[That’s right, “Charles”, not “Charlie”. I do not bend in this.]
I am determined to catch up to present time before I leave this farmhouse in Ireland. So, lucky you, you get another few thousand words to slog through, in less than a week since the last weighty tome. You can thank me later.
Not that there’s much new going on in present time since the prior updates. I’m continuing to play the heck out of Pokemon Go, which gets me a couple of hours walking a day. Up to level 21 (out of a reported max of level 40), and I’ve caught or hatched or evolved Pikachus and Bulbasaurs and Jabberwocks and Slytherins and Hypotenuses and Prophylactics and all kinds of creatures. Considering how empty this little peninsula is, I’m patting myself on the back rather a lot for my progress. Imagine if I’d been in a city when this came out? I bet I’d have a caught a rare Duodenum by now! Well, soon enough I suppose.
Sadly, this leaves very little time for Fallout, and I confess that I seem to be quite done with that. I had some things I still wanted to do in the game, and I haven’t been able to summon the interest in a couple of weeks now. They just released some new content, and will release a much larger, final pack sometime this month, and I suppose that I’ll have to push myself to get back in and finish it off, but I’ve clearly run out. Thankfully, No Man’s Sky is coming out in a week, so I’ll have something else to keep me busy. For a little while, at least; I expect I’ll lose interest long before the 585 Billion Year gameplay minimum.
In the meantime, on with the journal. As of the last entry, I was leaving Zagreb, Croatia….
The Change of Plans
Those of you who remember my original post-Croatia plans may recall that I had planned on traveling by train to Amsterdam for about a week, and then heading to my summer in southern Ireland (where I am now). Then I was planning on Berlin for the fall.
Well, while in Zagreb, I started to look at travel to Amsterdam and Ireland and realized that it was a really super inconvenient way to go. There’s no direct Zagreb-Amsterdam route, so the best way seems to be overnight to Berlin, and then Berlin-Amsterdam in the morning. (I read some great reviews of the scenery along the Zagreb-Berlin leg, but since it travels almost entirely at night, I’m really not sure what the selling point is. “The darkness is amazing! You have to see it!”) But that was doable, and I found an appealing looking Airbnb place in Amsterdam.
But then, a week later, I’d have to go Amsterdam to Kinsale (at the very southern end of Ireland), where my Airbnb stay started on May 31st, and it’s waaaay inconvenient. The recommended route seems to be: take an overnight ferry from Amsterdam to near London, then a bus from the docks to Euston Station, train to the Holyhead on the west coast, ferry to Dublin, train to Cork, bus to Kinsale. Gets me into Cork after 10pm, Kinsale close to midnight. Aside from being many steps, this has two downsides. One, the overnight ferry arrives about 30 minutes too late to catch that Euston Station train, implying an overnight stay somewhere. Two, even if I stayed overnight in London (pricey), catching that Euston Station train gets me into Cork/Kinsale too late. Bother.
What this really meant is, unless I just wanted to meander around staying overnight in various places along the way, in each leg, the only reasonable way to do this was to fly. I was hoping to avoid the hassle of airflights this year, but… sigh. Ok. The thing is, once I’d committed to flying, I realized there was no rationale for stopping in Amsterdam. It was no longer “on the way” in any meaningful sense. So… where should I go instead?
I considered Dublin, as “on the way” as I could really get. But I expected I’d make it into Dublin during the summer, for a day here or there — my host said she drove into work there occasionally, and I figured I could ride in with her, so no need to schedule an explicit trip. London was an option, but I’ve been there a couple of times before in my life, and wasn’t really feeling it. Then Edinburgh, Scotland, occurred to me, and just took over. I was planning to go there in 2017, and I figured I still could, but I could fly into Edinburgh for a week and then take a train from there, ferry to Dublin, etc, and get in at a reasonable time. I booked the flight immediately. And, I figured, I could still do Amsterdam, but at the end of my Ireland stay, on the way to Berlin, and that should make for much more convenient travel arrangements.
Monday, May 23rd
So, at the end of my Zagreb stay, I caught a taxi to the airport at around 09:30. The taxi driver complained that it was a terrible airport, but I thought it was fine. It had air conditioning and that put it at least 2 levels up on some of the places I’ve flown through. British Airways took us out of Zagreb and into London Heathrow for the connecting flight, with the usual airport security “empty your giant bag into the bins” in each of those places. Sigh. I swear, one day someone is going to have an alien bacteria that eats X-rays in their luggage, and the screening will make it turn into The Blob and eat the whole airport. Heathrow processes thousands of people a day, it’s *got* to happen sometime. It’s just statistics, people.
There was a bit of a delay at Heathrow, but I got into Edinburgh at around 5:15pm, and found the express bus to downtown Edinburgh. Before I get into this, I suppose I should say a little something about where and what Edinburgh is, for those who may not be terribly familiar with it.
The big cities in Scotland are Edinburgh and Glasgow. Glasgow is an old seaport and industrial town and the largest city in Scotland. While I hear it has its virtues, it has been depressed for long enough — and so much the victim of terrible urban planning — that the average lifespan of residents is 4-7 years shorter than the national average, a phenomenon referred to as the Glasgow Effect. (It may be getting better.) Edinburgh has been the capital of Scotland for much of the land’s history, and has often been fought over and occupied/restored during the wars with England, which were only settled for good in 1707, in a treaty that joined the two countries. Their positions with respect to each other have varied greatly over the years, and that continues today. Scotland had a national referendum for independence just a couple of years ago, which only narrowly failed — and that question has come up again since Brexit. The Scottish districts voted overwhelmingly to stay in the EU, and the Scottish First Minister has declared that, based on that vote, they were staying, and “If that means leaving the UK… well, heigh-ho I guess we’re off then.” I may be paraphrasing that a bit, but really it wasn’t much different from that. And the EU basically responded, “Come on over, we’re looking forward to it!” (The EU’s not real fond of England, right now.)
Anyway, there’s been so much back and forth in Edinburgh that the city has a very mixed flavor, with a more northern England accent and less of the heavier Scottish brogue that you can hear in other places, and Scots elsewhere can get a bit snobbish about how English the city is. I don’t know how justified that is, given that it’s the Scottish capital and all, and it certainly celebrates Scotland everywhere you go there. Maybe it’s like non-New Yorkers mocking New York; the flavor of America is different in New York than other cities, but it’s certainly no less American. (And the same is true of L.A., Chicago, New Orleans, and other strongly-flavored cities.)
The city’s got almost 1/2 a million people in the city proper and a little over a million in the general area. And the weather’s cool but mild, rarely below freezing in the winter or above 72° in the summer. (Their record high was 89°! Love. That.)
I have been to both Glasgow and Edinburgh in the past: maybe 15 or 16 years ago, I spent a couple of weeks backpacking around the UK, and spent a few days in Glasgow and a few in Edinburgh, and *loved* Edinburgh. Many of my ancestors are Scottish — I’m mostly Scots/Welsh/English on my mother’s side, and mostly Scottish on my father’s side (though I know less about that side, except that my grandmother was a Graham). So I was very enthusiastic about going back. Land of my people, and all that.
I’d made reservations to stay at an Airbnb location here, a 2 bedroom condo owned by a youngish guy named Sam from northern England — who looks a bit like a scruffy hipster in person but was very friendly and quite well read. Sam wasn’t going to be off work and home to meet me until 7:30pm, but recommended a pub across the street called the Brass Monkey if I wanted to wait. I ended up having a great burger and beer there, and successfully resisted getting pulled into the pub’s Quiz Night. (Pub quizzes seem to be a big feature of British pub life; I’d need to be in a *much* larger group than just myself, before I’d participate in one. Solo, it doesn’t seem that interesting. Or even doable, given the content of British trivia. And my inability to hear the questions over the background noise of the pub.)
But, even on the way in from the airport, it just felt *right* to be here.
Now that I’m ensconced in my room for the next week, I should maybe do a bit of orientation.
There are Things To Be Noted here:
- The Old Town (surrounded by the orange line), the historic center up on the hill where the castle is. There’s been something at the castle site for as long as there have been people, so this part’s old. (Burnt down and rebuilt more than once, but still… old.)
- The New Town (surrounded by the red line), an economic center of mostly Georgian apartments built along straight lines, planned and built from 1750-1850. Princes Street, running east-west, is the main divider between Old Town and New Town.
- The West End (surrounded by the green line), a cultural center with a lot of arts venues.
- My place, northeast of the New Town, along a major thoroughfare called Leith Walk, which is also the name by which that upscale area goes. Seems to be a bit of a yuppie central, so I was pretty comfortable here.
- The airport is about 35 minutes away from the red Google pin in the city center, by express bus. It dropped me just over a block west of that pin, at a transit center / railway station, Waverley Place, about a 25 minute brisk walk from my place.
- The Firth Of Forth, the blue at the north, is the first fjord I’ve seen. It’s the body of water that Edinburgh is up against, a giant crease inward in the coastline of Great Britain.
- The whole of the Old Town, New Town, and West End are less than 2 miles across, and quite walkable — though the Old Town is a big volcanic ridge (with the castle perched on a volcanic plug at the west end) and a bit steep along some streets.
- Holyrood Park is a huge, wild but treeless space, probably nice for picnics and kite flying in warm weather, but bring your own shade.
So, after the burger, fries, and beer at the Brass Monkey, I walked across the street to Sam’s building, got buzzed in, ascended 3 flights of steep stairs to the top, met Sam, met my room, and, after some conversation, went to bed. Sunset was at 9:34 that day, and my windows face west, so the room was quite well lit when I went to bed. Thankfully, Sam had a pretty good set of blackout curtains. Also, I’ve gotten pretty good at ignoring ambient light when I go to bed. (Less good at ignoring it in the morning, but even that’s gotten better.)
Tuesday, May 24th
Sunrise was at 4:45am. You may remember the problems I had with sunrise/sunset in Sapporo last year? Same deal, except Edinburgh is even further north, by about 12° latitude. Which, as I think about it, makes it really interesting that its weather is so mild. An average summer high maybe 13° lower, but a winter average low maybe 14° warmer. Probably an effect of the North Atlantic Current, which keeps Western Europe warmer than it should be for its latitude. Fun Fact: scientists think the melting of the Greenland Ice Sheet due to global warming may dump so much freshwater into the Atlantic that it may shut down the North Atlantic Current, making Europe way colder while the rest of the world is getting warmer. (Global warming is like Gozer commanding, “Choose the form of the destructor”, but instead of only one person’s choice happening, every possibility happens. Pacific Northwest rainforests burn? Check. Europe freezes? Check. Syrian drought leads to civil war? Check. Zombie anthrax hatched from melting Siberian permafrost? Check. Ice skating on the Thames? Make your reservations now. Florida lost under the sea? Ok, that one’s not so bad. But you get the idea.)
Anyway, so that was sunrise. (It was a busy day.)
I had made reservations, through the Viator tour site, for one of those hop-on-hop-off tour buses traveling around Edinburgh, to get me oriented. All I really remembered from my last trip there was a bit of the Castle, Arthur’s Seat in Holyrood Park (I used to have a pyramid-shaped red stone from there, sitting on my living room bookshelf), and a bit of the Waverly train station, so the tour bus helped. I had carefully plotted out on my Citywalks app where all the bus’s stops were supposed to be, and I’d show that map here, but an update to the app seems to have added like 100 blue dots (probably “Points of Interest”, but I don’t care) and the walking map has become so cluttered that it’s useless to show it.
I can summarize though: I walked back to the bus stop near the red pin, got on one of the first buses of the day at around 9:35am, sat on the upper, open deck (a bit chill and breezy, under initially overcast skies, but I was prepared), plugged in my noise canceling headphones into the seat-side jack, and soon was off. We basically traveled west along Princes Street, the border between Old Town and New Town, then looped back south and east to travel through Old Town, past the Castle and other places, until we got to Holyrood Park, Dynamic Earth (a sort of natural history museum), and Holyrood Palace (just northeast of it, where the queen stays). Then we drove up Calton Hill, back down Princes Street, looped up briefly through New Town, and then came back to where we started at a little past 11:00.
So, not a super long run, if you never get off the bus. And I didn’t, because my purpose was orientation, not transportation. As I said, everything was walkable, and I expected to. So I listened to the prerecorded tour, by a very polite and mildly but surprisingly sarcastic Scotsman, watched the scenery, and took pictures. Like these:
I’d intended to take pictures of the interior of the train station, but I think I needed a ticket to get into to the good parts. Have these, instead.
There were a few other tour-bus-based photos, but it’s hard to get a good picture of something that you’re already passing before you realize that you want the photo. Especially when you know you’ll be walking past them later, and can take a picture at your leisure. So, in the spirit of more leisurely pictures….
I had a decent fish and chips and peas and beer at the place I’d been seeking, Doctors, when it opened at noon. It was good, but I’m not likely to go back. (A) Because it wasn’t *that* good, and (B) because the owner kept stopping by and asking me to be sure to rate them on Yelp. Ask me once, I might have done it. Twice, forget it. Three times, I am *so* not coming here again. Criminy, dude, back off!
I walked back east from here, to Holyrood Park.
It’s a bloody long, steep slope to get to the highest points in this park, and I’d just had 2 months of very little exercise in Zagreb. So, it was a bit of work. When you’re 20 and your heart’s pounding, you think, “Wow, this is hard!” When you’re 53 and your heart’s pounding, you think, “Wow, I still haven’t given Mark my medical power of attorney. I need to do that!”
I picked up bits of trash and cigarette buts and the like on my way back. It’s not like there was a lot of that, but there was some, and it always bugs the hell out of me. Who goes to beautiful, wild places, and then mindlessly discards trash there? Aren’t you there because you value the natural beauty? If you don’t, fine. Go to a pub. Smoke, drop your stubs in the provided ash trays, and have a nice life. Don’t go to the wild places and trash them up, too! (And don’t vote for Trump — you know you were thinking about it, you loser.) My gods, have a moment of clarity, ffs.
I walked home, stopped at a co-op grocery store that Sam had recommended, across the street from his place, and had a nice salad for dinner. And a nice beer, though I don’t recall which one. And that was the evening.
I’m going to end this entry here. It’s a nice, modular block, and it’ll give us a break before the Drama of the next 3 days. Yep, I said it: Drama! Oh, wait, I’d promised no more cliffhangers. Just pretend I didn’t say that. Everything was fine, no worries. 😀