04.05.2013 - 04.05.2013 15 °C
We awoke to sunshine (finally!), and eager to get out in it, we packed up and were out of our place within an hour and a half, which is no mean feat when there are four adult-like people clamouring for one bathroom. We were rewarded with an uneventful navigation through the construction-riddled streets to our planned walk of the day: a trek up to what is known as Arthur’s Seat, after the famed round table king. This promontory lies right at the edge of Edinburgh and rises 250 m above the city. It is covered in lush, green foliage with patches of yellow Scottish broom augmenting the jade (with apologies to John Stadt, who feels Scottish broom is a blight upon the earth). The crowds of people at the top didn’t deter us from enjoying a stunning 360 degree view. This grand hill is a beautiful addition to the city, truly one of Edinburgh’s highlights.
Close to the base of the hill is the fairly newly built Scottish Parliament building. Scotland went without its own parliament for almost 300 years, until 1998, when it wanted more authority from the British Parliament. Now, the Scottish people answer to both houses (or is it the other way around?), and support both MPs in London and MSPs (Ministers of Scottish Parliament) in Edinburgh. It may seem like just another layer of bureaucracy to some; however, it does provide the Scottish regions their own jurisdiction over all matters except foreign policy, immigration, social security and defence. While an eyesore on the outside (in my opinion), the building is very appealing on the inside, with its many windows allowing streams of natural light to complement the oak wood angled every which way. The debating chambers are very modern, with the best in technology and design. Members do not have assigned seats but most will sit grouped along party lines. The translucent person-shaped figures etched into the walls signify transparency in government (although, interestingly, the shapes also resemble bottles of malt whiskey).
With our short self-guided tour complete, we returned to Winston (the car) and headed south, saying goodbye to Scotland and hello to England once more. The scenery got greener and the temperature higher the farther south we travelled, both good signs. When we arrived at the place we had booked, it was out in the country and neither of us could remember why we had chosen this particular location, seemingly an hour’s drive from our next day’s planned excursion. However, we trusted ourselves and our planning and knew an answer would present itself soon. When we were greeted by the grizzled innkeeper and escorted through the tired, smoky hallways to our room, the trust started to wane. We checked into the family room, which was essentially a double room into which they had put a set of bunk beds. Now we really doubted ourselves and got out the computer to determine if we could cancel the accommodation and try for somewhere else. However, we could not get WIFI in the room; the innkeeper informed us it was ‘iffy’ and that we should try his bar downstairs. When we confirmed that our room was not refundable, we tried to determine why we had booked this place. In looking back at the reviews, we saw nothing but high ratings and glowing reports from previous guests. Was this the same place? Ben stuck his head in another room and reported that it seemed nicer than and not as crowded as our special ‘family room.’ We also noted that several of the reviews mentioned the large, tasty full English breakfast that comes with each room. Maybe that was it – maybe I was starving when I booked this place and threw all judgement out the window, hoping the food would overcome all demerits.
Leaving the girls in our ritzy place, Ben and I went into nearby Durham to try to find some tourist information. We could only find a map but the trip was still well worth it. Durham presents itself as a cute, tidy town, complete with the UK requisites of cathedral, castle, bridge and slow, winding river through its centre. It is also home to several colleges and a university so, with the sun out, the town was chock full of students and tourists enjoying shopping, sightseeing and walking. We couldn’t say no to that so we navigated the riverside path, taking in the cathedral afterwards. Its particular claim to fame is that the Venerable Bede is buried here although his tomb was off limits. Noting that time was marching on, we reluctantly returned to our lodgings and our abandoned children.
Since our room didn’t come with a kitchenette (again, I ask, why did we book this?!), we would have to go out to a restaurant. The kids convinced us that since the food reviews were good, we should eat at the pub in our inn. Fortunately, the trip was not far. Downstairs, we ordered steak and ale pie, fish and chips and twice cooked pork belly with crackle (you would have liked it , Mom). The portions that came were enormous and very tasty. Yes! At least we could relish the food. The pub was well patronized and we were next to a family party celebrating someone’s eightieth birthday so the atmosphere was festive. Ben moved to allow someone to wheel the old celebrant out in her wheelchair; as the wheeler tipped the chair back doing a wheelie down the ramp, the woman gasped and onlookers smiled, with Hannah commenting that it was like something out of a sitcom.
And now to bed, as Hadrian’s wall beckons tomorrow.