Edinburgh – Final Days

A floating purple barge was the last thing I would ever have thought to see in Edinburgh suburbia yet from our little upstairs window there it is, in all it’s pale violet glory.

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Our planned route to Edinburgh’s two modern art galleries takes us alongside the Union Canal which was initially opened in 1822 and ran all the way to Falkirk. The introduction of railways saw it’s commercial traffic gradually decline until the 1930’s where it fell into disuse.

The recent blossoming of interest in all things ‘Canal’ in the UK in conjunction with the Millennium Link in 2000 has seen it reconnected with the Forth and Clyde with leisure boats regularly plying it’s waters.

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Amazing.

We stride on, our path taking us past the spires of St Mary’s Cathedral. In the glory of yet another blue sky day sunshine streaming through the stained glass windows lights up the dark interior with cast rainbows.

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Pam turns up the gas once we rejoin the brightness of the day, apparently we have much to see and do with long distances between to cover.

Actually beyond the modern art galleries we have no plans however I know how the gears of her mind do grind.

Seemingly in no time we are entering the grounds of the Modern Art Gallery #2 where an illuminated sign assures us both day and night that ‘There will be no Miracles here’.

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Having never expected any we remain unfazed by this news.

Passing a greening statue we make our way to the grand stone building and enter.

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Inside the cafe a metallic enormity swings it’s hammer wildly from near the ceiling.

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A new found (for us) favorite of the so called ‘modern art’ world Yves Tanguy has found some wall space here along with many other masters.

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A recreation of the studio of Edwardo Palozzi blows our minds with it’s ordered clutter.

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Despite the outward huge appearance of this old building there is only a relatively small space devoted to the gallery rooms.

Outside we take photo’s of some of the remarkable statues and walk onwards towards the Modern Art Gallery #1

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A man rising from bitumen depths greets us at the gates.

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Pam is feeling the chill and rushes inside leaving me to take photos of the exterior and grounds.

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Almost the entire lower floor has been devoted to a display of selected works of the extremely long lived and prolific Louise Bourgeois (1911 – 2010). Working in a huge variety of materials over her long life this artist has left a spectacular trail of thought provoking work with much of the work on display having being created when other lesser souls would be well and truly in their dotage.

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Disquieting hanging sculptures cast from various metals.

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Paintings, power poems.

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Her creepy work ‘The Spider and The Mother’ fills three quarters of a large room.

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‘Give or Take’ created eight years prior to her passing.

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In the rooms where her most spectacular knitted and sewn hanging cloth sculptures hang from the high ceiling I am told for the first time that photography of her works is not permitted.

Soz about that. Honour bound I replace the camera in my pocket.

Upstairs in the halls above I am allowed to withdraw it once again.

Multitudes of paintings by modern masters adorn the walls. Get thee to the gallery.

Pam is very taken by the artistic efforts displayed by the Boyle Family. Fourteen panels in mixed media resin and fiberglass display minutely detailed 150cm by 150cm recreations of the same patch of sandy tidal plains taken at 12 hourly intervals. Their stated effort is and remains to ‘cut out of our work any hint of originality, style, superimposed design, wit, elegance or significance to produce as an objective work as possible’.

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Each panel captures patterns left in the sand by the rising and falling tides at Camber Sands near Rye in East Sussex.

Art for arts sake.

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The spectacular ‘List of Names’ covers three floors of the stairwell from basement to the second floor.

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So much to see and so little time.

Out in the bright blue day once more we make a snap decision as to our next direction.

From the windows of the top floor of the gallery Pam has noticed a walking path alongside the shallow swift flowing Water of Leith.

We descend to the river bank following a path at the rear of the gallery, cross the wooden bridge at the base, turn left at the far bank and set off heading back towards Edinburgh New Town.

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Moss covered stone walls radiate an air of antiquity as we stride alongside the chuckling stream.

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River bank buildings echo and amplify the sense of timelessness.

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Gardens and church spires, there is no shortage of beauty here.

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This swift flowing stream powered many mills in it’s heyday, ’twere up to me unobtrusively designed and engineered micro-hydro-electrics would line the entirety of the green banks today.

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Our gently downhill sloping river path takes us past a columned pagoda and finally we exit at Stockbridge.

Across the river a pizza express delivery service bizarrely occupies a heritage building.

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Both hungry and thirsty by now we make our way down Raeburn Pl and select a bar at random.

Inside the bar is busy with locals, this is a beer connoisseur and dog lovers paradise.

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Four paws are welcome inside and selecting a beer from the multitude on tap is made easier by the friendly staff pouring a swirl into a glass for tasting prior to purchase.

We both find lunches to our taste on the menu and settle in for a while. Pam makes quick and easy friends with all the dogs and accompanying owners while I go to the bar to order.

Once again we have come to the end of our plan yet there are hours of light left in the day.

Consulting our tourist map we realise the Botanical Gardens are nearby, there is no time like the present.

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A few twists and turns later we arrive at the vertical axis wind turbine above the main gates.

A green sloping flower covered bank draws our initial attention and we follow paths branching out beyond.

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Late winter/early spring boughs each end in twigs loaded with buds. The ‘from a distance’ appearance of death and stasis is illusionary, life courses through sap filled cells.

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People living in places that display distinct seasonal changes would be very familiar with this everyday magic. Our hometown Brisbane, Australia changes little with the seasons, almost all native tree species are evergreen.

We walk the paths full of wonder.

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Overhead grey skies are accumulating once more for the afternoon downpour. We make our way across the park and wait for a couple of minutes for a bus to arrive at the stop.

The driver refuses to change our twenty pound note and we are low on shrapnel. A kindly local woman comes to our aid and shouts us the one pound coin we still require to pay our full fare.

She politely refuses the payment of little coins we scrape up from our wallet as the bus makes its way back to the Mound and the Royal Mile.

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‘Other people have paid my fares in the same way during my own travels’ she tells us ‘I am just giving back to the Universe’.

From the Royal Mile we have a simple choice, risk the rapidly approaching rain or find a comfortable bar.

No choice at all really.

Climbing the stairs down to Grassmarket we find most of the bars filled to bursting. Outside the White Hart a funky group of buskers are entertaining passersby in the last few rays of sunshine breaking through the clouds.

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There happens to be one table left inside which we rapidly appropriate to ride out the showers in comfort.

A few drinks in we are joined at a nearby table by a striking looking younger local couple. A few drinks after that we are introducing ourselves and having a merry old time.

Our new friends Mark and Lindsay are very interested in our travel tales and have thought of emigrating to Australia. Likewise we are interested in their day to day lives in Edinburgh so we get on like a house on fire as the evening passes.

Thoughts of Karoke still linger in Pam’s mind and eventually we make our way out into the rain slick streets and weave our way back up towards the bar we had passed last night.

Entering the establishment we know immediately we have made a mistake, still we order a drink and sit down.

I am not sure if there is a Scottish equivalent for the Australian term ‘Bogan’ but I do know we are in a bar full of Scottish Bogans.

As we sit quietly a screaming fight breaks out between two of the ‘ladies’ sitting at the end of the bar. Eventually the barmaid gets involved and threatens to throw them out, nobody moves, these are empty threats.

‘Put on some of that gay music’ calls out one of the men to the person setting up the Karoke machine. Obligingly strains from the Village People’s YMCA blast out from the speakers beside us. As we struggle to quickly drain our drinks ‘In the Navy’ begins it’s rotation as the old geezer who requested the songs drunkenly parades up and down.

Despite the barmaids apologetic ‘it’s not normally like this’ as we return our glasses we can’t get out fast enough.

Out in the night air I pick up the scent of two young guys smoking joints as they wander up the street and unwittingly put the fear of God into them by making them aware that even old wrinkly’s like me might have been young once themselves.

It is a real George Bernard Shaw moment and Pam is probably wise in dragging me from the streets back to our B&B.

Grey skies carried over from yesterday afternoon greet our bleary morning eyes. Doreen’s tasty hot breakfast restores our equanimity and readies us for the day ahead.

Still we are slow in preparations and not ready to leave the comfort of our little room till later than normal. Making our way down the hill via the busy Lothian Road we cross near the bottom into the grounds of the Parish Church of St Cuthbert and the surrounding cemetery.

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Headstones from burial services held centuries ago, more distant in time than Australia’s European settlement are common.

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Unique angles for viewing Edinburgh Castle are found within the cemetery grounds. We leave the congregation inside the church in peaceful worship and wander through the grounds of the nearby parklands that traverse the length of Princess street up to the enormous Scots Monument.

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I have left the B&B intent on revisiting the host of statues we had zoomed past on the bus tour of a few days ago however a combination of our boozy night and the grey skies finds us far less enthusiastic than normal.

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All Pam really wants to do is to have lunch at the well regarded Vegetarian bistro Hendersons and she finds my insistence on taking old paths less than appealing.

Still she lets me have my fun, at least until she starts to feel hungry.

Our lunch is sensational and I complement the young woman who has quietly gone about cooking meals solo for the busy eatery. Tales of her skills are obviously widely spread for we are lucky to get a table and many others are turned away in disappointment as we dine.

During lunch we have decided we are not up for much today. Lightly falling rain confirms our decision to conclude our wandering with a visit to the nearby Scottish National Gallery.

Maybe in an effort to safeguard the enormous skillfully painted portraits filling the walls of the chambers within, the climate control has been turned up to slow roast.

Pam and I do our best to enjoy rather than endure our tour of the fantastic gallery and spill at last back into the cool rain outside.

Pam acquiesces to my request to catch a cab home rather than walk in the rain.

Just like the aforementioned roast, we are done.

At least for today.

Rain continues into the new day however our plans consist of minor practicalities like having our clothes washed at the nearby laundry service, purchasing some ear candles to restore my right ear’s hearing and sense of balance that have been upset by poor hygiene, doing our best to get another blog written.

I set up camp in the delightful nearby Blackbird Bar where we have previously eaten and Pam sets off into the day to complete our chores.

Other than my fingertips I have not stirred when she triumphantly returns brandishing some wax ear candles from a nearby Chinese Natural Medicine practitioner.

Alas we cannot light them inside the B&B which has compliant smoke detectors in both the bed and bathroom. Looks like I have to wait until London to hear properly again.

Outside the weather turns bizarre, it hails for a short while before clouds part and give way to a sunny afternoon.

I type on and on, Pam returns with the washing, she is bored by now and insists I keep her entertained into the evening.

She must be easily pleased as I can at times be very dull.

Even after all this time together we still manage to make each other laugh heartily each and every day.

After our final breakfast we run through our pack, check, re-check routine that we employ when striking out for new horizons.

Doreen strikes a pose doing the Highland Fling for our blog and we thank her for her great hospitality during our short stay.

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We have a travel timetable to adhere to. Pam is on edge as usual and leaves me in her dust as we pass by the moored barges once more before threading our way quickly through suburban streets to the nearest bus stop from which we can be taken to the distant Edinburgh airport.

We make the airport in plenty of time.

Entering the building a Spanish man recognizes the Camino badges that adorn Pam’s backpack and she has a friendly chat about both his and our Camino adventures.

We spend far less time in the air than the tube ride from Heathrow to Dagenham Heathway.

PLL

Pam and Mick

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