Life in Glasgow’s Tenement House

We spent six days in Glasgow after our two-week pet sit in Edinburgh (I still miss Jodi the dog).    One of the places we visited there left a big impression on us.  It was the Tenement House.  This was a upper working class tenement home of one Miss Toward and her mother Mrs. Toward.  They lived in this one bedroom flat from the early 20th century until 1965.  Here is her  story from the exhibit.glasgow tenement house ms toward smallglasgow miss toward bio small It was being able to see how a single working woman survived in the 20th century that was so affecting.  She rented her apartment, like most people in the city.  She was very thrifty and saved whatever money she could.  Here is a layout of the apartment she and her mom lived in glasgow Miss Toward's tenement floor plan smallShe and her mom slept in the double bed recess in the kitchen and rented out the bedroom to a boarder to save money.  The kitchen would have been the warmest place in the house to sleep in those cold Scottish winters.  The docent told us that the bathroom was very luxurious in 1911 because it had an indoor toilet and hot and cold running water.  There was a shared wash house in the back of the building in which everyone had a day to use to do their washing.

Here is a photo of a photo of her kitchen ( I was not allowed to use a flash and it was not bright enough for a photo from my camera) glasgow tenement  house kitchen smallThat is a coal heated stove and oven. Above the the oven she had a drying rack that pulled down to hang clothes and up to dry them. Miss Toward did not want to pay for electricity to be put in for her landlord’s benefit, so she made do with gas lights and no refrigerator.  She did break down and converted to electric lights in 1960, but the stove was still working so no replacement was needed.  She left the flat exactly the way it is now when in 1965 she went into the hospital.  Not having a refrigerator was not as hard as it seems.  The door in the  upper right hand of the photo opened into a cold larder.  A shelf room that had holes drilled into the walls that kept everything as cold as outside, which in Scotland is pretty cold.

There was even a bit of elegance in this hard working woman’s life.  It was the parlor. glasgow tenement house table smallThis room was only used for company.  Here is the table as it would have been set for tea.  In this room there is also a stand up piano that both Mrs. and Miss Toward used to play.  No electricity meant no radio and no TV .

Remember she worked long hours being a typist including Saturday  (they eventually got a half day off on Saturday).  There were no grocery stores, you had to purchase food almost every day from separate stores (groceries, produce, meat, etc.) and prepare it from scratch.  It must have been an exhausting life, but she and her mom kept their standards and  their sense of dignity.

She spent ten years in the hospital before she died in 1975.  Her apartment was rent controlled at around 30 pounds a year and she kept paying for it the entire time she was in the hospital ( I supposed hoping someday to get to return home).

After her death the house was left in her will to the church which intended to sell it to raise funds. It was only on inspection of the flat somebody noticed its potential as it had remained completely unchanged from the olden days and decided to preserve it.  That lady purchased it and lived in it for 9 years before selling it intact to the National Trust for Scotland.  They reinstalled gas lights and made it as close as possible to the way that Miss Toward lived there. (##budget travel tip:  If you have an English National Trust card you can get into any of the National Trust of Scotland properties for free).

We both found this testament to a thrifty hard working woman to be uplifting and beautiful.

Creepy old graves & body snatching in Greyfriars’ graveyard

The last blog was about wee Bobby the dog and his loyalty to his master.  This was the lighter side to Edinburgh’s Grey friars’ graveyard. Now we move from a Disney movie to the Body Snatchers movies.  Grey friars cemetery started out life as a Franciscan herb garden for the infirmary that the monks ran from the middle ages.  The monastery was dissolved in 1559 and the garden was turned into a graveyard in 1561.  The oldest graves have a distinctly decrepit look. greyfriars skull 5x5 bw They seemed to like all kinds of variations on skulls and cross bones, possibly to make sure they remembered that death from disease, famine, or religious disagreement was always imminent.  Greyfriers grave 1 small This particular medieval monument would keep me on the straight and narrow .  greyfriars dark angel 5x7.jpgAnd even an angel keeps a skull on her knee in case you thought about sinning.  But the decorations are just the beginning.

There are some really creepy grave monuments like these; Greyfriars bw grave 5x7 small Here is a husband and wife united in death ; holding hands under that famous skull.greyfriars 17th cent grave small

Edinburgh had a progressive and excellent medical college.  The doctors and their students from the 18th century wanted to be able to dissect real bodies in order to learn anatomy.  The problem was that the surgeons were only allowed about 4 criminal bodies a year to dissect. The body demand created a new industry:  ‘Resurrection Men’  who sold the newly dead bodies and could get high prices for one. The rich started using mausoleums, vaults and table tombstones to deter these crafty tradesmen from lifting their beloved dead for an anatomy lesson.  Here is a table tombstone from the Greyfriars’s graveyard. Edinburgh greyfriars grave small Ironically, I believe this was the grave of a surgeon.  He knew how to keep those pesky body snatchers away.

In the 1820s in Edinburgh there were two men (Burke and Hare) who decided to cut out the undertakers and started to murder people by smothering them while compressing the victim’s chest.  In one year they sold 20 bodies to Edinburgh’s doctors before they were caught. But all good things eventually comes to an end.  The government in the United Kingdom passed the Anatomy Act of 1832.  Now bodies of unclaimed paupers were  confiscated by the government and disbursed to licensed  doctors only. The grave robbing trade was dead.

I liked this gravestone; short and to the point; Edinburgh greyfriars grave stone small I think this would be the perfect place for a Halloween party or a seance .

Now we see both sides of this historic graveyard; the sweetness of loyal Bobby the dog and the sadness of death and grave robbers.

Wee dog Bobby in Greyfriars graveyard

This ancient graveyard is supposed to be the most haunted place in Edinburgh.  If you come to visit it on a cold and rainy day, it gives off an atmosphere of  death and decay.  I got to visit it this summer on a sunny day and the very next day it was a cold and rainy day.  That is what weather is like in Edinburgh.    This graveyard is strange because of the dichotomy of its attractions.  The first side to this story is a sweet famous legend about a wee Skye terrier  named Bobby who is said to have sat on his master’s grave for 14 years until his own death.   (You must read the amusing debunk of this myth in Ian Smith’s blog.)  Here are the gravestones of all involved in this story; wee Bobby’s grave at the entrance of the church;  edinburgh greyfriars Bobby grave smallJohn Gray  the policeman who owned dear Bobby and the grave where he sat for 14 years until he died, edinburgh John Gray grave smalland James Brown, the graveyard sexton who kept the story alive and well to attract visitors and collect tips.greyfriars James brown sexton smallIf you look at the dates on these stones you will notice that perhaps the second wee Bobby outlived the sexton by 4 years. I image the next sexton picked up the gig.  Anyway, this  story has been so successful that Disney made a movie about it, and there is an entire pub dedicated to Bobby in front of the cemetery .edinburgh greyfriars Bobby smallWant to lift a pint to Bobby’s memory?  Amazing Bobby is still earning money for all involved.  I would say that is a loyal and excellent doggie.

The second part of the story of Greyfriars’ grave yard is definitely much more dark.  It is the story of imprisonment, beheadings, body snatching and ghosts.  That part I will take up in my next blog entry.  Come back for more if you dare….to be continued.


Stirling Castle & Mary, Queen of Scots

We took the train to Stirling to see Stirling Castle.  The train station was small and nicely designed. The train was very economical; it was only $16 for both of to go and return. The trip took about 50 minutes.Stirling Castel train small We walked up the hill (which we regretted as it was straight up) to the church of the Holy Rude  (means  Holy Cross).  We decided to look inside and catch our breath. church of the holy rood small  As with most old ( it dates from the  15th century) churches in Scotland, this one was a Roman Catholic church until the reformation.  Now it is part of the church of Scotland.  It is a place where  in 1567 the infant King James VI was crowned.   After exploring this church and graveyard, we walked up to the castle.  Here is a map of the castle; map of stirling castle smallThe castle sits on the top of Castle Hill with 3 steep sides for protection. Most of the principal buildings of the castle date from the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. In 1542 Mary, Queen of Scots was crowned in the castle.

What you see now when you visit the castle is  buildings that were constructed between 1490 and 1600, when Stirling was developed as a principal royal center by the Stewart Kings James IV, James V and James VI. The great hall was painted gold which was a surprise as we are used to the gray stone look of most old castles.  Stirling Castle great hall small We were told by the tour guide that all of the buildings would have been painted gold to show people the power of the Steward kings. Inside the castle (restored to the time of 1540s) you can see many examples of King James V’s desire to show visitors that he was the glorious king of Scotland.  Almost every room has a large and colorful coat of arms over the fireplaces.Stirling Castle james mary arms small  Here is a photo of the throne room of James’ queen, Mary of Guise ; Stirling Castle Mary guise throne 5x7They were the parents of Mary, Queen of Scots. Mary’s father James V died when she was only six days old, leaving an infant queen on the throne. Her coronation was held nine months later at Stirling, one of the most secure places in the kingdom.She would spend most of her childhood here and return frequently during her adult reign.

Here are two views from the castle. You can see why it was such a secure place to keep the infant queen.Stirling Castle view smallstirling castle view 1  small I have always been intrigued by the sad story of Mary, Queen of Scots and it was moving to be in the same castle and rooms that she lived in during part of her life.  This is one of the reasons that travel is so valuable.  Now when I read the history or see a film about Mary, I can put her life in the place where she lived.

Edinburgh Castle and pet sitting

Since  we are pet and house sitting in Edinburgh, Scotland, ( here is a link to our blog post about how to arrange pet and house sitting ;    we thought we would venture out to see Edinburgh Castle.  Edinburgh Castle is in the center of the city on the gigantic Castle rock that looms above everything.  It is easy to see why it was an impossible castle to attack. 300px-Edinburgh_Castle_from_the_south_east  It is up above the entire city.  We also had to walk up the many steps to get there. Here is a photo of David starting up the last of the stairs to the castle. Edinburgh Castle stairs small They have a pair of guards in front, and we saw them change guards, which is done hourly. Since it was one in the afternoon, they also fire one gun so everyone below knows what time it is. This seems to be a tradition that they keep up for people without watches or iphones.edinburgh castle guard small On the  way in we had to stop and try out the luxury Scottish  ice cream.  It was very good.edinburgh ice cream small It was a cold and rainy day (so much for Scottish summer ) but there were still lots of visitors roaming the castle with their umbrellas.  Here is the inside of the castle gate.Edinburgh castle smallThe castle is the number one visitor attraction in Edinburgh.  It was very crowded, which made the visit less enjoyable .  But we had paid about $35 for the two of us to get in so we made the best of the situation.  Inside the great hall there were lots of fireplaces and suits of armor Edinburgh castle armor smalland in case of an emergency there were lots of swords and spears decorating all the walls to use. Edinburgh castle swords small  There has been a royal castle on the rock since at least the reign of King David I in the 12th century, and the site continued to be a royal residence until 1633.  Then  it was used as  a military barracks with a large garrison.  There are still some military units stationed there but now it is a money making tourist castle.   And we were quite happy to be tourists within its walls.

Pet sitting with Jodi in Edinburgh, Scotland

So we are now pet sitting in Edinburgh with Jodi the dog and Jock the guinea pig.  Their family is off for a lovely vacation and we get to play with them for a while.  Jodi is a lovely and lively 2 year old part whippet.  She has a beautiful lean body and love to run fast!  Here are some photographs of her with David.jody window smallJody face smallWhat a cute face.Jody and David smalldave and jody small It was David’s birthday today. He said that he would never have imagined that he would be hugging Jodi in Edinburgh on his birthday.  He grabs onto life and enjoys all the new adventures that we plan.  It is one of the reasons I love him so.

Money saving tips using the Trains in Britain

The railway system in Britain was nationalized in 1948 and re-privatized in 1997. Now there are four main companies and several smaller ones; the infrastructure is maintained by a public entity called Network Rail. Somehow, privatization has not delivered significant competition because the four large companies serve mostly non-overlapping areas, and British rail travel is the most expensive in Europe. However, if there are rails where you’re going, travel is frequent, reliable, and fairly comfortable.

Visitors to Europe often consider buying a Railpass, which is available only outside the area for which it is valid. The UK railpass comes in two varieties: one for a certain number of days in a month, and the other for a certain number of consecutive days. They do offer flexibility, but they’re not cheap and not refundable if you don’t use all the days you planned. We did buy a London Plus pass on our last visit. Shop for the best price; these are sold by vendors and the price does vary somewhat.

Once our schedule firmed up, I considered buying a Railpass and having someone at home send it on to us here in Britain (mail takes about a week). But our frequent movement made having a reliable UK address impossible.

budget travel tip:  A better solution is railcards. There are two of interest: the Two Together, which lets two people over age 16 travel together at 30 to 50% discount; and if you’re over 60, a Senior card, which does the same thing for an individual, but doesn’t require a photo. For couples, I recommend the Two Together as you only have to pay one £30 railcard fee per year. You will need passport sized photos; it’s a good idea to bring a few extra on a long trip.  $10 at Costco for four, I think. Or get them here; UK “passport size” are smaller than US size, and the nice clerk at Bridgwater station trimmed ours down for us. Larger train stations have automated photo kiosks that will make them. If you have a UK address you can order railcards online, although you’ll need digital files of your photos for the Two Together; otherwise just visit a train station during non-busy time and they’ll make it for you.York RR museum wheel small

(Linda inserted a couple of vintage railroad train photographs that she took at the York railroad Museum to brighten up this post)

Secondly, on long distance trains, you can book and buy online in advance. These non-refundable tickets can save you an additional 50% depending on how early you buy, and for what time of day. Using both discounts, Linda and I traveled from Somerset to York (5 hours of train ride, leaving Saturday morning) for a total of £72 each. And that was First Class from Bristol to York; I found a train where the upgrade from Standard was only £9; usually it’s about 50%. We used this to go from York to Edinburgh, and will definitely do it again from Cambridge to Truro on August 6.British railroad Gladstone engine small

You can still buy tickets on the day of travel. They’re more expensive of course, but then you have no risk of having to change your plans and buy new tickets. Don’t buy these full-fare tickets in advance; they’re only valid on day of purchase. You still get the railcard discount. And on at least Cross-Country trains, you can buy Advance Purchase tickets up to 15 minutes before departure, but I’ll bet the savings isn’t much.

First Class, by the way, mostly gets you more room. There are three seats across instead of four, and there is more space between rows of seats. There are power outlets, and Wifi is free, whereas there is a charge in Standard. There are free beverages and snacks, and on weekdays there is some free food. There is an attendant who will fetch food and alcoholic drinks from the vendor somewhere else on the train.

On weekends, but not with advance purchase tickets, you can upgrade to First Class on the train if there’s room. I don’t think anyone did this on our trip.British railroad seal small

Ticket prices vary, just like airline prices. Each of the biggies promises lowest price on their website, but you can book any train in the UK on the website of any railway, and there are 28 of them. When you do this, you’ll be presented with the available trains around your requested time. The prices will vary by as much as 3-to-1, depending on how booked it already is, or is expected to be. And the premium for First Class will vary too, from almost nothing to over 100%. Have fun choosing! Mid-day travel seems to be the cheapest.

Having now experienced both First (Bristol to York) and Standard (York to Edinburgh) classes, I have to admit that when you’re traveling with three big bags and two backpacks, First Class is more likely to have room for all of that in the car.  In Standard, the backpacks fit in the overhead rack, the small suitcase can go under you feet for a couple of hours, but there won’t be room for the big bags unless you get on at the origination point.  Our train came from London and it was packed; the bags stood in the vestibule (no one complained) until the last hour, because the tiny luggage storage area was full. A First-class car is likely to have at least a couple of empty seats, and fewer people competing for slightly more bag storage.