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Europe, General travel, History

Unraveling the Mysteries of Edinburgh

July 17, 2018 • By

Walking along the Royal Mile’s cobblestone streets, I pause to hear the whispers of another time but I shake my arms and stave off the voices. I don’t have time to listen. I am rushing to hike Arthur’s Seat before the rain arrives and in Edinburgh, rain is imminent.

Fantasy Aisle, Arthur's Seat, Climb for spectacular view of Edinburgh, Scotland

Arthur’s Seat, Climb for spectacular view of Edinburgh, Scotland

In summer, daylight blankets the city for more than 17 hours a day. The sun has been stretching for nearly four hours and provides me with needed inspiration for my climb. My hike to Arthur’s Seat, the looming hill that begins at the base of the Old Town, provides 360-degree views of the city. It’s worth the racing heartbeat and howling wind to get a better layout of this great Medieval City.

Fantasy Aisle, Edinburgh Castle, a Medieval fortress overlooking the city served as a Royal Palace and a Military Complex

Edinburgh Castle, a Medieval fortress overlooking the city served as a Royal Palace and a Military Complex

From atop Arthur’s Seat, I imagine the battles that took place in the fields surrounding Edinburgh Castle when clans armed with military might and passion for power fought for control of Castle Rock, the ultimate trophy. I peer out on the Firth of Forth and envision the great ships that docked in its waters and the hope and hopelessness of the people on shore. The wind whips around my body attempting to imprison me but I snap back into the present. Clouds hover, the vibrant color of the city changes to gray and subdued and I retreat down the hill.

Fantasy Aisle, The Queens residence in Scotland, Palace of Holyroodhouse

The Queens residence in Scotland, Palace of Holyroodhouse

Edinburgh symbolizes Scotland’s strength and resilience. The city encapsulates a rich history of war and peace, prosperity and poverty, religion and royalty. Wandering through the city’s streets, I am transported back in time. I wait for the extinct volcano on which the Old Town resides to quiver, to send shock waves. I conjure images of Robert Louis Stevenson’s, The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and understand how one person could be consumed by two personalities in Edinburgh. Locals attribute the tale to Deacon Brodie, an infamous politician who served as a respected businessman during the day and robbed people by night. Others claim the novel is based on the division of rich and poor ever apparent in the differences between the Old Town and the New Town. In the late 1700s, as buildings deteriorated and disease ran rampant, wealthy families created a new living and business quarter or “New Town” off the Castle Rock and steps away from the Old Town. Today, tourist shops, cafes and pubs line the Royal Mile from Edinburgh Castle to the Palace of Holyroodhouse, the Queen’s residence in Scotland, but there are still signs of a torrid past as the voices I heard earlier return and I understand there is no escaping the magic of this city.

People from all over the world are attracted to Edinburgh for its cultural significance. Students flock to the city for higher education and remain after their studies. My guide Chelsea, originally from Calgary, Canada, arrived in Edinburgh eight years ago to obtain a Masters of Arts at the University of Edinburgh.  She says the city’s allure is often a romanticized version of its past where disease and despair receive more attention than the perseverance and pride of its people.

Fantasy Aisle, George Heriot's School or Hogwort's. Believed to be the inspiration for J.K. Rowling's Hogworts

George Heriot’s School or Hogwart’s. Believed to be the inspiration for J.K. Rowling’s Hogwarts

Known as the City of Literature, Edinburgh’s stories transcend time. The words of Edinburgh’s greatest writers awaken in the narrow passageways connecting the New Town to the Old Town and the past to the present. I often feel like I am navigating an Inspector Rebus novel or that I’m Hermione Granger, a character in J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series, and the evil Voldemort will cast a spell on me any minute. There is an aura of mystery in Edinburgh where history, education, music, and storytelling are intertwined and revered and the talk of literature is as much a part of the conversation as the weather.

Fantasy Aisle, Highland Bagpiper in traditional attire

Traditional Clan Attire and a Highland Bag Pipe

There are many more chapters to read and pages to write about this great capital city of Scotland but I am late for tea with the Queen* and I must not keep her waiting.  I’ve heard there will be piping bands and I love a man in a kilt.

*My invite must have been lost in the mail



Europe, General travel, North America

Happy St. Paddy’s Day

March 14, 2018 • By

It’s my favorite time of year, St. Patrick’s Day. Clocks spring forward and daylight devours night, colorful buds sprout on deserted branches and storefront windows display rainbows, four-leaf clovers, and cauldrons full of gold signifying the start of the festivities. Everyone is Irish on St. Patrick’s Day, especially in the United States.

Fantasy Aisle, Irish flag

The Republic of Ireland Flag

Who is St. Patrick to the Irish?

He is the Patron Saint of Ireland, credited with bringing Christianity to the Emerald Isle in the latter half of the 5th Century. It is believed he died on March 17 and the Catholic Church, Lutheran Church, Anglican Church and Eastern Orthodox faiths observe this date to celebrate his life and missionary work.

My Irish friends don’t understand the fuss Americans make regarding their holiday being widely celebrated in the United States with elaborate parades, month-long festivals and shamrock colored shakes at McDonald’s. For the Irish, it’s a bank holiday and businesses, schools and even pubs are closed (outside of major cities). Many Catholics attend Mass, people dress up in green, pin a corsage to their lapel and little girls fasten flowing ribbons in their hair. The Catholic Church grants a dispensation on St. Patrick’s Day giving people the day off from Lenten observances and the children take full opportunity to consume sweets and adults relish in a pint of beer or glass of whiskey all in the name of St. Paddy.

A family friend, Jean O’Callaghan of Lahinch, Ireland, told me, “I’m a bit of a cynic or something, but for a long time now, I am not sure he (St. Patrick) existed. A bit like Santa Claus but was a super marketing coup.”

When Jean was younger, there were small parades in Ireland comprised of boy scouts, the army and local brass bands or football (rugby) clubs. Nothing like today’s sizable parades in Chicago and New York and definitely no corned beef!

Fantasy Aisle, Irish Ensemble

My Irish outfit on St. Patrick’s Day during March Madness

In the United States, we adorn green top hats, drink green beer and Guinness, march in parades but mostly we crowd pubs and restaurants to listen to Irish music and toast our Irish comrades across the Atlantic Ocean. We drink Baileys Irish Cream, dance the Irish jig and embrace our often non-existent Irish roots with buttons declaring, Kiss me I am Irish or Irish for the Day and my favorite I Bleed Green.  The American ensemble typically consists of floppy hats, green shamrock sweaters and beads. We love beads. I admit to wearing a Leprechaun inspired hat and Kelly green fitted jacket every holiday.

Fantasy Aisle, Father Daughter in Ireland

Family trip to Ireland in 1999

In 2016, my father became an Irish Citizen after a year’s wait. It took both of us working side by side examining difficult to read ship manifests and his family’s genealogy reports from County Mayo to piece together his family’s 150-year-old history before he could apply for citizenship.  The Irish Government grants citizenship to foreign-born children and grandchildren of Irish-born citizens. When I asked my dad why he wanted to be Irish, he said, “It was important to honor his ancestors who strived to give him a better life.” My dad is a proud Irishman, the only true Irishman in our family (my mother maintains German roots). His paternal grandfather hailed from County Mayo and his maternal great grandparents from County Meath. I treasured the time I spent with my dad working on his citizenship papers and while my DNA report states that I am only 68 percent Irish/Great Britain, on St. Patrick’s Day I am 100 percent Irish.