Ireland/Britain 1998 day 24: Edinburgh

I spent Friday the 13th of February 1998 appropriately enough in the capital city of the macabre nation of Scotland. I got the sense originally that Scots were obsessed with stories of doom, gloom, and the dead among us on my Loch Ness tour and it was only reinforced by the FREE two-hour walking tour of Edinburgh provided by the High Street Hostel.

After the tour I strolled Edinburgh’s magnificent Royal Mile, the series of main streets connecting Edinburgh Castle to the Holyrood Palace. Edinburgh is unlike any city I’ve ever scene with it’s architectural marvels built into a hillside crossed by an arched bridge. The city also provides far too many cultural opportunities for the traveler to enjoy.

I stopped in The Museum of Childhood which is probably the last place you want to take a child since it’s a display of old toys behind glass. Much cooler is Arthur’s Seat, a mountain right in the middle of the city. I’d never been to a city with a mountain before (I’ve since been to the equally wonderful Montreal) and I excitedly climbed to the top. There with my trusty self-timer camera I took a photo of myself, almost tripping and falling down the mountain in the process. I figure the Scots would’ve come up with a good ghost story of the Clumsy American Tourist to commemorate me had I fallen.

Back at ground level I walked to the other end of the Royal Mile, checked my email at an internet cafe, and then went to The Last Drop (named because it’s on the site of the former gallows) for supper. Before leaving on my trip, I joked with my friends that I’d eat vegetarian haggis in Scotland. The Last Drop actually serves the stuff, basically the stuffing without the sheep’s stomach with tatties (potatoes) and neeps (turnips). It was surprisingly spicy and delicious, although I have no idea if it is representative of the true haggis experience.

I continued my pub crawl at The Bare Story where I watched an hour of The Simpsons while sipping Scottish whiskey. I then took the Mercat ghost tour of Edinburgh. The guide, a local actress, tried to play up the scary stories but as we toured the Edinburgh Vaults the tourees kept interrupting to ask her about the archaeological excavations that uncovered the vaults. I had to laugh because in Colonial Williamsburg, I constantly had my historical tours interrupted by people who wanted to hear ghost stories. The guide was good natured about it though and treated us to a pint and more archeology stories at the (spooky) White Horse Bar.

I’d heard about the Friday the 13th 7 Deadly Sins pub crawl and decided to give it a shot. The basic gist is that you get a card that you have to take to 7 pubs and order the 7 drinks specified and get them stamped by the bartender. Once the card is full one can trade the card in for a prize. I got a pint of McEwan’s at Mary King’s Close Pub to start it off, but after that I gave up because the whole thing kind of seemed stupid. Not to mention that the bartenders looked at me like a stupid tourist and pub #2 was way too crowded to even enter.

Instead I went to Finnegan’s Wake for Irish music (I just can’t let go of Ireland). A raucous band played to a huge crowd. Here I met a young blond English woman named Charlotte who tried to set me up with each one of her many friends even though most of them were there with their boyfriends. I accompanied these women to The Subway, a nightclub which invested heavily in liquid nitrogen. I danced the night away unable to see more than a foot in front of me in a crowded, small venue. Every so often Charlotte bumped one of her clearly not interested friends into me. I had fun anyway.

After a long day and a good night out, I returned to the hostel where I talked with Kevin, a short Australian guy who had also had a good night. Apparently he’d been invited to a house party by a Scotsman named William Wallace. Kevin just couldn’t get over the fact that he’d been drinking with William Wallace. I couldn’t get over the fact that I was still standing, so I crawled off to my bed to sleep.

Mike the Friendly Bagpiper

Mike the Friendly Bagpiper performs for spare pence on the Royal Mile.

Arthur’s Seat

The view from Arthur’s Seat. This could very well have been the last photo of me ever.

Book Review: God’s Library by Joe Parocki

The thin volume of God’s Library: A Catholic Introduction to the World’s Greatest Book by Joe Parocki is a very basic overview to starting one’s own study of the Bible.  If you have any experience at all with the Bible you can probably skip the first 2-3 chapters although these would be great to reccomend to absolute beginners.  I found the latter chapters more interesting as Parocki writes on distinguishing between truth and fact (the Catholic response to Fundamentalist literalism)and provides tips for interpreting the Bible and applying it to one’s life.  The useful appendices provide a good bibliography of resources and an instruction guide for starting a parish Bible study.

Like I said, it’s best for beginners, but it’s a short book so I found worth reviewing for a good framework for studying scripture.  It’s also good to know about it to recommend to others. Parocki gets bonus points for his great use of the library as analogy (including a floor plan of what the Bible as library would like).

Book Review: The Great Divorce by C.S. Lewis

I’ve read several books by C.S. Lewis before – Mere Christianity, The Four Loves, The Screwtape Letters, and The Chronicles of Narnia — and found him a talented writer good at gently guiding the reader through Christian theology.  The Great Divorce (1945) is a work similar to The Screwtape Letters in which Lewis uses a fantastical story as a way to break common misconceptions about a concept, in this case Heaven and Hell.

The story is much like Dante’s Divine Comedy as we follow a narrator who dreams of visiting Heaven and Hell/Purgatory.  The narrator and many others are ghostly beings who by clinging to their own desires condemn themselves to staying in the joyless city that is Hell.  The shining figures of those already in Heaven try to convince the ghosts to accept the joy of God and join them in Heaven.  At risk of showing that I didn’t get it, I have to say I found this book fun to read.

Favorite passages:

Hell is a state of mind — ye never said a truer word. And every state of mind, left to itself, every shutting up of the creature within the dungeon of its own mind — is, in the end, Hell. But Heaven is not a state of mind. Heaven is reality itself. All that is fully real is Heavenly. For all that can be shaken will be shaken and only the unshakable remains. – p. 65

That’s what we all find when we reach this country. We’ve all been wrong! That’s the great joke! There’s no need to go on pretending one was right! After that we begin living. – p. 95