Kathryn and Ken's European Vacation

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Day 10: Edinburgh
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Day 10: Edinburgh
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United Kingdom


Hotel Ibis


Foggy and drizzle rain with a high of 15°C

Day 10: Thursday, September 14, 2006     Edinburgh, Scotland

Where the Hell Am I?

We set out for Scotland on a foggy and drizzly day.  We noticed a couple of things as we were driving north on the M1 Motorway yesterday and today.  The first was nuclear power plants.  We hadn’t seen any in the south of England but there seemed to be lots here in the north.

The second was mounds of huge trees.  The landscape around Yorkshire was

Nuclear Power Plants

fairly flat and, off in the distance, we would see what looked like an inverted green bowls.  As we got closer, the ‘bowls’ got larger until we realized that they were clumps of trees.  They were large circles of trees that were at least 40 to 50 feet high in the middle.  We saw several of these tree mounds on our travels through northern England.  The drizzling rain continued most of the day so we thought we would take a two lane country road to Scotland rather than the motorway.  The land was so green and we saw lots of stone fences and

Mound of trees

sheep.  It was too damp and foggy to take photos of the beautiful scenery but I took one to give some idea of the weather and to show how green everything is.

We arrived at our Hotel Ibis in downtown Edinburgh just before rush hour and dropped Kathryn and the luggage off.  Parking is a premium in Edinburgh and the hotel parking was a parking garage a few blocks away.  The desk clerk, who spoke with a mixed Scottish and Croatian accent, gave Ken instructions

Scottish landscape

and drew him a map.  Unfortunately, he did not realize where we were parked in the one-way, U-shaped cul-de-sac in front of the hotel, so he drew in an extra, unnecessary turn.   And now the adventure begins. 

First a geography lesson:  Some 320 million years ago, the cores of several volcanic vents in the area cooled and solidified to form tough basalt volcanic plugs, then, during the last ice age, glaciers eroded the area, exposing the plug as a rocky crag to the west, and leaving a tail of material swept to the east. At the same time, the glacier gouged out ground to each side, leaving the ravine of the Grassmarket and Cowgate to the south, and the swampy valley of the Nor Loch to the north. The resulting crag and tail landform now forms the Castle Rock and the narrow steep sided ridge which the Royal Mile follows. The ridge declines in height over a mile, meeting general ground level at Holyrood.  The city of Edinburgh is divided into several districts, primarily Old Town and New Town.  Old Town is the home of the Royal Mile, which was one block north of our hotel. The Royal Mile, also called High St. and Canongate, is the city’s backbone and winds east-west from Edinburgh Castle down the volcanic hill to the Palace of Holyroodhouse.  All the other streets tend to run up, down or around this ridge.  Add to this the fact that the same street can have many names.  For example, we came into Edinburgh on the A272 highway which merges into Liberton Road and becomes Craigmillar Park.  As you head toward downtown Edinburgh, the name of the street changes to Minto, then Clerk, then Nicholson before becoming South Bridge.  If you cross the bridge it becomes North Bridge.

Secondly, some advice: Auto Europe suggests: 'With one of the highest levels of car ownership in Europe, driving in Edinburgh can be a fraught business.'  The Edinburgh Guide says: 'Driving around congested Edinburgh is increasingly more hassle than it is worth, so the general advice to visitors is to walk, cycle or use public transport.'  Sadly, Kenny had not read either of these helpful hints beforehand and thought he could easily find the parking garage.  As I later determined, I only had to head south downhill on Blair St., which was the name of the one-way street in front of the hotel, even though the hotel’s address was 6 Hunter Square.  Then, turn left on Cowgate, go about 6 blocks and turn right and there is the parking garage. 

The journey:   However, because of the hotel clerk’s unnecessary extra turn on the map, which was a tiny, grainy, tenth photocopy of a poor original, I went down the hill and turned right.  After driving several blocks and turns to avoid road constructions, I determined I was not going in the right direction and decided I should go back to the hotel and start again.  After turning around and heading back on Cowgate, I arrived at Blair St. but could not turn left because it was one way coming down the hill.  No problem, being an experienced navigator, I knew that the main road, South Bridge, ran parallel to Blair, so I only had to continue a few blocks east, turn left, go a few blocks, turn left again and I would be on South Bridge and then could find the hotel.  However, in all the excitement, I forgot that I had gone downhill and was now actually driving underneath South Bridge Road.  After going a couple of blocks along Cowgate, I turned left and now the fun began.  This road ended after one block and I couldn’t turn left because it was another one-way street.  Now, did I mention that it was raining and the middle of rush hour and Kathryn had put the map in the back seat – not that it mattered because the fog and the rain made it hard to read any signs and there was no sun to get a directional bearing and the traffic was flowing very fast and horns were honking and there was no place to pull over.  Oh yah, all the buildings in old town are 7 to 10 stories tall (more on that later) so you couldn’t see anything and I was driving on the right-hand side of the car and in the left-hand lane.  All I knew was that I didn’t want to travel too far in any one direction as that would take me away from Old Town.  So I kept making turns whenever I could, going in circles until more one-way streets seemed to send me back to places I thought I recognized.  I had to keep moving because the busy traffic forced me to.  Finally, on my left was a church with a tiny two-car parking spot in front.  Cutting in front of another fast moving vehicle, I screeched to a stop in front of the Buccleuch Free Church.  I had no idea where I was but at least I wasn't moving.  After a couple of deep breaths to calm down and grabbing the map of Old Town Edinburgh, I tried to retrace my path.  Suddenly, in the bottom corner of the map, I noticed Buccleuch Street, and it was only one block from Nicholson St.  Luckily, I had been paying attention when Kathryn noted that Nicholson St. had become South Bridge on our way in to town.  Not trusting my luck, I got out of the car and walked one block east and there was Nicholson.  I jumped back into the car, got on to Nicholson St., which became South Bridge, which allowed me to turn into Hunter Square and, voila, the hotel.  It had now been 40 minutes since I had dropped Kathryn off.  I went to our room and you should have seen the look of surprise on Kathryn’s face when I told her I still hadn’t parked the car.

Getting directions from a different clerk, we made the short trip to the parking garage – Kathryn came along in case there were more problems – and walked back to the hotel in less than 10 minutes.  I went straight to the Advocate, a bar next door to the hotel and order a pint of Scottish ale.  After some food and another pint, my stress level went way down.  We found a place to send an email to the family and went off to bed.

Ken relaxing with a pint at the Advocate

 I have tried to roughly create a map of my travels.  Click here.

Day 11

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