Travels with Christopher’s Aunt – Embra

Excitement is building in the Mackie household as we await the impending State Visit by Christopher. Nine days and counting. We have been exchanging e-mails as I try to ensure that Mrs M and I (and the dog Dougal) offer him a fully immersive and totally unforgettable Jockland experience.

It would seem that his Aunt is a regular visitor to Caledonia. From her correspondence with him, it is clear that she knows my country very well indeed and that I’m going to have to pull out every stop to satisfy him and to make sure that he reports back  favourably to her.

Here’s what she has suggested Embra-wise. I really can’t find very much fault with anything she has written, although, being a Scot, I have tried very hard:-

‘NOW FOR EDINBURGH: Nothing specific comes to mind, as the entire town has so many historical attractions within walking distance – which is what I love about the town. Pay particular interest to the architecture as you move from the Mediaeval (Royal Mile) part of town and head North to the New Town. It’s beautiful. Brush up on the history of some of these spots, particularly the macabre parts of the history. The knowledge of such things gives Edinburgh an utterly amazing feel!

Interesting spots I enjoyed:

Dundas House, Royal Bank of Scotland (prettiest bank branch I’ve ever seen)
Calton Hill (stunning views!) and the Old Calton Burial Ground
St. Giles Cathedral
The Walter Scott Monument (you are allowed to climb to the top)
Greyfriars Kirk & Kirkyard
Whisky tastings (if you like whisky, otherwise – skip)
A Whisky Distillery of your choice
Holyrood Abbey
Princes Street Gardens
Mary King’s Close
Royal Yacht Britannia (allegedly the best tea in the UK is served here – don’t know as I didn’t have that opportunity)
Holyrood Palace is a possible “skip” if you are tight on time.
The Royal Mile is mainly touristy junk shops now (all owned by the same Asian guy), but Edinburgh Castle is interesting.’

Over the next week, I intend to offer more information on some or all of these Embran gems to help Christopher prioritise his time with us.

I would, of course, be happy to hear from Charioteers with other suggestions.

Deep-fried Mars Bars and tram trips are not acceptable offerings!

28 thoughts on “Travels with Christopher’s Aunt – Embra”

  1. Sheona (my wife, a Scot) and I (Londoner) went up to Edinburgh a few years ago to see both sons compete in the marathon. Prior to that I’d had only occasional glimpses of the city (e.g. attending a scientific conference). Two things stick in the memory. First: the Royal Mile. It’s dismissed as over-commercialized above, which may be true, but there’s a wonderful bonhomie among tourists who plonk down at the pavement cafes. Maybe it’s the length and narrowness of the single confining street and sheer variety of the architecture on display, but it seemed to bring out the best in people. The other thing that came as a total surprise was the geology – not something one expects to make an impression in a major city, indeed capital. There’s no escaping the fact that Edinburgh sits at the centre of what once was an active volcanic region. The impressive outcrops of bare rock in and around the centre speak of mighty forces having once been at work in the Earth’s crust, tearing it apart, leaving behind a giant rockery that has since been pleasantly infilled with parks, gardens, rows of ancient tenements, monuments… There’s something very buzzy and elemental about the place, the result of successfully reclaiming a topsy turvy volcanic wasteland – turning it into something, well, different from your standard UK town or city clone. Enjoy Christopher.

  2. JM, I trust you will school your visitor in the proper enunciation of ‘the Leith police dismisseth us’ as you visit the eponymous place?

  3. Have only seen one of those three – Helsinki – en route to a drug biotransformation conference in Turku, 1978. Did not notice anything volcanic about the capital, except maybe the gargantuan stone pillar with the bust of Sibelius in the main park, so it’s presumably the different-from-your-ordinary-run-of-mill quality you refer to Janus. Yes, I found most of Finland much the same wherever you went (and I managed to fit in several of the major cities) but Helsinki was exceptional for its clean, bright quality, especially the harbour area and modern architecture. We were housed in the athlete’s accommodation for the 50s era Olympic games. No need for electric lights at night (land of the midnight sun). Shame about its puritanism re the demon drink and even lack of watering holes in the capital (my colleague and I searched all over, finally finding one rowdy open air bar whose clientele if typical perhaps explained the official disapproval and sky high taxation of alcohol).

    I was fortunate to have a generous paymaster in those days (Wellcome Trust) who didn’t turn a hair when I asked for a go-as-you please internal airline ticket – valid for a whole week. Unfortunately I did not reckon on half of Finland wanting to fly their national airline in the same week (brief summer!) so found many flights fully booked. But I managed a day return trip 200 miles north of the Arctic Circle (to Ivalo, stopping en route for an hour or two at Rovaniemi). Sadly there was no time to make any of the planned bus trips from Ivalo across rugged territory to see Norway’s Lapland coastline and Murmansk was a no-no in those days. Maybe it still is for all I know what with all of Putin’s latest missile launch sites – but at least I got to buy a picture postcard of a reindeer which is still in a drawer somewhere AND got see lots and lots and lots of next year’s Christmas trees in a plantation that seemed to go on and on and on (until finally it was time for the pedestrian to turn around and walk back to the airport departure terminal). Twas as they say a “flying visit”.

  4. Akshully there are rocky outcrops all over! But I agree, bright clean air and unlike more southerly cities. Let’s not mention mosquitoes though. Oslo and Stockholm are well worth seeing too. Don’t tell Mrs J but they beat Copenhagen into cocked hat! 😳

  5. PS: Forget what I said about the Sibelius monument, which does not show the great man himself, but a mass of what look like steel organ pipes. What caused the confusion in my mind I now realize is that the surrounding park has lots of what look like bare granite outcrops*. Can’t say as I’ve noticed any of those in Hyde Park or Kensington Gardens of late, but lots of raw concrete was used for that peculiar Diana drainage channel memorial (does that count?).

    PPS They would be your “rocky outcrops” too, which I’ve just spotted as a result of this comment failing to post first try (and second, let’s try again).

  6. Good morning Janus

    I tend to avoid going to Leith as a rule, given that it is the home of the Hibees. I will probably have to break that rule as I am fairly certain that Christopher will want to visit ‘Britannia’, which is moored in Leith Harbour.

    If I am taking him, I will undoubtedly take him down Leith Walk to show him the ‘Boundary Bar’ which operated under two licensing authorities when Leith and Embra were separate. It’s now called ‘City Limits’ and its tale is told here:-

    As you can read, it was the place where the Leith Police dismissed people back into the custody of the Embra Polis over a pint or two. That’s possibly how the saying came about if those in custody were given the chance of a wee dram as well.

    Not that it’s the Leith Police any more. All of the local forces have been united by the Scottish Government as Police Scotland. Their forte now seems to be to stop and search far too many people, particularly children, and to carry weapons as often as they can, even in completely inappropriate situations.

  7. Colin: my aunt, fearing that she might be barred from entering Jockland for her comment on the Royal Mile, asked me to clarify a point. She enjoys the architecture and the distinctiveness of the street, but simply can’t abide the tat shops in places. In this sense, it’s really little different from Piccadilly.

    Janus: by all accounts it is a stunning city naturally. The pictures, at least, remind me slightly of Honolulu in terms of geology. Stunningly green with pockets of development wherever it is permitted. And Janus, I am able to pronounce “the Leith police dismisseth us” perfectly well! Clearly it is “ze Leiz police dissmissez us”.

    John: I regret that, yes, you have need to go to Leith. However, I am willing to provide a bar of soap to ward off the unwashed masses. Hopefully the China visa drama will largely be sorted, although I remain wary of it.

  8. Hello again Christopher.

    Each to his or her taste. For my part, I’ve seen astronomically greater levels of tat, especially in French tourist traps (Rocamadour etc). Thanks to Google Street View, folk here can judge for themselves. Here’s a link that plonks you down in the more touristy stretch, from which one can navigate east or west.,-3.188938,3a,75y,196.25h,90.89t/data=!3m8!1e1!3m6!1sS-SOaJKMxbgAAAQIt9T0fw!2e0!3e11!!7i4540!8i2270

  9. See my comment hereon at 9.48 am on 17 June 2015? Forget it.

    In my eagerness to ensure that Christopher’s forthcoming immersion in all things Embran was seamless and satisfying, I took a drive down Leith Walk to check out ‘City Limits’, formerly known as the ‘Boundary Bar’.

    It’s also now formerly known as ‘City Limits’, having apparently, and very recently, re-invented itself as ‘Bound*ary’. Its Facebook page has such gems as:-

    ‘Due to essential works being carried out today to make your experience better, we will be closed for the entirety of today.’

    I have this feeling that Christopher and I should not bother popping in there on our way to ‘Britannia’.

  10. Hi jazz

    I think that it may have been a wee while since you were last in Nobles. The gentrification of Leith has meant that it is now ‘Nobles Cafe Bar & Venue’ and is run by Arts graduates.

    So, I’m guessing that the lunchtime gogo dancers and excellent mutton pies and the occasional drink-induced violence for which Nobles was once famous throughout Embra are probably no longer available.

  11. JM, I’m relieved to hear that the educated classes are occupying the less salubrious towns of N Britain – having made their mark in the more select parts of Wngland for years.

    Mrs J and I were wed by an Embra solicitor in Ashbourne, Derbyshire 25 years since. And my wife, being of rebellious Viking stock enquired of him if she might retain her maiden name. He replied in his inimitable brogue that she could call herself whatever she wished but in the eyes of Her Majesty she was now Mrs J.

    She has respected the Scots ever since.

  12. Well I never found a watering hole in Aberdeen where they didn’t fight! That included the hotel bars. Plus the delightful sight of beating up women on the streets.
    Most uncouth place I ever lived, made race riots in Memphis look quite civilised.
    These days I stop at Hadrian’s Wall.

  13. CO: one of my mother’s mates is a dedicated Anglophobe. He refuses to go to England because he said that in his experience the English are a bunch of drunken yobs. He is, however, eager to go on holiday in Ireland and Scotland.

  14. I guess it all depends on where you drink!!!
    By comparison all the British drink far more than the Americans who have always had a very unhealthy attitude to booze. Only country stupid enough to try prohibition weren’t they? Look where that got the place, the Kennedys!!!!!

  15. CO: he’s never actually been to the British Isles. He judges the English on Gap Year Yobos in Crete and Tesco Package Holiday mobs in the Costas. Americans are too puritanical at times and almost always in the wrong ways.

  16. Trouble is j, they are so often right! OK, some marked exceptions but not too often.
    Krauts, swimming pools and towels come to mind! They really, really do!

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