Lisa buys far too many books about Scotland – In praise of dessert before lunch – Steak pie! – On wandering – Bubbles and more bubbles – Even a unicorn
Livingston, West Lothian – Edinburgh – Livingston, West Lothian
Helping offset my more annoying habits (full list obtainable at minimal cost), my penchant for solitary wanders – i.e.: the ability to entertain myself out of the house for extended periods of time – makes me a tolerable house guest. Put me up a few days and it’s possible you won’t see me save meal times, glimpses skittering from bedroom to bath, and when something watchable is on the television. I strive not to be a bother.
Do I succeed? Invite me (include proposed menu) and let’s find out.
Edinburgh’s a 20 – 30 minute journey from the town of Livingston, where I’m currently staying. On this day, I was fortunate my amiable host Chris was more than willing to drop me far away from his home. Given the choice of any destination not too near access to commuter trains returning to Livingston, I chose Blackwell’s Bookshop, for reasons that are obvious – i.e.: the words “book” and “shop.”
Located near interesting shops – including several run by charities – restaurants and the Royal Mile, Blackwell’s is in an area conducive to wandering – not that most of Edinburgh isn’t, but, again, the words “book” and “shop.”
I remembered their impressive Scottish books section from my previous visit in 2015. In want of a good general history of the country, as well as Boswell & Johnson’s book about touring the Hebrides, I settled in with a lap-full of contenders and browsed blissfully a good, long time.
Just so happens, I found a couple of books. I know, it came as a surprise to me, as well.
I sorely regret I hadn’t done enough research beforehand to choose a novel or three by up and coming Scottish writers. While they had a nice section devoted to Scottish fiction, grabbing blindly didn’t net good results. Nothing really struck me. I’ve hunted up a few names since, which will help next time I’m there.
Meantime, my bank balance appreciates my previous ignorance.
I also bought a couple of literary periodicals (not pictured), before seeking sustenance. Book shopping is strenuous business. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.
No, I hadn’t even had lunch yet, but one of the benefits of being an adult is making your own (often admittedly questionable) decisions. Not that I had too many questions about the validity of pairing mocha coffee with chocolate cake, because what question is valid save, “May I have?”
After insuring I wouldn’t faint of hunger like an orphan child in a Dickens novel, I had a bit of a wander.
I wove in and out of shops over the course of a few blocks, my heavy backpack suggesting it was probably best I didn’t make any more purchases this day. Running out of energy, I stopped for lunch at a place called City Restaurant, very near Blackwell’s once again.
The steak pie was lovely, but dear God it was huge. I could have gone for the fish and chips, which looked awfully tempting, but I’ve had that a couple of times this trip. It’s also inadvisable having too much fish these days, what with all that inconvenient mercury stuff. So I went for the other British standby: meat stuffed into a pastry.
Food in the UK has the reputation of being, well, unimpressive. The stereotype is they boil everything to death. Ridiculous. They also fry anything they can fit into hot oil. As a native of the American South, it’s like a postcard from home. I can’t think of a thing that couldn’t be improved and made palatable when breaded and fried: fish, potatoes and other vegetables, old shoes, etc. If it doesn’t taste all that great in its natural state, fry the living hell out of it, add salt and possibly vinegar or a sauce to taste. All the cookbook you need.
In the South, the bottom of the food pyramid consists of foods captured at gunpoint or dragged out of the ol’ swimmin’ hole and thrown into a frying pan, followed closely by anything you can slap mayonnaise on and shove between two slices of bread (white) – preferably anything you’ve just retrieved from the frying pan (bologna a huge favorite), though tomatoes and even pineapple also make the cut. Raised by southerners, if it’s had mayonnaise applied, I’ve probably eaten it on bread at one point or another.
That region of the United States was settled largely by the English and Scots-Irish, and potatoes there are still referred to as “Irish potatoes” – which sounds a lot more like “Arsh pataytas,” but the provenance is clear. This is the food of poor immigrants: cheap and calorie-dense, important if you aren’t guaranteed three meals a day and require as much starch and fat as you can afford, or labor in fields and need the energy. It’s carried over to a sedentary era because most of us were raised on it. It’s comforting and familiar. Unfortunately, it’s a lot of other things not so positive.
City Restaurant has a nice variety of traditional British food, as well as burgers and pizza, milkshakes and a dessert menu I came nowhere near requiring, though I saw enough loaded trays floating past to vouch for the fact the sweets looked impressive. Meals average 9 – 10 GBP, plus beverage. Currently, the dollar is sitting at about 1.30 against the pound, making it not cheap but not prohibitively expensive, either. Skip the bit I wrote about fat and starch above, and enjoy.
Sorry about that, by the way.
The place has a nice, diner-like atmosphere. Service was very good, and I was lucky it wasn’t too busy. It has the feel of a place that’s packed at prime meal times. The variety, pricing and atmosphere suggest it’s popular.
I wandered my way toward the Royal Mile after lunch.
Approaching St. Giles, I came upon a bubble-making street performer. It made the street slippy as hell, but all the kids were loving it.
Sliding past the performer’s hat, tossing in change and praying I didn’t land on my ass, I came across one of the lovely closes lining the street. I don’t recall which, but most of them are full of character and charm.
They’re basically alleyways, some more picturesque than others, very identifiable with Edinburgh. I always imagine Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde slinking down a close, or one of Sherlock Holmes’s villains eluding Scotland Yard via a gallop down the cobblestones. They’re narrow, dark and exude history – very appealing to me.
The one above is particularly atmospheric. Normally so clogged with tourists I can’t get near it to take a photo, I was happy indeed to find it deserted.
Finally, there were unicorns.
The touristy part of the day ended with a long, thoughtful visit to St. Giles Cathedral. Aside from cemeteries, churches are my favorite places to sit and have a think, admire and take photos. They’re cool and shady places to sit after long, wearying city walks on packed streets, filled with brilliant color cast in dusty beams onto stone, wise and thoughtful words on tombs of the silent dead. I find inspiration there – not religious, but meditative. I think about the people who built the cathedral, those at the beginning who wouldn’t live to see it finished; loved ones interred and mourned, then forgotten; the solace, pleas and thanksgiving of the faithful.
Cemeteries and churches offer downtime to recharge, a sense of connection to the past that’s soothing. Exuding finality, pomp and seriousness, they’re reminders life is finite.
I took so many photos at the cathedral, I think I’ll give them a dedicated post.
So ended my day in Edinburgh. I took the train back to Livingston from Waverley Station, exhausted but content, arriving back to an empty, quiet house where I could admire my purchases and glance back through the pictures I took.
I do love my solitary rambles. Already looking forward to the next one.