Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Boat Rides and King's Graves--Edinburgh, Day 2

Heather---We got up to gray skies, but the sun was starting to peek through. I had some help with breakfast this time as Raquelle and Grandma crowded into our Barbie-doll-sized kitchen with me. Same menu as before, except that we cut up a few apples that had been bought the night before at the grocery store.

Rauqelle--- And this time we borrowed another skillet from Grandma and Gramps' apartment so we didn't have to scramble the eggs in a saucepan. This, ladies and gentlemen, was a Significant Improvement.

Heather---Then Dad, Mom, Raquelle, Gramps and I headed off for the Royal Mile as per our clandestine plan the night before. Grandma stayed behind to do some local shopping--that is, explore the local grocery store, which is always a cultural experience. We got to the Mile so early (9 am) that most of the shops weren't open yet. But it was fun to see the Royal Mile start to awaken. Street vendors were showing up in vans, parking at the curb and setting up their displays. Church bells were tolling the hour and the sun was beginning to warm us up. It was a beautiful day.

Finally the shops opened. Raquelle found a kilted skirt like mine and she convinced me to buy a shawl like hers. And then we all headed down to the cigar shop.

Raquelle----ugh, Heather is so cryptic about this stuff. "Raquelle bought a skirt. I bought a shawl." boring is that. You want to know about COLORS and PATTERNS and stuff!!! So here it is, for those of you with finer sensibilities. (Heather's in the shower, she doesn't know I'm writing all this slander.)

My skirt was NOT on sale, regrettably. However, it was still decently priced. It was a dark green and mauve and burgundy plaid, and everyone who knows anything about me and colors knows that green and mauve/burgundy are my two favorites. So I was desperately thrilled.

Mom bought a shawl like Heather's and mine--they all match. They are a rich, warm green and red and gold plaid but the lines are soft and mutely blurred, not a harsh plaid. Very nice. We bought them at the same little store where the clerk said she liked American tourists. :D In fact, she liked us so much that when we couldn't find a matching shawl for Mom, she scurried off to another shop and borrowed one to sell to us.

Oh, and we found a wool sweater for Dad too. All in all, quite a delicious haul. :D

There, I feel better having given you all the Vastly Pertinent Details.

Heather---It was now 10:00 on the dot, the stated opening time of the store. We were in a bit of a hurry, as we had to catch the 10:20 bus back, in order to give ourselves enough time to get to the rental car place, which closed early on Saturdays. Just as we arrived, the proprietor (we assume) zoomed up. "I'll be about ten minutes," he said coolly, unlocked the door and disappeared inside. He locked the door behind him so we couldn't follow. We could see him unhurriedly moving around inside, and we amusedly wondered if he were making his morning cup of tea. Customers just don't seem to be the big priority in the UK that they are in the States. :D Not that it's always great in the States, but it's sorta non-existent here. Customers....yawn.

Once he finished diddling inside, he stepped outside--again shutting the door behind him--and proceeded to set up the awning, take down the grill over the window and put up his "open" sign. Then, and only then, did he let Gramps into the store to get cigars.

Raquelle---It boggled my mind....we told the man we were in a hurry and yet he makes us stand on the sidewalk while he hangs up his pretty awning and sign. Any American worth his salt would have let the customer in on the spot.

In the meantime Heather and I, not being especially interested in cigars, wandered down a ways and idly killed time in front of a newspaper store. Various newspapers from all over the world were on sale. I suppose it was obnoxious...I really didn't think about it....but I picked up a USA Today to read the headlines and Heather looked at a paper too. The owner, a peppery older man, came out a few minutes later and was Decidedly Huffed at us. "If ye won't spend the 3.50 pounds fer it, dinna sit out here and read it!" he scolded. Oops. I suppose he was right and it was a little thoughtless of us. But it still sort of tickled me...the polite American way would have simply been to say, "I'm sorry, we don't allow reading on the sidewalk. Would you like to buy the paper?"

Ah well, it's a different world here. :)

Heather----Then we all headed over to the Hertz rental place to pick up our cars. It was quite near our apartments and we planned to pick up the cars, drive back and get Grandma and be on the road by 11 am. No such luck. There was a looooong line at Hertz. Like I said about customers being low on the priority list!

Raquelle---Well, you have to understand the reason for the long line. There were only three people working the desk and there was only one "extra" flunkie to bring the cars around. So most of the time, after a laborious bit of paper signing and bureacratic mysteriousness, the clerk would then disappear and bring the car around themselves. Naturally, this takes some time. Tsk tsk, inefficient Europeans!!!

Heather---We waited and waited for nearly an hour. Gramps struck up a conversation with some Spaniards (he knows some Spanish). I watched the Hertz personnel. One lady in particular had a very foreign accent and she managed to confuse just about every customer she worked with, including Dad. Unfortunately, only Mom and Dad were allowed to be listed as drivers (which was not what Dad was originally told) so Raquelle and I could not spell them with the driving as originally planned.

Raquelle--- Dad had also been told that we could get a station wagon and a car. They said no, they had no station wagons. Then they changed their minds and decided that actually, they had two. And when Dad tried to arrange the paperwork so that he or Mom could drive either car (which he had been assured could be done for no fee) the clerks uniformly popped their eyes and said that there had always been a 9 pound fee per person per day for that, ever since the Magna Carta. (You didn't know that was one of the grievances against King John, did you?)

Heather---We finally finished all the paperwork and then headed out to get the cars. Dad has driven in the UK before, but Mom had only driven in the UK once. So they went over everything in the car with her to explain it. UK driving is on the left side of the road, so the driver's seat is on the right side. Rather confusing, especialy when you're a pedestrian trying to cross the street!

"Your motto," Dad instructed, "is I'M IN THE MIDDLE OF THE ROAD." And that's true--if you're driving correctly, the driver should be in the middle of the road, not on the outer edge as in the U.S.

Anyhow, we finally figured it out, and then drove back to the apartments. It was now 11:30 and Grandma was wondering what had become of us. (Frankly, we were wondering too. Who knows but that people enter rental car offices and never return again? :D) We threw all our stuff in the car and headed for Falkirk.

I made sure to pack the laptop for the day. The night before, I had stayed up late getting directions for the day, but we didn't have a printer. So I would be reading them from the laptop to act as a supplement to the GPS which we had also brought with us.

So here's the way we did all our UK driving: Dad and I rode in the first car, and Grandma rode with us this time (although thereafter she rode in the other car). Mom drove the car behind and Gramps helped her navigate. Raquelle ran their walkie talkie and I ran ours. And I was co-navigator with Dad. This made me feel like Big Stuff since Dad is usually the main navigator.

A typical walkie talkie conversation might go like this:

Heather: Roundabout coming up. Looks like we'll be going to the left, not sure which exit yet.
Raquelle: Right-o. Mom says SLOW DOWN.
Heather: Fuss fuss fuss.
Raquelle: Hey, remember, we've got the chocolate! Don't make us mad.
Heather: Okay, it'll be the third exit off the roundabout, towards M4. (Note: M means Motorway, and A means Autoway. We never did find out what B means)
Raquelle: Roger doger. And Mom says not to drive like Speedy Gonzalez or the Road Runner.
Heather: That reminds me, what IS the Road Runner saying when they beep him out?

You get the point. It sounds entertaining, and sometimes it was. Sometimes, however, our driving was toe-curling stressful. I had to read the GPS, compare it to the directions (if we had some), decide which to follow if they were different and communicate this to Dad. I also had to help Dad figure out which lanes to be in and where to turn. And I also had to communicate all this to Mom in the car behind. Needless to say, for the next several nights, I dreamed in GPS-speak. ("Okay, we're taking the second exit off the roundabout to breakfast and I want eggs on M5" and other nonsense)

Raquelle---Whereas, in our car, the dialogue went something like this:

Mom: Raquelle, tell Ray to remember his blinker, please.
Me on walkie: Mom says remember the blinker.
Gramps: Holly, you're really close to the edge on this side.
Heather's voice on the walkie: Waakggh sssiueaaa slllef aahhhh.
Mom: WHAT?
Me: Say again please......oh, they say, right turn ahead, Mom.
Grandma: Do we have to have the window down?
Gramps: Holly, you're really close to the edge on this side.
Mom: My neck is getting really tight.
Me: Where did the M&Ms go anyway?
Grandma: Wash your hands first.

Heather----Anyway, getting to the Falkirk Wheel was pretty easy because it was right off the freeway ("motorway") and there were lots of signs.

The Falkirk Wheel ( absolutely fascinating. It is quite literally a boat mover. You get your boat on it and it lifts you way up in the air to the higher canal. This saves you from having to go through about a dozen locks to get from one river to the other.

As we walked up toward the visitor's center, a man pulled Dad aside and offered to take us on his little barge instead of us going on the regular sight-seeing boat. He said his barge trip would be longer and we would go through a lock as well as the Wheel. He offered a price of 58 pounds for all 6 of us. Dad said he would think about it and we started up toward the visitor's center. The man ran after us after a minute and said he'd cut the price to 50 pounds. A quick conflab on the walk convinced us that it would be more fun--and about the same price for more stuff--to go on the man's barge, so we went back and paid for seats.

His barge was called the Bonnie Barge and it was a cute little boat. The inside was wood-paneled and and carpeted--a bit faded, but quite quaint. There was seating for about 10-12 people forward and then he had a little captain's cabin in the back of the boat with a genuine ship's wheel for steering. When we got on board and another lady welcomed us and the other two couples who came along. Their little dog welcomed us excitedly too and bounded all up and down the plaid seats. We were offered chips, soft drinks and white wine (we declined the wine). He gave us a little history of the area and what the canals and locks were used for.

His barge had a little open area on the prow, so Raquelle, Dad and I climbed right out on it to watch as we went through the Wheel. When you're actually in the Wheel, the water is only about four feet deep, so even if you fell off you wouldn't do more than get wet. It was quite a view when we finally reached the top! We got lots of pictures and maybe they will help you understand how it looked better than I can describe it.

Raquelle---The Captain was quite a character. He had a thick cockney accent, a red, weathered face, and a captain's hat. As we began the ride, he dutifully pointed out the boat exits and then said cheerily, "But daon't 'ou worry 'bout that--Ah'll do all the worryin'!" I looked down at the water in the river and decided that the river was small enough that even if something happened, I could swim. :D

He had the cutest little dog too--a little tiny scrappy little thing that bounced all over the seats at first, greeting us ecstatically. "What is your dog's name?" I asked the captain.

"Toby," he said. Then he winked and said, "Wee Toby." :D

We entered a lock before getting on the wheel, which was fun. I never did quite understand how a lock works, but now I do. (If you have questions, feel free to's too hard to explain now when I should be curling my hair and going to bed. :D) And after going on the wheel, we went through a tunnel, turned around, came back through the tunnel, and on the wheel again. The captain passed out lollipops for everyone in case their ears bothered them--the Wheel lifts you about 150 feet in the air.

As we were near the tunnel, I noticed a traffic signal and clear instructions that indicated it was only safe when the light was green. However, the light was red and we were still toodling on towards it. Dad noticed too and asked the lady, "Aren't we supposed to stop when it's red?"

"Well, it's kind of meaningless," she said, "because you can see if the tunnel is clear. If it's clear, you go. If not, you don't." She had a definite point. :D

We were next to another boat as we were in the Wheel and I was so glad that we had ended up on the Bonnie Barge....the other one was just a big ugly tour barge, where the hapless tourists were lined up in rows on blue plastic seats. And they certainly couldn't climb out on the prow and watch. Altogether, our boat had much more character and the Captain was so much more entertaining. At one point, we were passing another boat and he clanged a bell in greeting and then shouted, "Doive, doive!!" as if we were a submarine going for a dive. :D

Heather---Well, after riding the Wheel, we all grabbed lunch on the grounds. Pretty nasty stuff, actually. British people don't always do fast food well. Yech. I think there was some more of that mysterious "20%"---only, it was more like 75% this time. :D However, we got some grub into us and then headed back for the cars.

This time our trip was to Dunfermline to see the abbey there. Dunfermline is a cute town. Fortunately, there was a car park (translation: parking lot) right next to the abbey. Someone was just leaving and gave us their parking pass so we didn't have to pay to park there. Then we walked up some steps to get to the abbey.

Wow, it was beautiful! It's still in use as a Presbyterian church. In fact, some folks where there getting things ready for Sunday. One gentlemen tooks us aside and gave us a lot of history.

One reason why we wanted to visit this abbey was because King Robert the Bruce is buried there. The top of his grave is marked by a beautiful marble slab right at the front of the church. Apparently it had been forgotten for some centuries that he was buried there. However, they discovered his body and knew it was him because it was wrapped in gold cloth and you could see in the skeleton the place where they took his heart out to bury it in Israel as he had requested.

The newer part of the abbey had carpet and pews and lights. Then we visited the older part which is just stone and stained glass windows. It looked just as awesome, in a rugged way. The evening sun was filtering in and made the place seem lovely and hallowed.

Then we walked across the lawn to where the palace used to be. We hadn't realized that there also had been a royal palace at that place. There wasn't much left, just the walls and the flooring. But you could see where the floors had probably been placed.

We left at closing time and sauntered back to the car. It was a very nice day and we enjoyed the sun and the flowers blooming everywhere. (They do flowers in a BIG way over here)

Then at last we drove the twenty minutes back to our apartments. Dinner tonight was another experiment. But it's bedtime, so you'll have to hear about THAT later. And the break-in next door during the night........stay tuned.......

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