19 Edinburgh, First Impressions
From the station, they took a cab to Lambret's Hotel in Princes Street, as recommended. The wide but poorly-lit roads were quite steep. In Princes Street itself, the houses were relatively low on the left, with on the right the railings of huge gardens and high masses hidden in the darkness.
The travellers were welcomed by a Frenchman, Monsieur Lambret, the manager of the hotel. They were given separate rooms, reached by the most illogical staircase ever invented: British staircases are invariably like this, making it very easy to get lost. The rooms were mean and shabby, rather like old-fashioned hotels in the French provinces, in Amiens or Blois.
Having dropped off their luggage, and left their keys in the doors as is usual, Jacques and then Jonathan went down to a fine parlour where an ample supper was served: cold roast beef and ham, together with two pints of an excellent Scottish ale, foaming in silver mugs emblazoned with the city arms.
Jacques devoured the food, the first since the early lunch in Liverpool. His supper continued longer than Jonathan's, who spent the time contemplating a huge wall-map of Scotland; at about 1 am, they retired. Before going to sleep, Jacques couldn't resist opening the window overlooking Princes Street. The rain was pouring down through total darkness, and nothing was visible except a huge empty space with a large number of luminous points at a great height above it. Jacques couldn't understand the phenomenon, and fell asleep still searching for a reason.
At the first rays of the sun, he jumped out of bed, as Jonathan knocked on the door. He rushed out onto the balcony. Princes Street, a wide and magnificent thoroughfare, stretched before his eyes; on the right, above superb gardens, stood a large hill, carrying on its crest Edinburgh Castle. In front of him, over a railway station, huge houses erected their ten storeys, each covered with windows. This panorama included the whole of the Old Town perched on the high hill which fell away to the left. Above it, on the horizon, could be seen a mountain peak.
"Our first excursion."
"Hardly. We're going to work our way round the heart of the city. We'll have lunch somewhere, and then embark on that rather stiff climb."
Jacques gave in, and the two friends went out, with the day apparently going to be fine.
Princes Street lies in a narrow hollow between the Old and New Towns. It has no tributaries from the left, but runs alongside the station and the public gardens with their magnificent lawns halfway along the street. A 150-foot-high structure is visible, displaying the countless flowerings of flamboyant Gothic on its cornices, its numerous pinnacle turrets and its sharp spire. This is the Monument to Sir Walter Scott. The statue of the great writer, sitting in a pensive attitude, is situated at the middle of a low platform, under the arches of a ribbed vault. This statue of white marble is famous: it shows the eminent novelist with fine and intelligent features. The monument, much too big for its purpose, is adorned with a large number of statues of Scott's memorable heroes: in the four alcoves of the lower section one can see, but not necessarily admire, the Lady of the Lake, Bonnie Prince Charlie, Meg Merrilies and the Last Minstrel.
The street continues between the gardens and a row of low buildings, nearly all for travellers, the Queen's Hotel, Gibb's Royal Hotel, Caledonian Hotel and Campbell's North British Hotel. The Royal Academy in Greek style and the National Gallery in Etruscan style stand with gardens on both sides. All these structures, of varying degrees of artistic merit, are entirely completed and maintained with care — as always in England and Scotland. None of those half-finished cornices, those toothing stones — some of them very long in the tooth — none of that disgraceful scaffolding which rots away before the work is even finished.