Friday, August 27, 2010

July 12: Edinburgh, part 2

We started the day with The Real Mary King's Close tour of the underground.  Mary King was a prominent businesswoman back in her time, which was highly rare, so much so that they named one of Edinburgh's closes after her along the Royal Mile.  The closes were the narrow streets that lead to apartments of Edinburgh's original city, something over which the current city has been built.   It was an interesting historical tour lead by a colorful character.  Because it was tight quarters down there, our guide made sure to pull the "wee'ns" to the front and direct the "big'ns" to the back when we were all meant to peer in at something through a doorway, window, or hole in the wall.  An entire underground world has been uncovered and to walk through the rooms that once housed families struggling against the Plague was eerie.  The room that felt the strangest was that where a young girl was said to have been left to die many years ago.  As her ghost has been allegedly sighted often looking for a favorite toy, there is a great pile of dolls, teddy bears, and other toys that people have brought her to put her at ease.  This tiny room with its mound of children's toys was by far the coldest we entered, despite its being on the same level as several other rooms.

After walking the underground rooms of the city, we took our turn walking through some devoted to some of Scotland's greatest authors at the Writer's Museum.  I don't generally last long in museums, but I wandered from one case holding these writers' journal entries, first editions and tools to the next, reading every plaque of information with interest.  I liked reading about the lives of Walter Scott, Robert Burns, and Robert Louis Stevenson, and seeing a writing desk once belonging to Burns gave me chill bumps.

Makar's Court is a courtyard outside the museum, and is paved with more and more flagstones bearing quotes from various Scottish writers.  It's an ever-growing literary monument just under your feet.  I photographed each one, even the ones I couldn't understand.  These are two of my favorites.
After the Writer's Museum but before venturing into The National Scottish Museum we came upon Greyfriar's Bobby, the statue of a dog who was so devoted to his person, he waited for him on his grave for years after his death, until eventually Bobby's time here ended, as well.  It's a famous story and people stop to take pictures with the statue often.  Just past the statue is the graveyard where Bobby the dog waited, and where he, too, is buried.  His grave is just inside the entrance gate, covered over with a great pile of sticks people place in remembrance.  I left one, too.

Moving on, we found a rather enticing looking menu down a side street from Chamber Street.  Mum's Real Comfort Food called to us from its unassuming position, humble and well-kept.  It was Mum's sausage and mash offer that held our appetites hostage, and brought us back from visiting the next place, Monster Mash, for a look at the menu a couple doors down.  Mum's menu offered a traditional spread of Scottish comfort food with a rather gourmet flair.  If you chose the sausage and mash, and we did, you got to choose which fancy sausages you'd like from the daily board on the wall, then which mashed potatoes caught your attention and which savory gravy from the menu.  We each tried one lamb, honey, and mustard sausage and one chicken and garlic, and Chris had Mum's house herbed pork sausage, too.  Then we both went for the red onion mash and sun-dried tomato and basil gravy.  The guy who owns and runs Mum's sat with us and chatted while he took our orders, explaining about the local beers he carried to help Chris decide.  I was happy with a Magners, as always.

It should be said that before we moved to Italy in 2004, I wasn't much of a sausage fan, and I have never been a fan of gravy.  Sauces I can drown in, but that typical brown goop people have to have at all the big holiday meals grosses me out.  But as with all of our travels, that which is typical, local, and/or strange sounding will make it to our plates at some point, and besides, it all SOUNDED really good.  Seriously, this may have been on of the best meals on the entire trip.  The sausages, ground up and made in the kitchen with all kinds of love and tastiness tasted like something off of a fine-dining menu, and the mash only complimented each bite with its subtle kiss of red onion.  But the gravy...oh, the gravy.  It converted me.  It's done and there's no going back for me; I wanted to drink it from my plate - and nearly did!

As we breathed in and drooled over our food we made conversation here and there with the owner when he wasn't busy.  We talked about Edinburgh's Annual Fringe Festival, and how we'd really love to make it back next August for it.  We talked about music and for a half hour after we'd finished eating, he told us his story and the story of this place, which turned out to be only in its third week.  (I'm realizing we never actually got the guy's name, and I feel a little terrible about that.)  So Mum's guy was traveling through Asia to set up a new location for Monster Mash, his former restaurant, leaving someone else in charge back in Scotland to manage things in his absence.  Having felt no need to legally protect the name of his restaurant, his trust was promptly betrayed the minute the contract was up, and said manager trademarked "Monster Mash."  What a welcome home!  So they packed up and took his restaurant name - three doors down the same road!  They were planning on capitalizing off of the reputation Monster Mash and its owner had built, and I'm sure did for a while.  Mum's guy got burned, but in the end decided to fight them in the business sense and let things fall where they may.  So he opened Mum's and they're growing in popularity, and rightly so.  Monster Mash's quality has fallen, and here's hoping their would-be customers are following their noses to Mum's a few doors down, because not only is the quality some of the finest we've experienced, the atmosphere is warm, inviting, and quite friendly.  At Mum's it's all local and homemade quality food with none of the pretension.  I told Mum's guy I'd be blogging about him, that I wanted to help spread along the kind of word-of-mouth that would bring him more and more hungry diners, so here it is!  So if you're ever in Edinburgh, really, you HAVE to eat at Mum's.

Feeling as if we'd made another friend in town, we walked back up the the National Museum for a little while.  But as I've mentioned, neither of us are big on museums usually, and we tired quickly of all the beautiful artifacts and history. At least we tried.

Chris and I took our time walking the streets and enjoyed being in the city.  That's our kind of travel, after all. We made sure to make it by Cornelius, the wine store in town that carried Andrew's wine from Porto, a red called Pinalta, picking up a couple bottles to take home and try.  Then we headed on back to the A-Haven to drop them off at the room. Whenever we saw David, either at breakfast or in passing as we came and went he always asked about our day or plans for it, and seemed genuinely interested.  He was also bursting with helpful information about everything we could possibly think of, which was nice.

When we ventured back out of the A-Haven we were on our way to that night's Literary Pub Crawl, something I kind of dragged Chris into.  It was a fun couple of hours, walking between a handful of pubs once frequented by Edinburgh's finest writers and watching the interplay of our hosts in full character, bickering back and forth about the lives of these writers and keeping us entertained.  We'd been a little concerned that we would be the older ones in the group; as it turned out, we were the youngest.  It was fun, anyway, even if we didn't have much to talk about with Baby Boomers from South Carolina, Iowa, and Georgia.

Having left dinner till after, our options were surprisingly few.  Honestly, who knew even the kitchens in the pubs closed before 10pm?  We figured it would happen, that we'd end up having at least one bad meal on this trip, so we weren't too upset about our day-old dinners.  We found a fish and chips shop, the kind of take-away place that stays open late into the night with such delicacies as fried cod, meat pies, and fried haggis, to name a few, which wouldn't be so bad if they hadn't been sitting under heat lamps since morning time.  So Chris had his fish and chips and I tucked into a rather stale piece of fried haggis with chips (fries), as well.  With rumbling stomachs and now greasy fingers, we sat in a small square near a strip of pubs and ate, too hungry to care how gross it really was.  As we talked over a meal at quite the opposite end of the spectrum from lunch, a man approached Chris and asked if he intended to finish his food.  Chris had momentarily set it down, but told the man he was, in fact, going to eat it, but asked if he'd like some fries.  The man, clearly homeless and a little drunk, said yes, thanks, and asked Chris to put some on the napkin.  I found this rather considerate, as it would make it so the man wouldn't have to stick his dirty fingers into Chris' food.  Chris did so, the man said thanks again and sorry to bother us, and wandered off across the square.  He hadn't asked for money, and he hadn't harrassed us.  He was just hungry, so it didn't take long to decide to buy him his own take-out from the shop our food had come from.  I was disappointed when I couldn't see him, but after a little while when we were done and ready to leave he walked in our direction again, wandering.  I stopped him and asked if we could buy him some dinner, and he accepted, choosing a meat pie and chips from the counter.  His name was Randle, and we stood and talked to him for a good while.  He told us about where he'd been, what he'd been through, where he often slept and how excited he was to be getting the keys to his own place in a matter of a couple of days.  It seemed a church he often went to for help with food and work and a place to sleep had set him up with a program that provided him a place of his own, given he attended therapy and rehab regularly, and got a steady job. He was doing it this time, he told us, and he was going to clean his life up and reconnect with his children, currently living in England.  He carried a cell phone so they could always get in touch with him, wherever he was, though it had been recently stolen while he slept in a nearby graveyard.  He started to cry when he spoke of them, unsure of how he would get their numbers with his chip missing with the phone.  He had no other way to contact them, and it broke my heart.  Randle seemed sincere and sad, and I was happy to have contributed in a small way with some dinner and a compassionate ear - or four.  As we talked he caught sight of an overstuffed, green lounge chair discarded by a dumpster, and made his way there to eat and eventually, sleep.  We wished him well, encouraged him to stick with it for his kids, and then we actually hugged him goodbye.  Are we weird?  Maybe, but drunk or not, this man had shared some of himself with us and we wanted him to know someone cared, even if we never saw him again.

Back at the hotel we checked email and finally heard back from Bernie (see Sonisphere Prague post).  Everything was set for our get-together the following day, so we headed to bed soon after so we could get up early to head over to Glasgow for the day.

1 comment:

  1. As usual... great stuff. I love your desriptions of food, and I'm always hungry when I'm done reading. You two are wonderful to buy randl dinner!