Today promised to be an eventful day, to say the least. We had booked ourselves on a train across the country, right up to Edinburgh, where we’d planned to stay for 3 nights. From there we planned to go to the Lake District and stay there overnight, and then go back to London via Manchester. The Manchester break was for a few hours, only to visit the Manchester City Stadium (dad is a huge fan). We expected to get back in London by Saturday night.
We actually did manage to wake up early enough today (mostly because we had a train to catch). We all were up and at action stations by 7:30 am itself. The routing was that we’d catch a National Rail train from Gidea Park (a station pretty close to mausi’s place) to Liverpool Street, and from there we’d take the Circle Line to King’s Cross St. Pancras – that’s where we were to catch our train to Edinburgh from. The train to Scotland left only at 9:50 am, but since we wanted to not miss this under any circumstances, we got dressed in quite a hurry, ate a kingly (yet hastened) breakfast of sausages, toast, bacon, turkey ham and egg, and got in the cab we’d booked to the station.
We were taking only 1 big suitcase and 1 little one for this mini-trip. It was nice and sunny; the cab ride was hardly a few minutes. We reached Gidea Park and got in a train to Liverpool Street, and although it was rush hour, we managed to find seats on the train. It was a 15 minute ride to Liverpool Street, and we all decided to try to catch some shut-eye. But as has been a problem with me through out, I felt extremely drowsy all through the ride, but I just couldn’t sleep in a sitting position. Had I been given a bed then, I’d be out for the count within 2 minutes flat, but since it was a train seat, there I was, sitting with a strolley between my legs, my eyes half-closed, peering into the wilderness, with sleep narrowly eluding me (okay, it was just outer London so maybe not wilderness, but definitely some occasional shrubbery, so staring into the shrubbery).
Anyway, we reached Liverpool Street and scrambled into the Circle Line to King’s Cross St. Pancras. It was a rather short ride to the station, and we reached by about 9:15 am, and since all we had to do was get our physical tickets in our hands and board the train, we decided that now, for the first time since getting up today, we could relax, take it slowly and not rush with everything. So we took full advantage of our new-found time and leisurely walked through the station, stopping occasionally to take pictures. The check-in took rather long tho’, longer than any of us expected, and so while dad got that done we generally sat about guarding our luggage and reading up on brochures of various destinations to tour around the UK, and well, the term ‘family-fun’ was put to a rather liberal use in the brochures much more often than not.
Nevertheless, we were right back on track (not literally, we were still very much on the platform) by 9:40 and ran to our train, which had arrived by then, and so following a courteous ‘hello, good morning, welcome aboard’ by the crew, we took our seats. I sat behind my parents, that gave me enough place to keep my paraphernalia (sources of entertainment such as books, psp etc). We were of course, on our way on time, and once the hot chocolate had been served and I had my book in my hand with the English countryside flying by, I rendered myself content.
This train ride turned out to be possibly one of the best of my life. The English country-side, well, all I can say is – it’s not overrated. All that you’ve heard about its sheer beauty is true. The part of the train ride in England was pretty beautiful, but the Scottish leg was just jaw-dropping. In England it was mostly green the whole way with a Tesco or little town popping up here and there. It was nice and quaint, and very, very green. About half an hour into the journey I realized that it seemed almost criminal (for lack of a better word) to not listen to the Beatles on a train-ride across England, and so I kept down the book and whipped out my headphones, and generally just peered out the window watching the green world pass me by. Somewhere along the way I’d kinda dozed off for a while, and by the time I woke up, we were already in Scotland, and well, as I’ve said before, it was jaw-droppingly beautiful.
Just the natural beauty was entrancing. It was green as far as the eyes could see, with different plants and a few animals scattered here and there. It was supposed to be a tiny country and all, but from the train cabin it looked just so vast. There was even a point when we could see the sea. It took us about an hour and a half to reach Edinburgh from there and that was possibly the most picturesque hour and a half I had come across my whole life. I’m glad that my parents video-recorded most of the journey.
We reached Edinburgh by early afternoon, ready to explore another country. The train station was named Edinburgh Waverly in honour of the famous book ‘Waverly’ written by one of the many influential, famous and bright minds to have come out of Scotland in the last 200 or so years – Sir Walter Scott. He was pretty big around here, even had his own 200 feet monument, right in the middle of the city too, but we’ll get to that later.
Edinburgh is called the Athens of the North. It is built on 7 hills and is traditionally associated with 3 Bs – Banking, Breweries and Books. It is the 5th largest banking centre in Europe, and there are just 460,000 people in the city, so a lot of money is concentrated here. In 2004 Edinburgh was made the world’s first International City of Literature by Unesco, not just because of writers like Sir Walter Scott, Robert Louis Stevenson and Arthur Conan Doyle, but also because of the modern writers who live in Edinburgh – the 4th richest woman in the UK, JK Rowling, author of Harry Potter books, Alexander McCall Smith, author of the Scotland Street novels and Ian Rankin who writes Rebus detective novels. And also great writers call Edinburgh home. Do I sound like a tourist guide? Well, that’s exactly where I picked up all this information – from our tour guides.
We took a cab from the station to our hotel, called Terrace Hotel. It was situated in Regent’s Terrace, where you had a lot of these huge houses, most of which had been converted into hotels. Since it was an extremely small town, the drive from the station to the hotel wasn’t long at all, despite one being in the city and the other in the outer part of town. We realised why the person we asked for directions at the station was trying to tell us we could walk to the hotel, a prospect that my dad was willing to consider (he likes to walk) but mom wasn’t (she likes to walk too, she said, but not with luggage, however light).
Upon reaching our destination a rather peculiar thing happened. When we were paying our cabbie, we were generally discussing in Hindi if we’d given him exact change or something, when he said “Paanch. Paanch Pound.” At first we didn’t really get what he said – it took us some time to realise that he was telling us the amount in Hindi. We looked at him startled and asked him if he knew anymore Hindi, and he rattled of 1-10 in Hindi with ease (and he was white). We asked him how he knew the language and he said “for business.” After we had paid him he said “aapka bahut, bahut shukriya”, we gave him an ‘I’m impressed’ kind of look and walked into the hotel, wondering at his “for business” reply. That meant a lot of Indians must be making their way here.
We were greeted at the door by Michael, the owner of the property. He was a thin, 70 year old man with a full head of silver hair and a very nice and becoming smile, as well as attitude. My dad had spoken to him on the phone earlier, so we said our Hi’s, got our keys, and were shown to our room. We had a room on the second floor. It was spacious, with 2 beds, a TV set, a writing table, couple of chairs, a fireplace and an attached bathroom. We dumped our stuff in the room and checked out the brochures we’d picked up from the lobby, trying to decide what to do for the rest of the day.
We finally decided to just go out and roam about for a while. Dad had a bright idea, to look out for a Sainsbury’s and get some food supplies and snacky stuff to keep in our room. We asked for directions on how to get there. Everyone was very helpful, the weather was pretty pleasant and the walk thru’ town was a lovely one. There was some work happening on the road – laying of a tram line was in progress, so we had to take a circuitous route sometimes. We picked up some basics like bread, butter and cheese, and then some cold cuts and yogurts and crisps and ……..
We decided to explore and take a different route back. We saw the Sir Walter Scott monument – it had a huge statue of him with his beloved dog Maida and 287 steps going to the top of the monument. There was a balcony at the top, from where you could see a lot of Edinburgh and the surrounding countryside, especially on a clear day. The Scott Monument was built in the 1840s. There are 64 statuettes of characters included in the memorial, all from Sir Walter Scott’s books. I was very keen to climb to the top, but it was after closing hours and so we satisfied ourselves by gazing at it.
We finally reached near our hotel, but right at the base of Regent’s Terrace we saw a pub (named Regent’s Pub of course) and so we went in there in the hope of finding some nice Scottish food (we’d decided to give ‘Haggis’ a try) and the Portugal vs. Spain football match. The latter wasn’t available but we decided to stay on anyway. The bartender was very helpful, giving us information on what all we should see and do in Edinburgh in the short while that we were staying there. He was from the South and an ex-cop too. I found it very interesting, that he decided to give up being a cop in London to be a bartender in Edinburgh. He said he has a more relaxed lifestyle now, and he was enjoying his work very much.
We had Haggis and Stovies. Haggis is perhaps the best known Scottish delicacy. It was accompanied by Neeps and Tattiess (which is turnips and mashed potatoes). Stovies are a potato-based dish, designed to use up leftover meat and vegetables. Tho’ I’m sure the pub did not feed us anything made from leftovers. My dad and I enjoyed both the dishes. Mom was not very keen on Haggis, as the helpful bartender had told us how it is made. We finished our meal and walked back to our hotel, promising ourselves to come back again for a second round tomorrow.
We watched the match, and after a long and tiring day we went off to sleep.