June 15, 2013

Today we rode the double decker, hop-on, hop-off bus around Edinburgh and developed a pretty good sense of the city’s layout. We like to do this when we travel as it gives us a chance to get the big picture and then decide where we want to devote our time. Later we went to the Palace of Holyroodhouse, where Elizabeth II spends summers and where Mary, Queen of Scots watched her second husband Lord Darnley murder her male secretary David Rizzio. Darnley was allegedly jealous of Rizzio’s influence (uh, huh) so he and his companions stabbed Rizzio 50+ times. About a year later Darnley’s home in Edinburgh mysteriously exploded and he was found strangled in the courtyard. The suspect? Mary’s soon-to-be third husband whose name I’ve forgotten.

It’s one thing to know about the Scottish queen’s tragic life (widowed at 17, separated from her infant son, imprisoned by the English queen for 17 years, executed for treason); it’s quite another to stand in the very room where she lived (unhappily apparently). I think she was beheaded in the Tower of London, which we will visit in about a week. I could be wrong; it was somewhere in England because Mary fled there to seek the protection of her cousin Elizabeth I. That didn’t work out.

Before heading out to sightsee and brave the forecasted rain, we had the full Scottish breakfast at the hotel. This is similar to the full English and the full Irish breakfast with the notable addition of haggis. More on that later. First I need to explain how Mike approaches a buffet in a foreign country. I have observed this behavior in Spain and Morocco so I’m speaking as an expert. When we entered the dining room, the hostess explained the set up in rapid fire English. I could tell Mike got about every 6th word. Sidebar: as soon as we leave Northern California, I become Mike’s interpreter. I’ve never been able to decide if he can’t hear or if he doesn’t listen…

Anyway, we ventured into the restaurant and were brought coffee and slices of hot toast in a cute little rack. Then Mike headed to the hot buffet while I selected marmalade and lemon curd for the toast from the cold table. He soon returned with a plate of fried eggs,sausage and something he thought was hash. It wasn’t. It was haggis. Considered the national food of Scotland thanks to Robert Burns’ poem “Address to a Haggis,” this delicacy is a “savory pudding” containing a “sheepskin pluck” which is heart, liver and lungs mixed with onion, oatmeal, suet, spices, and salt. The onion and spices don’t help. Traditionally it is encased in the animal’s stomach and simmered for three hours. I don’t even want to know how that’s possible.

Now I have always known about haggis the same way you know about poi, blood pudding, and escargot and other things you never want to eat. Mike didn’t know about haggis and since he indiscriminately chooses food from all buffets, this kind of thing happens to him (there was a blood pudding incident in Ireland. 18 years ago. How quickly we forget.) When I came back from my trip to the hot buffet (with eggs, potatoes, grilled tomatoes) Mike was staring straight ahead, not moving and not eating. Yes, he had eaten a bite of the haggis. Just so you don’t think I’m exaggerating: Mike also drank mint tea (even though we had been warned repeatedly about the water) at a carpet market in Marrakech. I will draw the veil of good taste over the results of imbibing the tea. Let’s just say that adding mint doesn’t make the water potable.

I don’t know what we will have for dinner tonight–it will be hard to top breakfast.