Sunday, August 24, 2014

DAY 69 – 23 August 2014; York to Edinburgh

The Holiday Inn Express, where we stayed, is a budget hotel of the IHG Group, which has within its fold brands such as Crowne Plaza and Holiday Inn. The Express properties normally do not have restaurants attached to them. They are set up in close association with a restaurant chain. So it was in York.  The Toby Carvery is a large franchise in the UK and in many locations both the facilities goes hand in hand. When we walked to the restaurant last night it was almost near closing time. The Carvery had run out of the carved meats and hence, we settled for less exotic stuff. During the checkout in the morning I had a long chat with Elizabeth and David, two youngsters who were on reception duty. They mentioned to me that if there is one thing that is “Yorkshire” it has to be Yorkshire pudding. Elizabeth explained how it is made and why it is so typically Yorkshire – she said that one could get Yorkshire pudding in the rest of UK, but it would not be as good as it is in Yorkshire! It is not a pudding in the real sense; from its description I got the feel that it is more related to the pie family and less to the pudding.

England has 87 counties, also known as ‘shires’, of which Yorkshire is among the largest. Having been an avid follower of English county cricket in the formative days the many shires like Nottinghamshire, Leicestershire, Worcestershire, etc are familiar. The shires are erstwhile Royal hunting grounds, mostly belonging to the medieval era. When I drove through Nottingham yesterday on the way to York I also recollected the legend of Robin Hood. Therefore, when I passed a sign board that said “Sherwood Forest” I was overcome by childlike glee and adolescent curiosity. From the age of the Major Oak in the Sherwood Forest, which is associated strongly with the legend, it is thought to be over 1200 years old. The Forest pulls in almost a million visitors annually. The TV serial of Robin Hood had much to do with that, it is understood.

The Navigator took us through the smaller roads to Edinburgh. That way we avoided the Motor Way and got to sample the wonderfully romantic landscape of wide open farmlands, meadows, small villages, quaint towns and a vast sea of the Yorkshire Lavender fields.  The small villages and towns are extremely neat, quiet and orderly. Not many people were seen around. One of the bigger towns we passed was Gateshead, which has an International Stadium. In the short time that we drove through the town we could also make out that it has lovely architecture. The Millennium Bridge across the River Tyne is truly iconic. The ‘border crossing’ between England and Scotland is a hit with tourists. We stopped at the location too, which is on the Whitelee Moore National Nature Reserve. Bus loads of tourists arrived as we were having a hot dog and coffee. It was difficult to take photographs as it was that crowded. The two middle aged women running the small mobile eatery told us that the Season runs from March to October, after which it becomes too cold to operate from there. Snow is an added threat to the business. Almost at the border lies Jedburgh, on Jed Water, that has been inhabited for almost a 1000 years. the town is dominated by the ruins of the Abbey, which was peopled by Augustinian monks from the 11th to the 17th century. Border wars left the Abbey in ruins. The town also boasts of Mary, Queen of Scots’ House and the Jedburgh Castle Jail, which are now museums.

We got into Edinburgh before 1 am and reached the Masson Hotel reception without losing our way in the town! At the reception we were told that we would have to wait till 2 pm for the room to be ready. The Hotel looked more like student accommodation than a regular hotel. On the premises were student accommodation too that converted to general accommodation during the holidays. I was fortunate to get car park inside the premises that was free for guests. I was also assured that the parking area has CCTV cameras and regular patrol to ensure that the vehicles are safe and sound in the open area. We took the available time to have a buffet lunch in the restaurant of the Hotel. The spread was impressive, but I thought that the combination of the foods could be better. There was a large choice of fruits and beverages too. By the time we returned from lunch the double room was ready. We put the bags into the room and got busy on social media and mails.

Just before 4 pm, when the weather had turned for the better we decided to foot it to the City centre. The lady at the reception, who was in a big hurry for there were many in the queue with various reasons to be serviced, helped us with a map and suggested a where the major sights were. It was just a 30 minute walk and we decided to enjoy the weather and the city leisurely, which we did. The first item on the ‘To Do’ list was to get postage stamps for postcards - Lal sends four of them to family and friends from almost every country we have been to. The chirpy Bangladeshi at the counter chatted us up for a while before the queue behind us made us walk away. Edinburgh is a city with grand buildings and history written all over them. Without adequate time to explore and understand their significance it is unjust to just stare and walk away. But, with the limited time with us, we could only do that. Even then it was illuminating. Thus, to walk along the Royal Mile was fascinating in itself. The Royal Mile appeared to be the busiest place in the entire city. It is a succession of streets that form the Old Town of the City. The road runs for a Scot’s Mile (1.8 kms) between two historically significant parts of Scotland – the Edinburgh Castle and the Holyrood Palace. Each of the streets that make up the Royal Mile such as Castlehill, Lawnmarket, High Street, Canongate and Abbey Strand have so many attractions that it will take at least three days to do full justice. I was enthralled to see the church in which Adam Smith (the creator of “The Wealth of Nations”) was buried, the house in which he lived and his stately statue. The Old Calton Cemetery holds the memorial of David Hume, the philosopher and historian. The Nelson monument on Calton Hill can be seen from most parts of the Old City. The monument to Robert Burns, the Scottish poet, on Regent Road, Old Parliament building, New Parliament, Palace of Holyrood, Scotch whisky and Single Malt experience, University of Edinburgh, St Giles Cathedral, etc received attention in varying degrees. The Edinburgh Castle, which is now a military establishment, was admired from some distance for we did only one half of the Royal mile walk. Weekend had truly set in with many street performers enthralling milling crowds. Most of them involved the crowd, particularly the young. Every August Edinburgh hosts the Military Tatoo festival. We gave that also the short shrift for we had to leave Edinburgh early for Belfast.

As the feet got weary we decided to turn back for the Hotel. On the way we explored options of various cuisines in the City; one thing that surprised us was the number of Indian restaurants in the city centre. In the end we thought it better to eat at the hotel restaurant, which offered both a la carte and buffet options. Before the food it had to be Russian Standard Vodka and Malibu Rum lightly laced with canned orange juice and plenty of ice. I ordered a honey glazed pork belly dish and Lal took on the pan fried salmon. By the end of the meal we were in the right frame of mind for a long night’s rest, with the senses appropriately fine tuned by the spirits.

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