Edinburgh: First few days

General update

We’ve been in Edinburgh for a few days now — since Thursday afternoon — and I feel that all we’ve done is walk between the flat and the grocery store. Not that I’m complaining. It’s an extremely lovely flat, and a very enticing and well-stocked grocery store, and after so much running around Glasgow it’s actually quite nice to just rest and cook and read.

Lisa upon arrival in Edinburgh

An hour or so after arrival in our Edinburgh flat

It’s probably for the best that we’re in a cozy quiet mood, too, because Edinburgh has been wet these few days. We haven’t noticed it much here, but on the other side of town, people have had to evacuate their houses, and about a mile away, a big outdoor food event (to which we almost bought tickets) was cancelled due to the flooding. Geography and climate are funny things. Before I read the news I would have said that it was just a light rain; but while we were out walking to lunch, roads in other areas were turning into rivers. And yet I also read that Scotland’s Western Isles are experiencing the worst drought on record!

Lisa sitting by a misty window

I took this photo the morning of the heavy rains; you can see that here, it just appeared misty.

The other thing about this homebody mood is I’m wondering if it was inevitable. One of my goals in going on this world trip was to try to see every day with “travel eyes”: that wide-awake, curious, enthusiastic viewpoint that makes everything seem fresh and fabulous and fascinating. My travel eyes are certainly getting a workout these days; I’m thrilled by the smallest thing, even to the selection at the grocery store (which is partly why we’ve been there three times since we got here!). But, I’m beginning to think, maybe it’s possible to reach saturation point. Even though I’m still hungry to explore, I’ve been curiously resistant about venturing too far from our flat; my instinct tells me I should just take a break from the newness of the environment. I’ve felt this a little in each new city; in the first few days I always control how much I take in at once; but I think this is the first time I’ve voluntarily spent so much time indoors since we started traveling. Maybe it’s because I tried so hard to see so many sights before we left Glasgow, or maybe it’s that it’s been two and a half months now and I just can’t keep up the pace of exploration anymore.

Anyway, it’s okay. I’m getting plenty of good food, sleep, and light, we’ve walked an average of two miles a day, and the other day I even did some yoga. Clearly some calming time is indicated, and since we’re here for a month, I don’t begrudge it.

Some observations

Books

An unexpected pleasure of travel is that I’m reading books I wouldn’t have picked up on my own. In our Glasgow flat I found Isadora Duncan’s autobiography, My Life, which is just incredible, energizing, inspiring. In the Edinburgh flat, the bookshelves are more bare, but I enjoyed Edna O’Brien’s Girl with Green Eyes (not a particularly original story but some lovely prose). Yesterday I spent some happy minutes in the many charity shops (what we at home would call thrift stores) lining Morningside Road, then spent the evening with one of my finds, Letters of an Indian Judge to an English Gentlewoman (an interesting book, not only because it may or may not be nonfiction). I have no interest in “travel books” per se, but I notice I am drawn to books about personal journeys and with a strong sense of place, which makes perfect sense!

I also find that I love books, physical books, more than magazines or e-books. At home I had no problem with the latter, but now that I’m away from my own collection, I just really want BOOKS. There’s no need for me to spend a single penny on books when I can get e-books through our home libraries, but sometimes I just want to feel the pages and hold the covers and smell the paper. So the charity shops make me very happy. I got two books for £1.75. Ahh.

British food

Before we came here, and even after we arrived, I had to field remarks about the much-rumored badness of British cuisine. I would like to say that I really don’t think Americans (or Canadians, for that matter) are justified in feeling any sense of superiority in this respect! There is some really terrible, crappy, disgusting stuff masquering as food in the US, and I’m sure it’s the same here, but there’s also really excellent, delicious, fresh, distinctive food both here and at home. It just depends where you eat and shop (and, perhaps, what’s in your wallet).

Slice of marzipan and jam cake

Marzipan and jam cake from a nearby German bakery, http://falko.co.uk/

As well-to-do residents of the San Francisco Bay Area, we’ve been accustomed to some of the best food the US has to offer. At home we subscribed to a bimonthly box of organic produce and eggs that came direct from a farm about fifty miles away (we could also get flour from them if we wished it). In our area we had Chinese, Korean, Japanese, Thai, and Mexican supermarkets; artisanal bakeries, chocolatiers, and salumerias; restaurants and markets galore; and we grew our own sprouts and mushrooms. So yeah, compared to that? Most places can’t boast of so much. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t good food.

Scottish strawberries and vanilla-bean custard

Scottish strawberries and Waitrose supermarket’s own brand of vanilla-bean custard

As far as I can tell, seasonal produce is more limited here in Scotland, as are organics. The range of ethnic cuisines is great in some respects (we’ve had very tasty Indian and Nepalese food) and lacking in others (haven’t seen any phở yet) — which I suspect is the case everywhere (the Bay Area, for instance, is pitiful when it comes to Eastern European cuisines). But the local/humane/sustainable movement seems just as strong here as at home, and there are many artisan vendors represented both in storefronts and at the supermarket. Eggs are really good here (and unrefrigerated at the store) — same for dairy, fish, and red meat — and I’ve been blissfully stunned by the variety and abundance of baked goods, both sweet and savory (savoury, I should say!).

So, I’m ready to argue with anyone who thinks the food here is any worse than it is anywhere else! Oh, or more expensive — our grocery bills are about the same as they would be at home, and in general, so are our restaurant bills. Maybe once we get to some other countries, we’ll deplore the UK and the US for having bad food — true, I don’t remember eating anything mediocre in Hong Kong — but for now, I have no complaints!

Today is Monday of our first full week in Edinburgh. What will it bring?