Monday, August 17, 2015

Day 1 - We arrive and stay awake

Well we have arrived. Our plane did not drop out of the sky or disappear without trace. Things are clearly going well! We upgraded our luggage to 4 wheels for this trip and are thankful for it. I am feeling rather smug and sensible for all of about 15 minutes after arrival at Kingsford Smith Airport, at which point we drop our bags at the British Airways counter. Then it’s deja vu lugging our carry on down the long corridors and queuing lanes of international travel, again watching everyone else wheel their carry on with one finger over the slick glossy, friction minimalised flooring. Note to selves… upgrade our cabin luggage as well.
The flight was pretty good, I stayed up through the Australian night watching first release movies and then determined to sleep after dinner UK time. This worked reasonably well. Hubby just slept randomly here and there across the 24 or so hours in transit. We were amply fed by British Airways, to varying degrees of quality but two, no, three things really do deserve a mention – the delicious vegetarian pasta full of richly flavoured roasted vegetables; the delicious red berry compote that came with the chocolate mousse, and the dreadful stench of overcooked mushrooms that struck fear into my heart on the Heathrow to Edinburgh leg. I quietly plead with Hubby to please eat those mushrooms first. He knows the history and gobbles them promptly. The stink abates. Phew. That smell is capable of making me sick, literally, and is the source of a mild mushroom phobia, my most inconvenient dining disability.
The transfer at Heathrow was very simple and the signage easy to follow even for sleep deprived antipodeans. Just the one embarrassing moment as we puzzle and peer, looking for some lifts a sign told us were behind us.  I have a sense of falling through the fabric of time or perhaps from real life to fiction, as we navigate the transit system with its immaculate surfaces, futuristic voice and slick operation. The impression isn’t lessened by finding the soundtrack to James Bond quietly playing in the toilets when we make a comfort stop. Then we’re brought smartly back to the past as we queue and board the coach which will take us for the trip out to the back parking lot where our Airbus A320 is waiting, we just have to walk out the doors of the bus and up the stairs onto the plane.
It’s a quick trip to Edinburgh, only about an hour in the air and soon we’re enjoying great views across to East Neuk, over the islands in the firth and gasping imperceptibly at the iconic rail bridge over in the distance, glad of having a window seat. 
We touch down, walk out the back door, down the stairs and across the tarmac then climb several flights of stairs into the terminal building which seems to be about the same size as Darwin airport but perhaps not quite as slick in presentation. We have a delay as we retrieve baggage and in due course make our way to a sad little office with a group of others who have items that have not made their transfer in time.  At this point the operation comes across as a tad shambolic as we line up through stacks of other people’s unclaimed or undelivered cases to a little desk in a dingy back room where a lady is filling in details and checking baggage receipts. Hubby’s thinking we’ll just wait at the airport for his suitcase to turn up. Lucky he’s got me to answer this one – no, we’d like it delivered thanks. We have places to be. 
And what a glorious day Edinburgh has put on for our arrival. The weather is absolutely perfect. Mild and clear and still. This is the sort of weather one dreams one will find everywhere one goes. Heaven will obviously have weather just like this. I’m assuming I’ve slipped through the fabric of time again. The irony is not lost on me as we make the long, long walk from the terminal building to the taxi stand past pretty much every other transport option. The plan had been for the taxi to reduce the walking we need to do, I’m now not sure it actually will, but indulgence in transfers is something I’m prepared for at the pointy end of long haul in any case.
We drop our bags and I change into something less shabby. We’re now pretty anxious to get our hands on a local SIM across at Ocean Terminal. The no 22 bus has been suggested but the weather, Hubby, and hours of sitting on the plane all encourage walking. For the first time in our northern hemisphere holiday history we don’t seem to be suffering from hemisphere disorientation. Yay! We are there in no time. There’s a slight sense of urban regeneration as we pass a mix of industrial and up-market housing developments and waste grounds. 
Buddleias are very common and there’s just enough humidity in the air to make the fragrance waft in honey clouds as I stop to make an attempt to take the portrait of a fat little bumble bee and his pinky-nail sized body of black and gold fuzz.
A moment of good sense as we follow advice provided on TripAdvisor forums and wander into Carphone Warehouse and acquire two SIMS with data from a nice young man.  Then some frustration as it turns out the baggage claim people give you a premium number. Premium numbers aren't covered in the bundles we've purchased. To add insult to injury you call the premium number and they then just give you a standard number you have to ring! What the! Having wandered away to try to confirm our reservation for dinner tomorrow evening, I return to find Hubby in T-mobile buying an additional 5 pounds recharge. It makes no sense to me but I leave him to it and wander down to Debenhams in search of raincoats.
Debenham’s turns out to be a reasonably up-market department store similar to David Jones in Sydney and they have some very pretty and striking clothes for little girls, which I find rather diverting. I strike up a relationship with my new internet access and send a photo of a lovely citrus print dress to Daughter1, my granddaughters in mind. Still, time is of the essence, so having selected another nice little dress from the sale stands, I tear myself away to find an assistant and get some directions to the raincoats. The young lass looks a wee bit crestfallen to have to tell me they don’t have much at present, but they do have a nice blue, fully lined coat with dinosaurs on it.  Daughter1 rightly points out a gender neutral design would be good so it can be handed down from grandson to his sisters. Good point and $50 odd is a lot to pay for one we can’t reuse readily. I’ll keep the quest alive for now then.
A quick reccie in Waterstones book shop, where another nice young lass points me in the direction of Scottish picture books, soon enough we are deferring purchases and heading for the out of service lift to get up the entrance of MV Brittania. Sigh. More walking, back through Debenhams to the escalators and eventually we’re getting on with some real sightseeing. No surprise to find a friendly Scot on greeting duties to explain the routine and get us organised and naturally we indulge the traditional weather chat are obliged to respond to the seemingly inevitable apology for British weather, perfect days like this too few and too unpredictable but so delightful in the highlands for lucky locals who can take advantage when they arise.  Everyone seems to envy our savagely relentless Australian sunshine, all part of polite hospitality perhaps, but none-the-less it’s a case of be careful what you wish for!
It’s still a bit early for lunch so we listen to our audio guides as we make our way to the Tea Room which is listening station 7 of 28. That brings us to about midday and we decide to eat early and beat the rush. This I must observe turned out to be what everyone does, or perhaps they were just having tea. Perusing the menu we agree we would order the Brittania platter and an extra sandwich.  So it’s a mug of Cream of Cullen Skink soup, a small pot of potato wedges sprinkled with smoked paprika to be dipped in some garlic mayonnaise and of course sandwiches. Hubby has opted for chicken, cured bacon (is there any other sort of bacon? Yes, I’m a pedant, but it's a genuine question...excuse me while I turn down the pedantry sensitivity setting) now where were we? …horseradish and rocket on white bread. I’ve opted for the Shetland oak smoked salmon, lemon and cracked pepper cream cheese on wholemeal bread.  All that is washed down by a chocolate milkshake, predictably for Hubby, and for me the Uncle Cornelius’s Lemon Refresher over ice. Our table is laid with cutlery of a traditional design resting on napkins with the MV Brittania crest, a simple souvenir. We take our time, everything is delicious. The day is so pleasant and we are so tired, it would be hard not to loiter here in the tea room. An excuse is found in the need to research the local version of a cream tea and I rashly decide to do a comparison test of the Victoria Sponge here to that served at the V & A. Well, someone’s got to do it, but I think I’m ready to write up the report on the Victoria Sponge Study now.
We head back out to wander the decks and ward rooms of this floating palace. I had no idea it had a staff of over 300. Good lord. And they are stratified by the operation of a strict class system not just between, um, visitors or royals but within the crew as well. It surprises me, but MV Brittania, has brought home to me like nothing else ever has, the indulgent privilege of Royalty. It’s a relic of Empire mentality. State Rooms on holiday as it were, going on tours of inspection or diplomacy among all the many peoples once dominated by Britain. I am glad it is being preserved and it shows as we pass through the gift shop! 
So where to now. Our next plan was to ride around on the HOHO bus. We’ve seen them passing but we struggle to identify the stop to board at. Eventually this is revealed when one pulls up and thankfully there’s a lot of people a lot less stupid than us and they are waiting in a queue of sufficient length that it buys us time to hobble over. I ask of the driver, with some anxiety, whether they accept payment by credit card. Indeed they do and upon hearing this news I excitedly fumble said card. Hubby watches forlornly as it tumbles over the barrier and into the driver's compartment with a clatter and magically slides itself down a crevice between the floor and, oh thank God, it's the door. We can get it if you open the door. Of course the driver hasn't batted an eyelid at all these goings on. Worried about him being needlessly on his feet, I wave Hubby ahead to go and find a seat, and the driver encourages others with a ticket to do the same while he deals with imbecile no 1. All in a days work. Payment transaction completed, I take the offered receipt and go to leave, only to be stopped courteously by the driver who points out I will need my ticket to use the service for the next 24 hours. He is a model of courtesy. Eventually I clamber awkwardly up the stairs to enjoy the breeze and the sunshine as we explore the city. 
We enjoy our first sights of the Palace of Holyrood House, and Arthur's seat, cobbled lanes and shaded courtyards, venues for events during the festival. Up to this point the only bus tour commentary we've had is provided by a young bloke up on the second floor when we're stopped at traffic lights. He leans bare chested out the window waving happily and shouting "Hello tourists, welcome to Edinburgh, are you having a lovely time?" Then he mumbles as he turns into the room "Come look at my ..." we think he said arse. We begin to look for speakers and bus tour commentary and notice everyone else seems to have headphones that they've plugged into a jack on the wall of the bus. We bicker quietly about whether one of us should go and ask the driver about headphones, but we're a combination of too embarrassed and just to bloody lazy. Eventually Hubby pulls out his own pair.. .. headphones I mean. I can't believe he has the pair that came with his phone in his manbag. We share these each of us with one bud in an ear and regularly pulling the bud out of the other person's ear as we strain the cord while we look around.  It's not helped by the fact that I've put my one bud in the ear furthest away from Hubby. He patiently suggests it might help if I use the other ear. ...  ... ... from what we heard of it the commentary is interesting. ;-) 
I’m glad we did this tour. It’s just delightful up on the top deck looking out on the crowds of festival goers and lazily soaking up the atmosphere. Eventually the bus stops at 16 under an elm tree in which tiny birds are feeding. I wonder if they are gold-crests. They look about the right size, nice pointy beak, I see one feed something to the other but I don’t get a good enough look at them before they flit out of sight to have a realistic chance of identifying them.  We’re happy to just sit here in the shade looking out towards the Scott Monument and down on the sunbathers in the Princes Street Gardens but eventually we begin to wonder if the bus is ever going to move so we climb down the stairs to be confronted by the absolutely enormous bay of new headphones. Seriously Shamu the bloody killer whale could take a dip in that thing.   Having alighted we soon reboard as a driver is assigned to the next circuit. ...we are careful to pick up a pair of headphones as we pass on our way to the stairs.

Back into our exploration, this time we decide we’ll hop off at the Botanic Gardens. Hubby’s foot is now very sore from all the walking but he is reassured by the presence of a large facility at the western gate where he can sit should he choose to while I have a quick squiz.  He decides to walk about with me. Really he should have hired one of the mobility scooters but we don’t think of that until we’re leaving.  On this beautiful day the gardens are idyllic and shady, not a huge number of flowers about, but there are green shaded lanes and paths to explore even if you do as bidden and restrict the spread of diseases by sticking to the hard surfaces.
Eventually we reach the time were we need to turn around or miss the last Majestic bus. We’ve got only as far as the Queen Mother Memorial Garden, passing along the way a huge and abundantly flowering philadelphus (I think) among which bees are romping in puff ball stamens. One is so overwhelmed, his little legs drowning in summer bounty that it brings to mind, sorry about this, but it bring to mind some lewd man waggling his face in a buxom wench’s bosom!  
Despite its brevity our visit to the Botanic Garden has been delightful. I’m sure we haven’t done them justice, but it was worth the stop. As Hubby hurries ahead, I stop to admire the squirrels playing in the shade. They seem smaller than those we saw in Somerset, maybe this one is only young. He watches me nervously clearly thinking "Where should I run?"
This way?

That way?
We reluctantly make our way back over to the stop in plenty of time to make sure we get that bus, admiring the view of Edinburgh Castle in the distance.
Nothing left for it but to sit back and enjoy the passing scene, wish I’d brought my broad brimmed hat, and listen to the gulls with their haunting cry around the foreshores as we hear of fishermen and their women in the old time villages as we make our way back to Ocean Terminal.  Now, do we walk home from Ocean Terminal or try the number 22 bus? We opt for the bus. We have no idea where we should be getting off really, but in the end we do, and just as well, because clearly the bus is heading away from where want to be and then it’s a fair hike back to our accommodation in Constitution Street.
A rest before dinner, and a shower. It’s good to finally freshen up properly. Relief as the delayed baggage finally arrives at 7pm and we’re off to the opening evening meal of our holiday. We have selected Nobles Bar which literally hundreds of people have recommended to us online. They are 100% correct. The ambience is wonderful with lots of wood and leadlight glass with a maritime theme. It’s just lovely. The service is efficient and friendly and the food was delicious. I’m almost regretting having made reservations elsewhere on other nights. They’ve got their work cut out for them providing us with a more enjoyable dining experience than Nobles. Ah but we must not fail to record this milestone meal in greater detail.  We procrastinate about how many courses to get. No, no surprise that we go for three. Hubby went for the Tiger Prawn & Baby Squid in a house made kimchi & tomato consomm√© with pickled radish & charred shallot oil £6.45. I’ve backed the Pan Fried Scallops served with kohlrabi, fennel and rice wine coleslaw & pine nut panna cotta (gluten free) for £6.95. We’re neck and neck on our friendly ordering competition. For mains I’d been leaning towards simplicity and the fish and chips. It just seemed appropriate given the gulls and their evocative calling during our first day, but in the end I pull another classic from the pantry and have the Moule’s frites: steamed Shetland mussels in a sauce du jour served with fries. These will set us back £10.95. The sauce of the day is cashew nut and basil pesto. It is no surprise of course that Hubby cannot resist the Pan Fried Guinea Fowl Served with house made rocket gnocchi, Jerusalem artichoke veloute, green pea and truffle salad, an extravagant £15.95.  Not really fair to place meals of such different character in competition, but an overabundance of salt on one section of Hubby’s Guinea Fowl let the mussels pull me into the lead.  Hubby is literally falling asleep looking at the menu, but he’s determined to stay the final course. He’ll have the trio of Scottish ice-cream: Mango Sorbet, Salted Caramel and Vanilla £4.50. I’m up for the little box of petit fours: which today includes Mango Jelly, a rich chocolate truffle and a blackcurrant marshmallow and um… another jelly type thing rolled in toasted coconut I think. Anyway, all good £4.95.  
Oh yes. We cannot conclude without noting that Hubby’s beer tonight was a guest beer called Loch Lomond. He squashes his craving for fear of being tossed out of the restaurant. He’ll tell me later what his problem is. I sniff the beer. It smells caramelly and delicious so I’m sure it’s not a flavour problem. We’ll never forget the Moo Beer we had at our favourite fine dining venue in Sydney – it smelled like a cow pat and tasted the same but Moo Beer's crown for worst beer is not in danger. Eventually Hubby confesses and I’m sure no-one is going to be surprised –  he thinks the beer would be greatly improved by being colder. He’s thinking maybe if he asked for ice in his beer it might help. He suffers in silence and the beer can’t be too bad, it’s all gone before we leave!
Home by about 9 pm we’re both exhausted, but we’ve made it through our first day. Hubby’s concerned about his foot but encouraged that it seemed to improve after resting and showering. Fingers crossed. The bed is pretty firm, firmer than we like but we’re keen to get off to sleep.  Hubby is vocal about hoping he stays asleep. We he doesn’t do too badly but I wake at about 1 am local time (middle of the day by my body clock) and I start thinking about the trip journal. I really need to process what we’ve experienced so far.  Then I accidentally cause a shelf to fall when visiting the bathroom, there’s the end of slumber for Hubby. Sorry. So here we are at 4.45 am listening to the plaintive calls of the gulls, which I am sure will always be something that reminds me of Scotland in future, they have a less strident screeching tone than our Silver Gulls in Australia and seem much more worthy of their iconic place in literature and poetry.

Well, I guess I’d better put this thing to bed and try to get back to sleep for a while. But it does feel good to have day one’s journal out of the way, and we've had a good laugh about our adventures yesterday, Hubby reminding me to add in this or that funny element. 

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