Worth Every Step

Probably the most challenging part of my trip to Edinburgh was getting around on foot. Without cell phone service or constant wi-fi access, it made getting around more difficult. I know I depend too much on my smart phone, but I would have loved to use it to help guide me around the city.

When I was with my daughter it was easy. I simply followed. But walking around without her meant I spent a lot of time trying to not get lost. With the many cobblestone walkways, and so many streets on inclines I tried to avoid having to retrace my steps. A map may have made things easier, but walking around on crowded city streets trying to read would have created problems too (like getting run over crossing a round-a-bout.) roundabout

What I did find helpful was using landmarks as a way to know where I was. In one direction was the Edinburgh Castle at one end of the Royal Mile. In another, the Palace. And there were several parks and gardens located across the city as well as churches and museums that I used to position myself. There were several bars we used as meeting places. I discovered if I sat at the front table at Whistle Binkies, I could connect to a hotel’s wifi across the street while I waited.

Then there was Arthur’s Seat. For more than a week, I caught glimpses of it looming far in the distance as we strolled through the city. Arthur’s Seat is the highest point in Holyrood Park. The inactive volcano sits over 820 feet above sea level. My daughter and her friends like to bring visitors there for a hike. Those who know me well, know I don’t “hike.” From photos, I knew the views from there were gorgeous and I was willing to at least give it a try.

One day after our leisurely morning cappuccinos, we began walking in the direction towards the park. As we reached the street that bordered the park, I looked up. I thought to myself, “there’s no way in hell I’m going to make it.”  I expected to go part of the way up and then meet them on the way down.

Slowly we climbed. Children and small dogs passed us by. Most of the trail was narrow and rocky. Occasionally I’d envision myself slipping off the side as people passed us in the opposite direction. My daughter, who was still recovering from bronchitis, needed to stop every so often to clear her airways. This helped me out immensely. Every time she stopped to cough, I was able to catch my breath. Unbeknownst to me, I actually had a real use for the hiking boots I bought for the trip.

At a certain point I started thinking about calling it quits, they pointed out that we were about to take the last segment up. I had made it to the summit! As promised, the views from the top were beyond spectacular.

We rested, cooled down and took some pictures. While the way back down was less taxing on my breathing, it did take more muscle control to walk downhill rather than slide. The last thing I wanted to do was take out a row of real hikers on my descent.

Once we reached the bottom, my daughter’s boyfriend asked if I felt a sense of accomplishment? I truly did. Exactly a year earlier, a walk through the grocery store caused me great pain due to the lingering effects from treatment. Just that I was able make this trip, but also climb a mountain (ok, it wasn’t a mountain, but a really tall hill) was remarkable. I was feeling pretty good about myself, as we toasted cheers with our first pints of the day. I never felt more deserving of an iced cold beer in my life.

reached the topI was still feeling pretty good when I fell asleep for the night. Getting out of bed the next morning was a different story. I paid for that triumph for several days, but it was worth every painful step.



Want A Side Of Fries With That?

In August, my oldest packed as much as she could cram into two overweight suitcases, (much to the chagrin of the baggage handlers) and went off on a new adventure. She currently calls Edinburgh, Scotland home.  She’s not only furthering her education, but is satisfying a serious case of wanderlust. While it’s difficult to have one of your children living almost 4,000 miles away, social media apps make it seem like it’s not that far. She’s a night owl by nature, so even with the six-hour time difference, we usually can communicate instantly.

In March I took a pretty spectacular trip across The Pond to visit her new home. The Pond is what those in the UK call the Atlantic Ocean. I like that because it gives the impression that it’s only a short distance,  just a hop across the pond. I spent two weeks in the flat she shares with two roommates. Being able to live like the locals gives you a better impression of what’s it’s like to live there.

One of the first things I needed to learn was the differences between chips, fries, and crisps. What we in the States Mr Potatoconsider fries, those in the UK call chips. When we hear chips we expect to see something that looks like Lays BBQ. When the English and the Scottish order chips they are expecting fries and when they are jonesing for chips, they’re looking for a bag of crisps. Then you have restaurants, that must just want to complicate life, also offer American fries, as well as chips. Here in the US, we consider American Fries disc-shaped pan-fried potatoes. Don’t even get me started on tatties. I never would have imagined, ordering spuds would be so difficult.

Fish and chips with mushy peas.
Fish and chips with mushy peas.

I learned that a typical Scottish or British meal is often accompanied by spring peas or mushy peas. Every shop has their own way of preparing and seasoning (or not seasoning) but I would have liked a little more variety. Spice them up, mix them with another veggie. I don’t not like peas. but I can’t understand how they became an official side dish. How about some mushy carrots once in a while?

One oddity I noted in almost every bathroom were the sinks. There typically are two water handles, one for hot, one for cold but also two faucets spread several inches apart. So hot water comes out of one, the cold water naturally comes out of the other faucet and never shall the two meet. This creates all sorts of problems starting with choosing if you want your hands ice-cold or scorching hot. I imagine to converse water, the handles must be held in the on position or the water stops. This prevents you from rubbing your hands together under running water. I mentioned this to my daughter who tried to explain. People used to close the drain, fill up the sink with a combination of both hot and cold water and submerge their hands to wash. I can buy that explanation for sinks in older homes, but many of the restrooms I stopped in were renovated. Unless my hands were on fire, I cannot imagine what would ever persuade me to submerge my hands into a germ-filled sink, used by dozens of strangers a day.

Learning to recognize new currency isn’t as easy as it sounds.

Dealing with foreign currency was a little challenging. Before I left, I exchanged US money for Pounds. Armed with a thick stack of twenties, tens and fives I figured I’d be ready for any small purchases. Then I realized most of the change comes back as, well, change. I discovered that attempting to retrain a brain this old to recognize a whole new set of coins and know their value isn’t as easy as it sounds. To complicate it, they have one and two pound coins, rather than bills. After recognizing US coins by their color and size for half a century, every time I saw the new coins, my mind kept trying to assign value based on the images I knew. To keep things as easy as possible I tried to use just only paper money. It finally occurred to me that I was lugging around several pounds of pounds in my bag. Whenever my daughter was with me, I would simply hold open the coin section of my wallet so she could quickly dig around and take out the correct coins. I felt like a 5-year-old trying to buy a candy bar with my allowance. And every time that happened I thought to myself, “When we get back tonight, I’m going to study those coins and try to remember what they are by sight.” And every night, that didn’t happen. I wouldn’t think about the money again, until I went out the next day and bought something.

Mind you, none of this things are complaints, merely observations. Not that I had any doubts, but I found Scotland a beautiful country and I fully understand the attraction of living there. I hope to share more of my visit in upcoming posts.