Place: Edinburgh, Scotland
Tuesday, August 12
I didn’t know it was pronounced Edin-Burra until I heard the lovely Scottish lilt of our train announcer. I was supposed to change trains in Edinburgh and head back to London, but I think it’s rather silly not to stay over at least one day and see part of the city.
As soon as I step out of the station one word comes to my mouth: “Wow.” The horizon is just filled with the soaring spires of old buildings. And to my left, a grand, dark-stoned tower that eats up the sky. I can’t help but walk straight to it. Turns out it’s a memorial to Sir Walter Scott, who wrote Rob Roy and Ivanhoe, among others. Scotland must really, really love this guy to judge by his memorial.
I’m super tired after the Highland Games at North Berwick, but I make myself scope out a bit of Old Town before heading to my hotel room. Old Town is the oldest, most beautiful section of Edinburgh, and the Edinburgh Castle is here as well. Tomorrow, after a good rest, I’ll go back and really explore.
So I’m walking to my hotel and I pass a restaurant called The Conan Doyle. And on the wall is a plaque informing me that just across the street is the birthplace of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle! I walked right past it on my way to Old Town and didn’t even know it! Love when stuff like this happens! They don’t tell you the exact address of his birthplace, but they do tell you there’s a memorial right across the street from it. So I’m thinking it’s gotta be either 12 or 14 Picardy Place. I’ll have to look it up when I get to my room, see if I can find out.
I don’t know what it is, but whenever I’m feeling out of place or lonesome, as soon as I come across any bit of history about writers, I feel immediately comforted. I’ve always loved books and reading. They became my escape when I was a kid. I felt safe inside all those stories. And seeing Mr. Conan Doyle’s memorial today made me feel so warm. And so proud to be a writer.
Tuesday, August 13, 2013
Got up early and walked to the train station, dropped my luggage off in storage. £9 per item! £18 total to leave my stuff with them. Not even a discount if you’re a ticketed passenger! They know you need it, and they take full advantage of it.
But it’s nice to stroll into Old Town unfettered. First thing I do is look for a place to eat breakfast. I find a pub called The Royal McGregor and order the traditional breakfast, take a seat near the door so I can watch the people outside. By lucky coincidence, I’m in Edinburgh during their annual festival, so there are lots of performers out on the streets – comedic acts, singers, actors – all trying to get people to come to their shows that evening. As I’m waiting for my breakfast, a woman walks in, decked out in costume – a big poofy skirt and her face very elaborately painted, with beads and jewelry all over. Very strange. She sits down in the corner and orders coffee. People pass by her and say hello like it’s just a normal day and everyone dresses this way. I can’t help but smile.
Then the waitress brings my breakfast. In England, a traditional breakfast includes fried egg, baked beans, bacon, sausage, grilled tomato, and toast. But in Scotland, apparently, they add haggis and black pudding. Well. At first I was going to ask the waitress to leave these lovely items off, but then I thought – come on, be fearless! When are you ever going to have the opportunity to try fried blood and sheep’s heart again? That’s right – black pudding is made by cooking blood with a filler like pork fat and oatmeal until it’s congealed. Congealed... Oh boy. Haggis is a mince made from sheep’s heart and lungs and boiled in the stomach lining of the sheep. First I try a bite of the black pudding. Very dense and mealy. Doesn’t taste like anything I’ve ever had. I can only describe it as a very "dark" flavor. Nope. Won’t be having that again. Now the haggis. This has a similar texture, but softer, ironically more like a pudding than the black pudding. The flavor reminds me of corned-beef hash in a way, but with an aftertaste that I don’t like. Something bitter and sweet at the same time. Nope. Won’t be making that for my friends anytime soon, either. But I tried them! And the rest of my breakfast was deeeelicious.
Then off to explore what they call the "Royal Mile." Stretching from Edinburgh Castle at the top of Castle Hill all the way down to Holyrood Castle. This is the section of Edinburgh called "Old Town." The street plan has been preserved from medieval times! I didn’t go inside either of the castles, just admired from outside. I think I’m a bit castled out. Had much more fun walking up and down the Mile looking at the old buildings, discovering more history, and watching the street performers. I passed by a café that was once Deacon Brodie’s workshop. Brodie was a very talented cabinet-maker who lived in the 1700s and was greatly respected in Edinburgh society. But by night, he led a secret, much darker life. He robbed the houses of the very people who were his customers to finance his gambling habit and support his many children, plus two mistresses. When he aimed higher and tried to rob His Majesty’s Excise Office, he was caught and sentenced to hang. But there are two even more astonishing details about his life. First, he was hanged from the very gibbet he designed. He proudly boasted to the crowd that the gallows upon which he was about to die was the most efficient of its kind. Second, his life was the inspiration for Robert Louis Stevenson’s novel The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Seems Mr. Stevenson’s father had had furniture made by Brodie. Small world.
With only about an hour left until my train leaves for London, I have one more mission to fulfill. I’ve decided I want an authentic, Scottish-made scarf. There are so many different colors to choose from but I buy a beautiful tartan-colored one – you know, those Christmas colors – soft, rich reds and greens. Now I feel like I have a little piece of Scotland to take away with me.
GUEST WRITER'S BIO
Vicki Speegle is an award-winning screenwriter whose feature script LOVED ONES was in development at Amazon Studios and was a finalist for best screenplay. Her screenplay DEAREST was a finalist for the 2011 Sundance Screenwriters Lab, and her television pilot THE WAKES OF WILBUR POE recently placed in the finals of Slamdance.
Vicki grew up the daughter of a gay single mom turned pastor in Akron, Ohio, where she helped take care of her two younger brothers, an experience that provided fodder for a number of short stories and scripts. Her infatuation with storytelling began at the age of five when she sent a love letter to Donny Osmond, and since then she has worked an eclectic mix of jobs to support her writing habit, including 4 years in the U.S. Navy tracking nuclear submarines on a tiny island called Adak, Alaska, assistant to a very eccentric New York City artist, and a brief bout as the world’s worst waitress. Vicki studied music performance and education at Akron University before making the move to New York University, where she earned her BFA in Film & Television Production. During her studies at NYU she interned as assistant to the editor for Ken Burns’ production of THE WEST. She wrote, directed, and produced several shorts, including her thesis film OLDER, which went on to screen at the Tribeca Underground Film Festival and won 2nd place in the Pioneer Theatre Short Film Slam in New York City.
After graduating from NYU, Vicki joined Rigas Entertainment as assistant to the Director of Development, helping in the development of feature films with directors Peter Cattaneo (The Full Monty) and Maggie Greenwald (SongCatcher). In 2005 Vicki began shooting a documentary about her mother’s struggle to reconcile her faith as a pastor with her advancing Alzheimer’s. The project is currently in post-production and has garnered the support of GLAAD (Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation). In 2007 Vicki’s screenplay LOVED ONES placed in the top 5 of the Bluecat Screenplay Competition and won Screenplay Live at the Rochester Film Festival. Her works have placed in several other competitions, including Women in Film, Chesterfield, and American Zoetrope. Vicki’s credits include a teen comedy for Applause Films and radio scripts for Wynton Marsalis, Director of Jazz At Lincoln Center.
Vicki lives and works as a writer, filmmaker, and web producer in New Jersey. She is still waiting for Donny’s response.