February 11-13, 2017: Scotland Against Trump

Photo Album: https://goo.gl/photos/BZ8FgRxkQtdxXWqX6

This is my second time to the UK, this time Scotland. And though I was only in England very briefly, I must say I like Scotland a lot better. I think the people were generally friendlier. The architecture is more interesting. And the accents a little more difficult.

Traveling with Gianna, I have come to expect that we’ll Uber everywhere. But the thing about Edinburgh is that there is a shortage of Uber drivers. They simply cannot meet demand, which means surge pricing and long wait times. And then the Ubers are also just private cab companies that do Uber on the side.

Our Airbnb is really homey. It’s a nicely furnished apartment. I had a big comfy bed to myself. And he had a big TV with a roku. There would have been plenty of room for Will, but he did not want to pay for a visa. He found out too late that he could’ve gotten one easier because he has family in Europe. But at that point, he didn’t have enough time to get it.

There was a very strange toilet that didn’t flush. I think I was in the bathroom for a solid ten minutes trying to figure it out. There was a lever that was obviously the flushing mechanism, but it was like there just wasn’t enough water. I felt so stupid. I actually Googled how to flush a British toilet, and apparently, they use a different flushing mechanism. You have to press the lever with a particular force and speed. Whereas normal toilets are just lifting a plug, the British toilets are actually activating a mechanism. But who would’ve known that?

Another feature of traveling with Gianna is brunch. We must do brunch. We found a little place with cakes and things near the ocean. I wasn’t adventurous enough to eat haggis or black pudding. So I was basic and ate Nutella French toast, which was just smothered in Nutella. It was honestly too much, didn’t think it was possible to have too much Nutella.

Just walking around the city, we came across the Edinburgh Playhouse and by coincidence the West End production of Evita was touring. So we walked in to see how much tickets cost. I am not a fan of Evita, but Gianna and Savannah wanted to see it. Usually, I like musical theater, but I just don’t really like Evita. But for 20 euro full view seats in the front section of the balcony, I wasn’t going to say no. The performance was pretty empty in the balcony. There were lots of unsold seats. They, too, think Evita is kind of boring. The music isn’t that good—only Don’t Cry For Me, Argentina is recognizable; the rest is meh. The acting was fine. I didn’t realize that the show portrays Evita in such a bad light.  No wonder the Argentinians don’t like Evita. The set was well done. But the lighting was just too much. And the sound was too loud to understand (or the accents?). I felt like Aunt Jenny complaining about Wicked being too loud.

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Also, we forget sometimes that they speak English in Scotland. In Italy, we’ve become used to just saying whatever we want in English because no one understands. Well in the theater, someone walked through our aisle making everyone get up and got halfway through and then found out it was the wrong row and Gianna said “Are you fucking kidding me?” Whoops, they speak English!

Behind the Playhouse is Colton Hill. The Scottish copy of the Parthenon sits atop the hill. Apparently, Edinburgh was going to be the Athens of the north. So there is an Acropolis and some Greek-style statues. And then I’m hoping they realized how stupid that was to copy Athens because Scotland has its own interesting culture. The view from the hill of the city is really cool. Though I probably would’ve enjoyed it more if it wasn’t so windy and cold, and characteristically rainy.

One of the highlights of the weekend started in a cemetery. We walked past a cemetery that had some famous people I’d never heard of, like David Hume. The cemetery doesn’t look like it has bodies in it. It just looks like empty mausoleums.  While we were there, we heard chanting coming from somewhere. It was getting louder, the crowd approaching us. And when we exited the cemetery, we came across a huge demonstration of Scots protesting, not against Brexit as you might expect, but against Trump! So we joined right in and marched to Parliament (we peeled off before they reached Parliament but that’s where they were going). The basic chant goes “Refugees are welcome here!” The more controversial chant is “No borders, no nations, fuck deportation.” And I’m all for the open borders, but no nations is maybe a bit far. They had some really creative signs. And to be honest, it was just really comforting to know that these people across an ocean cared enough and empathized with us.

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We walked the Royal Mile in the heart of town. I love the architecture. The Church was unfortunately closed, but we looked at some shops. We went to eat at some pub, and just our luck, the kitchen was literally broken. We asked for a table, and they told us they might not get the kitchen back up for another half hour so they weren’t serving food. So we went to a different pub. They were playing the Six Nations Rugby tournament. The match was between Wales and Ireland. The pub was stereotypically rowdy. I ordered bangers and mash—I think that might be my favorite British dish. I also like a good fish and chips, but I prefer my potatoes mashed than in chip form.

In our Uber ride back home, we passed by a Chinese restaurant not too far from our place. So Gianna called them for a delivery. They weren’t going to serve her because she didn’t have a British telephone number, so they wouldn’t be able to call her to come down. But the guy was really nice and actually came all the way up to the top floor. The funniest thing though was that her food didn’t come with rice. We kind of assumed that Chinese food must come with rice. Didn’t think you’d have to specify. So she just ate plain beef and broccoli.

Continuing our brunch everyday theme, we had brunch near the castle. Except we missed the brunch hours. Which was ok because I really just wanted lunch. But it turned out they were short staffed and were only serving breakfast. It was a very confusing morning. I guess the breakfast menu is easier for the kitchen.

Edinburgh Castle is not just a castle, it’s like a whole town up there, much like Prague Castle. It was freezing up there, especially in all the wind tunnels. The war museum inside the castle is very well done. It goes through the military heritage of the Scots. One weird artifact was elephant toes from a pet elephant that the soldiers kept. The elephant would apparently drink with the soldiers from India. And I guess when the elephant died, they cut off its toes as a keepsake? The toes were placed right next to a stuffed dog. The castle is also home to the crown jewels. You have to first walk through a whole wax figure exhibit about the Scottish line to the throne though. It’s a little creepy. We visited the room where James VI was born, and it was this little tiny not-very-special room. From the castle, there is a view of the entire city. But we couldn’t stand up there very long because of the cold and wind. Though our Uber driver later told us that it was actually warmer and less windy compared to an average February day.

We had high tea at the Dome. Gianna booked us tea here because the Ladies of London, aka the Real Housewives of London, had tea here. It looks like it used to be a bank. We each got a pot of tea and a tower of snacks: sandwiches, scones, and cakes. And champagne. I obviously don’t usually like tea, but high tea was fun. And the snacks are so darn good.

Gianna being Gianna, she wanted to have whiskey in Scotland. Though she doesn’t even like whiskey, it’s just thematic. She got a whole flight. It’s just what rich people do. She’s got expensive taste.

We mostly just ate all day. We had Indian food for dinner. Savannah had never had Indian before. I, for one, like Indian food.  I ordered butter chicken. And after dinner, we walked home. It was a pleasant walk through a residential neighborhood. I like the Scottish architecture. The townhouses look very nice. All of them have separate basement units. And something about the color of the stones made me take note of it, but I don’t really remember what I wanted to say. I wouldn’t mind living in Edinburgh.

We tried to watch the Grammys but we couldn’t find a stream. CBS All Access doesn’t work abroad. And I couldn’t connect to the wifi on my Surface for some reason. It was very frustrating because we spent an hour trying to figure this out and we stayed up and everything and in the end we couldn’t get it to work. But it would turn out to be a disappointing night anyways with Adele basically sweeping in a year that should’ve been dominated by Beyonce.

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That’s an hour hike to Arthur’s seat back there.

Our last day, we had brunch nearby because we didn’t want to pay surge pricing on Uber. It was an empty place but they did good brunch. Then we contemplated hiking up Arthur’s Seat, but it would have taken too long for the time we had left. And Gianna was not going to hike, though that was Savannah’s top choice all weekend. We settled on Holyrood House, the Queens’ residence in Scotland. Mary Queen of Scot’s lived here. We didn’t have access to the whole house, but we saw some of the reception rooms. There is a long corridor with portraits of all the King’s of Scotland. What is really cool about this place is that adjacent to the Castle is an Abbey that is completely ruined. It is just the shell of an abbey, without the roof. The walls were left standing. It’s a really cool ruin. It would make for a really epic movie. It even inspired Mendelssohn.

Scotland is known for wool and cashmere. All of the shops sell scarves and things. And then they also sell kilts and bagpipes, but I wonder do people really buy them? Do non-Scottish people buy kilts and wear them? In what context? And do Scottish people really buy their kilts at places like these? I doubt it. I can’t imagine people actually buying this stuff. Will wanted us to bring him back a bottle of Scotch. We found the Guinness World Record holder for the smallest bottle of Scotch in the world. And that’s what we bought him. It was smaller than my pinky finger!

We took one last Uber to the airport. And our cabbie was some loon who invests in garbage currencies like Zimbabwe, Iraq, Vietnam, Iran… He was legitimately crazy. He told us how he tells his passengers that they have to get in on this trade, how he’s going to make big money when they revalue these currencies in the next couple months. Obviously that didn’t happen. He is a trump supporter, a Brexiteer and he thinks peace in the Middle East will be solved in the next 3 weeks. He’s nuts. He actually said Trump would pass tax reform in the next month. He says Trump is a good businessman that will make things happen. We apparently have a new currency, the USN, which is backed by gold. There is a $200 piece that he’s seen. The man doesn’t read mainstream news, just the alternative stuff he admitted proudly. I should never have said anything. Savannah fortunately kept him occupied. She likes to argue. But I just hate how Uber drivers try to talk to you. Taxi drivers don’t do that. There’s this false assumption that friendly drivers are preferred, but I like to just be left alone, thank you very much.

On the plane, I sat next to this man and his son. The whole time, the man was looking over my shoulder at my readings on my tablet. I put in my headphones and tried to ignore him as best as I could. But this man was so loud, I could hear everything he was saying. He was super judgy and nosy. He complained about babies and luggage the whole time, in English and Italian. He would just walk around the plane and complain. After I finished he naturally talked to me. He is an organ player and his son sings in a choir. They are going to perform in Bolzano and Rome. Coincidentally, he went to Peabody, studied under the same teacher as Marin Alsop and studied under Leonard Bernstein. He used to apparently play organ for Pope John Paul II for five years. Yeah, he was just showing off, but maybe he actually did some of this stuff. And then he talked about my reading. He said this crazy stuff like knowledge doesn’t exist. And he insulted my readings as common sense. There is something about planes and Ubers where people try to talk to you, but it’s always the crazy ones.

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