And it all started so nicely
I made the connection at the London/Heathrow Airport. Never one of my favorites, with all it's mad bustle and confusion. Wandering through the airport in a sleep deprived haze, I struggled finding and reading the monitors for connecting flights. Travelers loomed in and out of my peripheral as I sheepishly lugged my bag up the gleaming tiled halls. I didn't know if it was just me, but they all seemed angry. No, not quite angry, more annoyed and aloof. Slimmer, more fashionably dressed, and definitely more predatory than I was used to in America.
Maybe my perspective was just warped by jet-lag and the six hour time change, but memories of all the horrible things that happened over the centuries in Europe. The tortures. The inquisitions. The class cruelty, and eventual inevitable retaliation by the masses. I felt like I could see a hint of it on their faces. Not at the forefront, but more a buried, subtle influence. Molding the people into the creatures that surrounded me. Like I said, maybe it was just jet-lag.
I grabbed a coffee, my whole two pound bill on a credit card, found my flight to Glasgow, and dropped down on one of the hard, gleaming metal seats. My back was killing me, and I kept starting to doze off, woken a minute later by the uncomfortable angles. I had almost made it to dreamland, when they announced boarding. That woke me up, and the flight would be so short, there was little point in going back to sleep. Besides, I was keyed up. In a restless, numb sort of way.
A short hop, and I was descending through the clouds, stone hamlets and bright green fields sprawled out beneath. A gut shaking drop onto the landing strip, and we eased up to the gate. I rubbed my eyes and tried to force some of the jet-lag out. The passengers clamored to their feet, and slowly trucked off the plane. Shuffling along like zombies, they passed the way too cheerful airline stewardess welcoming us to Scotland.
This was a much nicer, more manageable airport, and a short taxi ride later, I was on a train to Edinburgh, and the start of my vacation. Rolling hills of grass flew past. The vibrant green was speckled with wiry patches of yellow weeds, the whole mass spread out around the intruding tracks, their tips bent over as if tired of standing upright. Small white specks, the black heads the tell tale marks of sheep, dotted the fields. Sporadic houses spotted the undulating landscape, their facades of ancient stone, a green patina of moss creeping up the sides. They looked as if they had been there as long as the hills. I dozed off in the early morning blue light, my head nestled against the window.
The announcement woke me up, and half dazed, I grabbed the handle of my canvas duffel bag, and wandered out onto the pale gray of a concrete platform. I jaunted up the steps, past travelers who glanced at me as if annoyed by my very presence. Another taxi ride, by a young, fashionably dressed driver, listening to some mind numbing electronic music, and I arrived at the city center. The streets remained cobblestone, but the edges of the buildings grew a bit sharper and more modern looking as we pulled up. The Ibis hotel line never fails to give me the simplest accommodations. A bed that was almost too thin and stiff to be comfortable, a tan particle board desk and bedside table, and a TV much smaller than the one I have at home. Good thing I wasn't expecting any local atmosphere in here!
Dropping my belongings on the white canvas that served as a bedspread, I was off to explore.
The city really was a sharp looking place, full of majestic Gothic architecture. Dark gray slabs of stone wrapped from side, down through narrow cobblestone streets, and back up into buildings on the opposite side. The facades were weathered and stained with age, the buildings darker than the streets from centuries of chimneys, a crazy tangle of which dotted the roofs. Fuzzy green moss climbed up the walls and tree trunks like some unstoppable affliction.
I wandered up the Royal Mile, one of the oldest streets in the city, and polluted by one too many tourist traps selling trinkets. All offering kilts, maps, and cashmere, anything they thought the rubes would buy. The city was built on a city, and some tours offered an underground “city of the dead” tour. They spun fantastical tails about the residents of the vaults. Plague victims, poor immigrants, and young unwed mothers kicked out of their wealthy households for fear of social rejection. Scheming harpies would take them in, reassure the teenage mothers that they and their soon to be born child would find safe haven, and then slit their throats if they lived through childbirth. Most died in childbirth. Once born, the children, if fit enough, would be sold to wealthy families. The rest were left to die. The conditions were so horrible, raw feces often dripped down the walls. Rats were common, and archeologists found evidence they were skewered and roasted for food. The average life expectancy there was three to eighteen months.
On a lighter note, one tour agency offered a trip up to Loch Ness, and I couldn't pass up on that! An old lady, at least sixty, and dressed in all white; her hair, dress, skin, everything except her teeth, which were a horrendous shade of greenish yellow, mumbled all the attractions. Her bad breath fought with my curiosity, pushing me away with the foul odor, and then drawing me back in with the lure of more intriguing details.
There is apparently a ruined castle up there, they offer boat tours across the Loch, and even though I had very little hope of actually seeing Nessie, it was on my list of places to visit. Thirty eight pounds later, and I had a ticket for an eight AM bus ride leaving the next morning. Popping into a local pub for a quick Guinness and some food, I headed to bed early, taking a sleeping pill to kill the anticipation.