Sunday, April 19, 2009

Edinburgh in the Spring

It is the most beautiful spring day here after a chilly 2°C overnight. The sun is shining and warming the air as we have breakfast and look out over a clear day on the water. With our chores complete, we decide to head into the City on a quieter (?) Sunday to get our bearings for a couple of days of intense touring and then head off to Queensferry to take a cruise on the Maid of the Forth to Inchcomb Island and back. Now the only problem with that plan was that it was certainly NOT quieter in Edinburgh today. I think that at least 50% of the population was in the city taking full advantage of the warming spring sun.

And as we were warned by David on Skye, Edinburgh is in a real mess. Some years ago in their wisdom, the city fathers tore up the local tram lines (hmm, echoes of rail networks a la Queensland guys!). These are now being re-laid amidst the biggest mess of traffic diversions and streetworks. Although we thought we knew where we were headed, we soon lost our way in the maze that the Edinburgh streets have become. It was quite an hour or so, oohing and aahing at some of the most amazing architecture we have seen to date. Most of it is Renaissance and Gothic in style, suggesting that the City of Edinburgh was a bustling growing metropolis in the 1500s and 1600s, and maybe later during a revival in the 1800s.

It is so hard to imagine the masons of the day, working in all that stone dust, carving beautiful filials and ornamentation. The most stunning clock towers and turrets, and beautiful lines in building corners, in colonnades of columns - and all only with hand chisels and mallets. It would appear the artisans of Edinburgh would have rivalled those of Florence.

However, we eventually found our way through Pan's Labyrinth and made a B-line towards Leith Harbour. The road works are unbelievable, although it has provided some insight into the track layout for the future MTC's! We follow the tourist signs for the Royal Yacht -Britannia but without any desire to visit this vessel, a mothballed debt which is probably still being paid off by the nation's taxpayers? At least from here we can find our way!

As we near South Queensferry, the Fourth Bridge (railway bridge) gradually looms ahead like the unearthing of an ancient reptile! This bridge is huge in length, height and breadth; raked with a cluttering of scaffolds and shrouds. It's maintenance is an ongoing project, which in part, a result of neglect over the years. The structure is still an impressive engineering feat.
Negotiating the steep decline to the ferry terminal, we cannot miss the meandering of parked vehicles - a mile in length, at least. These vehicles surely can't be indicative of the number of ferry commuters..... But no - there is a charity event down here today - people are abseiling from the Forth Bridge! Two by two - some ever so hesitantly, while another, face first demonstrating previous experience and with a blood-curdling scream, freefalls to about 4 feet from the ground! The crowd below just froze and you could have heard a pin drop if it wan't for his caterwalling. I really pitied the lady abseiling at the same time!

Despite all the parking mayhem, my Parking Fairy is sitting on my shoulder and as we arrive to find a park so we can get the ferry, a car pulls out two spaces from the ticket office! As I say, I may never win the lottery, but I will always have a parking space when I need one!! So we park and lock the car and go to buy tickets for the boat. We are just in time - the boat sails in just 10 minutes - just long enough for Michael to have a fag.

It is a little chilly on the boat, but no-one wants to sit downstairs on such a beautiful day, so we are all on the open upper deck. We watch as the abseiling continues and the tide draws out as we ease away from the jetty. Passing under the Forth Rail Bridge we can see men in bright orange overalls working on the bridge even tough it is Sunday. We are told that after years of neglect by the railways in the late 20th century, that it is a constant task to maintain the bridge now.

We share the Firth of Forth (m. a long narrow inlet of the sea) with various sailing craft, moored tugs, the Hound Point oil pipeline distribution point, lots of large rocks and a lesser number of small islands and the wildlife. We see grey seals, common seals, puffins, cormorants and the ever present seagulls as we sail up the Firth towards Inchcolm Island. The Island is home to the ruins of Scotlands most complete monastic house - a former Augustinian Abbey that dates back to the 6th Century. You can leave the ferry here and tour the island, but as it would take a further 2.5 hours out of the day, we decided not to and stay on the ferry for the return to the jetty along with loads more people who must have taken the earliest ferry over there. It is a little hard as apart from toilets there are no other visitor facilities on the island (i.e. food) and we are starving as it is now close to 3 pm and we have not had anything since breakfast. There are some WWII military fortifications (bunkers and listening posts) but like, who is interested in them - only kidding guys, I know Michael is!!

So back under the impressive structure of the Forth Bridge giving us plenty of time to admire the design and construction - it is said to be the strongest bridge of its kind due to a cautious overbuiding after the collapse of the Tay Bridge and the loss of a train and 75 lives. En route we observe the coastline communities and Blackness Castle. Across the water, we also see the Forth Road Bridge which mirrors the design of the famous Golden Gate Bridge in San Fanscisco. And if you are as interested in the engineering of it all as I am, check out the links I have provided.

So, back to the shore and the abseiling charity event continues. The participants coming down the drop now are numbered in the high 200s so I guess it has been a worthwhile day for the Chest, Heart and Stroke Association. When leaving, we notice that as soon one car pulls out, another pulls in, so the afternoon looms to be a long one for the organisers.

The traffic back into Edinburgh is heavy and once in the City we join the cars on the merry-go-round through the one way, diverted routes. We take the turn out to the Royal Observatory only to find when we get out there that it is not open to the public - so why signpost the route?? The residential areas are stunning and the people of Edinburgh are obviously proud of their city if the manicured lawns and the stunning gardens are anything to judge by. And they well use their public areas - there are plenty of parks and gardens and today they are brimming with the local population taking the sun!

We pass a cinema complex and knowng that it wn't be too long before we won't be able to see English movies decided to take one in. So off to see 'Knowing' with Nicholas Cage (one of my all time favourite actors). With an hour before it starts (and still no lunch) we choose to get something to eat. In the same complex there is a restaurant and bar that shall remain nameless. While the menu was great, and our starter very appetising, they waited for 20 minutes after we had finished to tell us that Michael's choice was not available. In the end, this left us with a whole 5 minutes to eat before the movie began - even though we told them we had tickets to a movie at 6:05 pm. Not happy Jan! The movie started off very well, but had an ending that was a little disappointing (though I am not sure how they could have ended it). Of course, Nicholas was great!

We finished the day with a drive through Edinburgh by twilight. So much built beauty - yes, Scotland continues to impress.

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