Monday, September 6, 2010

Scottish Bliss

The short hiatus in this usually regular blog was occasioned by a little excursion I took to Edinburgh. The principal reason for the trip was to see and the new Brett Dean opera ‘Bliss’ which Opera Australia brought all the way from Sydney to round off the Edinburgh Festival. Kyle and I journeyed north on the train – a pleasant five hour journey from Kings Cross in London to Edinburgh. We passed through, amongst other places, York, Durham, and a place called Berwick-on-Tweed, where I saw a poster advertising a music CD:


The Best of the Colliery Bands – The music lives on though the mines have gone.’


 There’s a back story there, probably involving Margret Thatcher.


We arrived in Edinburgh with only a minor delay, and found our way to our hotel with only another minor delay. We stayed in the very heart of the Old Town, just off The Royal Mile, which was very convenient for everything but involved wall-to-wall tourists and tourist shops, and an inexhaustible supply of bagpipe buskers.

Not the Hotel Missoni

 Our hotel, the Missoni, is a strikingly modern building in the middle of lots of hundreds-of-years-old edifices, sparking a discussion between Kyle and me about whether this was a good thing. A few doors down there is a Radisson which is built to resemble the medieval buildings around it, illustrating the other end of the spectrum - tacky. In my view, the Missoni architect made the right call – the place is unashamedly modern and the contrast works. Inside it is all orange and purple walls, Perspex furniture, and bathrooms to die for. I liked it.

Overdressed theatre-goer ready for 'Bliss'
Then off to the theatre, pausing briefly for an early dinner. There was haggis on the menu, but needless to say that was where it remained. And the opera? I love the music and enjoyed it very much. I do think that the cast wasn’t firing quite as well as when I had heard them in Sydney and Melbourne. The orchestra was borrowed from the BBC, and was excellent, if loud. Well, it is a loud, sweeping orchestral score.  Our seats looked good on paper (middle, a few rows from the front), but in the old Edinburgh Festival Theatre we were sitting below stage level, looking up. Not the best for hearing the sound well; and indeed many of the lines (especially the spoken ones) were lost. I had investigated the possibility of finding the cast afterwards and muscling in on their apr├Ęs-performance drinks; but it all looked a bit hard on the night. Besides, I was way overdressed. I thought I was going to the opera, but I was going to a Festival show. Different dress code, folks.

The next morning I was in better condition that Kyle, since at our after-opera drinks I had restricted myself to one single malt Scotch, and then wisely switched to Moet. Kyle had become enamoured of something called ‘Peat Monster’, which hailed from Islay and smelt like a smoky peat fire. Once he perked up, we toured Edinburgh Castle. I was last in Edinburgh – in fact, the only other time I’ve been there – in 1993. The Castle still clings imperiously to its Rock, and the little cupboard where James the IV was born is still the same. I did discover the oldest building in Edinburgh (St Margaret’s Chapel, early 1100s), and shuffled past the Scottish Crown jewels, known as ‘The Honours’.

Happy Scotch tasters find the motherlode
We then decided that we should not leave Edinburgh – on the one o’clock train – without learning more about whiskey, so visited a tourist place established for the very purpose of informing us about this fine beverage. And also possibly for the purpose of selling lots of it. The place involved a number of tourist-type presentations but we thought it was very worthwhile and informative. I now know what is so special about single malts, where they all come from in Scotland, and why the peaty ones come from Islay (pop: 3,500, distilleries: 14). Rounding off with a hurried tasting, we then decamped back to the railway and on south to London.

However, before leaving it was necessary for me to complete the project of spending the wad of Scottish money I had thoughtlessly extracted from an ATM on arrival. I commented on the Scottish pounds at the hotel check-in, and was informed that often they are not accepted south of the border. With skill born from much practice, I managed to spend the lot in 24 hours. Actually, I exaggerate: I paid for everything and recouped from Kyle in English cash; I paid for small items with large notes and received back English change, etc etc. It was an exercise in foreign currency exchange which I hadn’t expected to encounter.

Back in sunny Earlsfield, we finished off the weekend with a pub dinner in the garden of The Jolly Gardener: being Sunday, there was roast. Tomorrow begins a regime of less indulgent food, less wine, less cheese, more exercise.....definitely. Watch this space.

1 comment:

  1. We love York, Durham, and especially Berwick-on-Tweed. Also fans of the Grimethorpe Colliery Band. I still can't believe Chris didn't get to Edinburgh, with three years in Durham!