Friday, April 15, 2011

Scottish Soup and Stinging Nettles

After surviving Vegemite, Brian and I were prepared for anything. The day took a discouraging turn, however. We were told that St. Mary's Church was Catholic, so we walked there hoping to catch morning Mass. It was Friday. When we reached St. Mary's and saw that it was a beautiful Gothic structure, we rejoiced and congratulated ourselves at finally finding a Catholic Church in Edinburgh (we walked through Edinburgh the day before and must have seen a dozen Churches of Scotland, but no Catholic churches). When we reached the entrance, however, our bubble of happiness was pricked. Beside the entrance was a poster of a woman priest. Then we saw the sign: St. Mary's was an Episcopalian church which advertised itself as Catholic. Disgusted and disappointed, we walked back to the hostel. Brian declared that it was a day of mistake identity, and I agreed, thinking of the Vegemite. As it happens, it was April Fool's.

The day improved dramatically when we at last found St. Patrick's tucked away in a close (narrow alleyway) off one of the main streets. Mass was at noon. We had some time to kill beforehand, so we visited the Edinburgh Museum. There were interesting things to see: artifacts from ancient times when the land was pagan, for example. We were most interested in the displays from the Middle Ages, however, for there were centuries-old holy objects, such as crucifixes and a monstrance. It was a sobering thing, seeing these things in a secular museum. Certainly, we saw relics and the like in the treasury in Vienna, but somehow that was different. That is a Catholic country, traditionally; here in Scotland, these things were most likely taken from churches which were then destroyed or changed to Protestant churches.

We went to Mass at St. Patrick's. After Mass, there was bread and soup for the parishioners and visitors. So, by happy chance, we ate a free meal and were able to chat with the local Catholics. I met an elderly lady who had lived in Edinburgh her entire life. She was with her brother and sister; they all must have been in their late seventies or eighties. They were very pleasant, and wished us a good time in Edinburgh.

After lunch, we went to the Edinburgh castle. There was a lot to see, and I was ashamed at myself for not knowing enough about Scottish history to make it meaningful. That being said, our tour was nevertheless a lot of fun; I learned Scottish history according to Brian. We discussed Methuselah the Proud, Bob the Dog, and Frederick the Impostor, to name a few notable figures. I did my best to stifle my laughter, since we were in the castle museums.

After exploring the castle, we wandered around Edinburgh a bit more. At one point, Brian and I climbed a very steep slope outside the castle walls because we were waiting for Sarah to grab some of her belongings from the hostel. Brian reached a good sitting spot first, and I moved to sit down next to him, reaching out my hand to steady myself. I instantly jerked back back, though, because a seemingly benign green plant had stung me viciously. I could see nothing, but felt tiny pricks in my palm. Soon, white and red welts appeared. When we met up with Sarah, she reckoned that I had touched Stinging Nettles. Brian jovially told me that I had a little bit of Scotland in my palm- a souvenir.

We shopped around town a bit, and I bought a Sir Walter Scott book published in 1874. We ate dinner at a place called the Last Drop. I think it is called so because it is located near the old place of public executions. Wanting to try staple Scottish food, we order haggis, tatties, and nippies. The former two were mashed potatoes and mashed turnips, respectively. The food was delicious in a hearty way, especially the haggis. Brian and I split a carrot cake for dessert. It was notably delicious, as carrot cake always is.

Following dinner, Brian and I decided that we wanted to climb the mountain once more, and reach Arthur's Seat. It was half past seven o'clock. We had to catch a night bus leaving from St. Andrew's Station at half past ten. Sarah did not want to make the climb, but told us that she would meet us at the hostel at nine-thirty, when we would all walk to the bus station. So Brian and I set off quickly across Edinburgh to the mountain.

It was dark, and windy as usual. My sturdy shoes were a bit too big for hiking, so to prevent blisters, I went up the mountain barefoot. This worked out fine, until I walked into some thistle weeds. “At least they aren't stinging nettles,” I thought to myself as we hurried along. Were that the case, I would not have been able to walk. I am pretty much out of shape and could only climb at a slow pace. I kept asking Brian to go on ahead because I knew he wanted to reach the top, but he gallantly insisted that we stay together. We got very high, close to the summit of Arthur's Seat, but did not reach the top because we were running out of time.

Still, we found a good spot with a spectacular view of the city, and plopped down on the grass for a few minutes. It was well worth the climb, and we savored our last moments atop the Scottish hills in the whipping wind. The climb down and the walk across town did not take long, and I barely noticed the prickles in my feet. When we arrived at our hostel, however, Sarah was nowhere to be found. We searched the place and called her multiple times, but got no response. Finally, just as we started to be genuinely worried about her safety, she called my phone and told us that she was still at the restaurant talking to people.

We were running out of time to get to St. Andrew's station, and I was somewhat sharp when I told her that she would have to find the way to St. Andrew's station by herself. Brian and I made it to the station with ten minutes to spare, and Sarah miraculously made it just in time- she had literally one minute to spare. When the three of us jumped onto the bus and collapsed gratefully into our bus seats, we were too overwhelmed to speak. After a minute or so, I drew a bar of Carmel Milka from my bag and passed it around. There is nothing like a bit of chocolate to help one recover from particularly nerve-racking situations.

The night bus from Edinburgh to London was rough for my two companions, who were unable to sleep. I, however, dropped off to sleep around midnight. Upon arriving in London, we were confused by the train and metro system, but Brian figured it out. Soon we were at the home of the Clovis family, who are friends of my parents. After a warm welcome, we enjoyed a breakfast of fried eggs and toast. It felt wonderful to be in the home of a large Catholic family, and I would have been perfectly content to stay there and spend time with them that day, but we had a lot to see and little time to see it. So, we left around the eleven o'clock hour and caught a coach to Oxford.

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