Tuesday, December 30, 2008


Full Scottish breakfast is included with my room rate £35 per night and so I enjoy eggs, mushrooms, tomatoes and toast before heading out sight-seeing.
At Buchanan Bus Terminal I stop in to get the time-table for the Glasgow Flyer which I’ll take back to the airport early tomorrow morning.
It’s frosty cold, -7C, as I make the 40 minute walk to Glasgow Cathedral. Built in the 13th and 14th centuries, it is massive and wonderfully low-key. No gift shop; admission by donation. No one wants to sell you a photography permit for £2 like they do at St Giles in Edinburgh. It’s eerily quiet as I view the various chapels and marvel at the workmanship throughout.
Also in Cathedral Square is St Mungo Museum of Religious Life and Art. I was not expecting such engaging displays about how life events – birth, coming of age, marriage and death – are marked by various world religions. The artifacts and multimedia components are very interesting. I learn that Christianity was first brought to Glasgow by St Mungo (aka St Kentigern) over 1400 years ago.
Across the street is Provand’s Lordship, the oldest house in Glasgow. It was built in the 1471 as the manse for St Nicholas Hospital. It has at various times in its history been a private residence a sweet shop and was saved from demolition by the Provand’s Lordship Society. The knot parterre, based on a Celtic design is at the centre of a medicinal garden that was opened in 1995 [picture left ].
I walk for about 30 minutes to St Enoch subway station and get a £1.10 ticket to travel three stops to Shields Street on the “Outer Line”. The Glasgow subway system , opened in 1896, is made up of dual tunnels that form a basically oval route. The Outer Line runs in a clockwise direction and the Inner Line goes counter-clockwise.
The Scotland Street School is across the road from the Shields Street station. Designed by Charles Rennie Macintosh, the school opened in the summer of 1906 and was designed to accommodate 1250 pupils. The area, known as Kingston, served a growing population employed by the extensive shipbuilding industry and engineering works around the River Clyde. After the Second World War, Kingston changed dramatically when local industry declined, residents were relocated to towns outside Glasgow and their tenements demolished. The school had only 89 remaining pupils when it closed in 1979. Classrooms are restored to various eras: the 50s and 60s, World War II and Victorian. There are good exhibits about Mackintosh's designs, the conflicts he had with the School Board over them and the compromises that were made.
Back on the subway, I take the “Inner Line” five stops to Cowcaddens Station and it’s only a 10 minute walk back to my hotel.

Monday, December 29, 2008


I’ve been keeping to my budget so I decide on a little splurge this morning. I take a taxi to Waverley Station, £7.05 plus tip. For breakfast I pick up a cheese and tomato baguette and a decaf latte at The Uppercrust in the station, £5.48. It takes a couple of minutes for me to figure out how to buy a train ticket to Queen Street Station Glasgow and costs £9.70. The 10:15 leaves on time and arrives in Glasgow just after 11 am.
It’s about a 15 minute walk to my hotel where there’s a 1:30 check-in, so I leave my bags and set off to see the town. Both Sauchiehall and Buchanan Streets have large stretches where there is pedestrian access only and are lined with shops. The number of people out for bargains in the post-Christmas sales is unbelievable.
The Willow Tea Room at 217 Sauchiehall St is above a Henderson’s Jewelers and you literally have to walk through the shop to go up the stairs for tea. This shop, and its sister on Buchanan Street, was designed by noted Glasgow artist and architect Charles Rennie Mackintosh. I order a pot of the house tea blend and a scone with clotted cream and preserves. My coupon for 10% off reduces the bill to £3.56 – a real steal. Downstairs I buy a Macintosh guidebook reduced by 25%.
Braving the shopping hoards, I walk to the Gallery of Modern Art (GoMA) at Royal Exchange Square. Admission to the exhibits, in this 18th-century neo-classical building, is free. I particularly enjoy the displays about “The Open Museum “ which is an outreach program that connects with communities all over the city.
I check into my room around 3 pm and am very pleased with the level of service and my room decor. Alas, there is no wireless internet so I set out to find a place for dinner that has access.
The desk clerk tells me that The Sports Cafe on Sauchiehall Street has wifi. Big mistake, over priced meal £8.45 for a mediocre veggie burger, £1.95 for cranberry juice, blaring music and no wifi. I walk further down Sauchiehall and go into McDonald's - buy a large coffee and a Belgian Bliss Brownie for £.68 and no problems on the wifi.


I take the bus along Leith Walk and get off early so that I can take photos of the shops that I’ve been passing by on the bus for the last few days. Some of the shop names are intriguing: Elvis Shakespeare – sells vintage vinyl and books; The World of Gas; Polski Smak and Macbet – an off track betting shop.
On the McCall Smith trail, I go to Valvona & Crolla, 19 Elm Row – purveyors of continental produce since 1934. The front of the shop is deceptively small and narrow. There is a network of rooms stemming out from it, including a Café at the back. A team of staff is restocking the shelves and fridges, presumably after the Christmas rush. I buy a few postcards; regrettably I cannot buy any gourmet treats to take home with me.
I meet Jess at St Paul’s and St George’s church for the 11 am service; it lasts a scant half hour, and leaves me missing the lively services at Keele Street Christian Church.
We walk across the North and South Bridges, past the University of Edinburgh to Monster Mash at 44 Forrest Road. This retro diner dishes up mounds of traditional and funky mashed potatoes with your choice of bangers (sausages) and gravy. We read British comics – The Broons, Oor Wullie, and the Beano while we wait for our lunches. Our server hails from Cincinnati and is in Scotland with her boyfriend who’s doing his masters degree at the Uni. The Monster Mash Motto is “Top nosh at half the cost!”, and they’re not kidding. Two generous servings plus hot chocolate cost £17.70.
On our way to the National Museum of Scotland on Chambers Street, I stop to photograph the memorial to Greyfriars Bobby. Legend has it that this terrier kept vigil over his master’s grave in Greyfriars Kirkyard until his own death, many years later.
At the museum, we go up to the fourth and fifth levels to see the “Industry and Empire (1707-1914)” exhibit. These galleries pay homage to the resourcefulness and ingenuity of the Scottish people highlighting their contributions in the fields of engineering, papermaking, shipbuilding, printing, textile weaving and more.
Next we stop at St Giles Cathedral, a landmark on the Royal Mile. Its stained glass windows and Thistle Chapel are most impressive.
Jess orders her “usual” at Tea Tree Tea where she is somewhat of a regular. I order the Honey Rooibos which is made from loose tea, honey and steamed milk and a bakewell slice– delectable. This anti-Starbucks non-chain shop has comfy seating and free wifi.
We play cribbage, watch Blackadder’s Christmas and have dinner at Jess’ flat. It’s about 9 o’clock when I get back to my room and start organizing my stuff for check out in the morning.

Saturday, December 27, 2008


When I woke to brilliant sunshine, I knew I’d picked the right day for a trek to South Queensferry and the Forth Bridges. There was still frost on the park grass across the road when I left the hotel to catch the bus to the Scottish National Portrait Gallery at 1 Queen Street.
The gallery is a splendid neo-gothic, red sandstone building that was the world’s first purpose built portrait gallery when it opened in 1889. Since 1982, the gallery has commissioned portraits of living Scots by contemporary artists. The fantoushe Grand Hall is a wonderful introduction to Scottish History. I start my visit on the second floor and find portraits of some members of my Fuller family tree: John Dalrymple, 2nd Earl of Stair (1693-1747); Sir Hew Dalrymple, Lord Drummore (1690-1755); and Sir Gilbert Elliot, Lord Minto (1693-1766). [not my own family but one I'm researching] A sign on the door of the first floor galleries says: Please note that due to staff sickness this room will remain closed today. You’d think that they could have found away to open the different sections on a rotating basis using the staff who were not suffering from holiday hangovers. But, as there’s no admission charge how can you complain?
My next stop is Calton Hill. The top of this volcanic hill at the east end of the downtown commands sweeping views of the city and the Forth Estuary. It’s also home to an odd collection of buildings and structures. I’m reminded of John “Mad Jack” Fuller’s follies. He built a Greek temple, a tower, an observatory, an obelisk and a pyramid on and around his property in Brightling, Sussex. The only thing missing on Calton Hill is a pyramid. The Nelson Monument is a tower shaped like an upturned telescope. Built in 1807 it has an internal spiral staircase of 143 steps. The largest building on Calton Hill is the city observatory built in 1818. Both it and the adjacent Observatory House are closed for renovations. In 1826 work began on The National Monument, a replica of the Parthenon, which was meant to commemorate the fallen in the Napoleonic wars. When the funds dried up in 1829 work stopped with only the façade having been completed. No one has ever attempted to finish the project. Philosopher Dugald Stewart’s monument is a rotunda temple modeled on the Tower of the Winds in Athens. It was completed in 1831, the work of architect William Henry Playfair. The obelisk seen from Calton Hill is actually in the nearby Old Burial Ground and was built by Thomas Hamilton to honour the political martyrs of 1793 (I need to know more about this).
I meet Jess where the First Bus number 43 stops in Waterloo Place. We purchase two return tickets, £3 each. The trip north to South Queensferry is a pleasant one, through suburbs and farmland. Our first glimpse of the Forth Road Bridge (1964) and Forth Railway Bridge (1890) is breathtaking. For many years I have dreamed about visiting this magnificent feat of engineering. With an overall length of 8296 feet or 2528.7 metres it is the world’s second longest cantilever bridge (Quebec Bridge completed in 1917 is the longest. We have a meal at the aptly named Two Bridges Inn and Restaurant where I order the mushrooms in port and garlic which was served with crusty bread and side salad, £5.95. Jess had the haddock and chips £10.25 and we both felt that we had chosen well.
The Queensferry Museum (free admission) has interesting displays about the building of the bridges and the history of the village of South Queensferry itself. Of particular interest was the exhibit of the Burry Man, an ancient tradition the purpose of which has been lost in time. “Each year a native of the town in elected by the Ferry Fair Committee to be the Burry Man on the second Friday in August he is dressed from head to ankle in burrs – the spiky seed-cases of the burdock plant – and then he is paraded through the streets.” Source: museum pamphlet no. 8.
As I head back to the hotel I find it hard to believe that I’ve experienced all of this amazing stuff in one day.

Friday, December 26, 2008


43 Scotland Street
I head out to the foot of Leith Walk to catch the bus into the centre of town. Full service has not resumed yet, but there are far more buses on the road than yesterday. I pop into a Woolworth’s store that will be closing in 3 days and pick up some mega bargains, keeping in mind my limited luggage space. Later in the day, Jess and I go to a much larger Woolworths near her flat for more dirt cheap prices. When you read the price tag and take off 50% you’re sure you’ve got a deal – then they reduce it by 50% again (example a facecloth originally priced at £1, we thought was going for 25p and they charged 13p. It’s sad to think that these staples of High Streets across Britain will be closing for good. The Daily Telegraph is running this story on how 125 Woolworth stores may be saved.
This morning I’m on a mission to explore the part of Edinburgh that forms the setting for Alexander McCall Smith’s Scotland Street series of novels. I catch the bus to Princes Street and head north on St Andrews which turns into Dublin Street. The descent into the New Town is steeper than I had imagined. I soon find myself on Drummond Place which is nearly rectangular in shape except that the shorter, eastern side is curved, not straight. I picture Angus Lordie taking his dog Cyril for a walk. The gardens in the centre of Drummond Place are locked and a notice mentions the Drummond Civic Association. Their website states, “Keys are available to all those who overlook the gardens on payment of a subscription.” Apparently there’s a long waiting list of people from neighbouring streets who also wish to have keys.
Next on to Scotland Street, I was dubious that there is really a number 44 – how could you title a book after a private property? I discover that the while the odd numbers go up to 43, the even ones stop at 36. I half expect to see a six-year-old boy with round glasses and crushed strawberry dungarees being led up the road by his mother - perhaps towards Valvona & Crolla on a foray for some Panforte di Siena. Scotland Street ends at Royal Crescent which runs into Fettis Row. I cross the street and see the sign for King George V Memorial Park which was the former site of the Scotland Street railway station. I go down the steps into the park and find where the tunnel has been bricked up. There are two steel doors behind the basketball net but I’m not brave enough to explore any further.
I continue on, keeping an eye out for a custard coloured Mercedes. I find the Cumberland Bar, which today being Boxing Day is closed. I can envision Pat and Matthew there, chatting over drinks. Dundas Street is dotted with antique shops and galleries. I try to picture where Matthew’s Something Special Gallery and Big Lou’s Morning After Café would be. There are several possibilities for the former.
On Heriot Row, I stop to photograph the former home of another of Edinburgh’s literary giants. Robert Louis Stevenson lived at number 17 from 1857 to 1880.
At Moray Place, a grand Georgian Circle that reminds me of Bath, Somerset, I wonder what the residents think about McCall Smith’s depiction of their world. Today there were no naturists in sight. I head back east and, after a bit of searching, find the Café St Honore, which is also closed today.
At the corner of George and Hanover Streets I meet Jess for lunch at All Bar One. They’ve got a burger special going and she chooses the chick pea version that comes with fries and pineapple chutney, two pounds off the regular price £5.95. I opt for the halloumi (a Cypriot goat cheese with a high melting point) and vegetable skewers accompanied by spiced rice, a delicious and filling meal, £8.32.
We do some Boxing Day browsing along George and Princes Streets which are teeming with shoppers and visit the second Woolworths. By 4 o’clock I’m starting to fade so buy a pasta salad and rhubarb yogurt at Tesco Express, total £2.01 to take back to my room for dinner. Why don't they sell gooseberry or rhubarb flavours of yogurt in Canada?
I take the number 11 bus and have only a 15 minute walk to the hotel. The manager/owner tells me that the water above my old room had stopped dripping last night and that they were still puzzled at what caused the leak.

Thursday, December 25, 2008


Warning sign on Rose Street, New Town, Edinburgh

After a restful night's sleep and a complimentary breakfast of toast and cereal, I head out to meet Jess at church. There are no buses running on Christmas morning and it's a 45 minute walk to St Paul's and St George's Church [picture right]. This Scottish Episcopal (Anglican) church is an amazing blend of traditional and cutting edge in both architecture and worship style.
We walk through the New Town towards Jess' flat and I recognize many street names and buildings from Alexander McCall's books including: George Street, Charlotte Square, The Caledonian Hotel and Usher Hall, which will reopen in the spring of 2009 when interior and exterior renovations are complete [picture left].
Terra and Jess make a tasty lunch and we chat about Edinburgh and the cultural differences we've discovered. Jess and I watch a Blackadder DVD and just "hang out" for the afternoon. Later we go in search of somewhere to have dinner. It seems that the only places open are either very up-market or pubs. I'm having trouble making a decision about where to eat when we see a sandwich board sign pointing down Fleshmarket Close to an eatery that's little more than a hole in the wall. In Yum Yum's, there's a guy of middle-eastern origins taking orders for pizza, fish and chips and burgers from a gaggle of Spanish girls, two Asian men and a couple of Polish ladies none of whom have strong English skills. We order falafel wraps, pop and fries/chips. Total for dinner is £8.60 - then the guy realizes he's overcharged us and refunds us 40 p.
My alternate bus is running only once an hour and I've just missed one so I take a taxi home, arriving at the hotel about 8 pm. The cab ride costs exactly the same as our dinners did. I put my key in my room door and an odd smell surprises me. I open the door wide and discover that there's water dripping onto the bed. It must have been happening for sometime as the ceiling is peeling and the floor puddled. I go down stairs and ring the bell for help. After showing the attendant the problem I hastily pack my stuff while he goes to contact the boss and see what's going on upstairs. Oddly he can't determine the source of the leak. He gives me the key to the "Bridal Suite" where I unpack, make a cup of tea, console myself that nothing of mine has been damaged and chalk it up to the adventures of travelling.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008


Left home at 3:40 and walked in the slush to Runnymede Subway station. There’ s a long line up for the Airport Rocket at Kipling Station but the driver refuses to open the rear doors to make boarding easier. Traffic on the northbound 427 is sluggish as it’s snowing again. No problems with check-in and security at Pearson Airport but departure is delayed by 45 minutes. It seems that Air Transat just pretends it has “special meals." You can’t book them on-line, by phone or through a travel agent. Luckily, the pasta dinner is veggie.
We land at Glasgow airport and after a short queue for immigration the officer asks me what happened to my British accent. I explain that as a five year old I made a conscious decision to ditch it so that the kids on our street would stop laughing every time I said something.
At the tourist info booth I buy a return ticket, £6.50, for the Glasgow Flyer [which unlike the TTC's Airport Rocket is equipped with proper luggage racks]– an express bus that drops me off outside of Queen Street Railway Station. The 9:30 train to Edinburgh is quiet, comfortable and sets off on time, £9.70 one way. A Scottish microcosm flashes by – fields of cattle and sheep, ruins of ancient stone buildings, 20th Century pebble dash row housing, industrial estates, quaint village high streets.
When we arrive at Waverley Station I catch a glimpse of the Scott Monument [visible behind the Ferris Wheel in the above photo taken from the castle] and have to stop myself from hyperventilating. After so much reading and research, I’m really in Edinburgh!
I catch the number 12 bus, outside of Jenner’s department store, just off Princes Street and it drops me a few yards from my hotel. Because I checked in early, I got upgraded to a double bed from a single. I try to get caught up on sleep but can’t rest as I’m running on adrenalin. I head out, grab a bite to eat and meet my daughter Jess at Edinburgh Castle. It was a surreal moment – seeing her standing outside the gates of this historic landmark. The entrance fee is £10.00 per person. It's a bit of a splurge but most of the other places I want to visit are free of charge.
Highlights include: Mons Meg [seen here]– which at 550 plus years is one of the world’s oldest cannons. She was cast in Mons, Belgium, weighs over 6,000kg, and fired 150kg stone cannonballs. The Scottish Crown Jewels – fascinating displays recount the history of the Scottish Royalty and its powerful symbols - the crown, scepter, sword and the Stone of Scone (aka the Stone of Destiny). The Prisons of War exhibit – where multimedia chillingly recreates the experiences of prisoners of conflicts ranging from the Medieval to the American Revolutionary War.
By the time we get back to Princes Street, it’s positively heaving with last minute Christmas shoppers and party goers. I head back to my hotel with a take-away sandwich for an early, quiet evening feeling very pleased at how much my pre-planning and research have paid off. As an added bonus, I discover that I’ve got wifi access in my room and have fun Skyping hubby back in Toronto.