.

I spoke up, we were following the ambulance out.

Why, is it taking you somewhere? the representative for the great city of Edinburgh asked.

We presumed it knew its way around.

What are you, British?

I started to respond with a smart assed remark and I guess Glenn sensed this because he put his hand over for me to shut up.  Probably a wise decision.

Glenn explained that we are from the US.

You want to learn how to drive on our roads before you drive on them? the asshole yelled.

Glenn told him we turned off a side street and had seen no signs saying no entry.

The cop then looked up and I suspect noticed that there were no “No Entry” signs between Blair Street and where we now were and he made no apologies.  Well just go on, you’ve made enough of a mess of things!

Go on we did, with me giving a finger to the area as we went.

Back at the hotel I started to cozy up on the bed and noticed the corpse of a brown small bug on my pillow.  I flicked it off and examined the rest of the bed for other creatures.  I then laid my things on the other side of the bed, Glenn could have the bug side.

And then I began venting in my journal about how quickly we needed to leave this damned place.

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