“This was a townscape raised in the teeth of cold winds from the east; a city of winding cobbled streets and haughty pillars; a city of dark nights and candlelight, and intellect.”–Alexander McCall Smith
I don’t know what pops into your head when you think of Scotland. For me it was a montage of rain-soaked farmland, aging buildings, fried food of the strangest variety and perhaps the occasional William Wallace impersonator declaring war on the English.
The Scotland of my mind was not the Scotland I found in Edinburgh.
As I woke up with the rising sun on Friday morning to catch the train to Edinburgh I didn’t have anything planned for my weekend in Scotland other than catching up with a fellow Stellenbosch alum Greg and a long lost Scottish friend from nearly 10 years ago Fraser. I didn’t have anything planned because I didn’t know what there was to do in Edinburgh. No research was done. I didn’t consult with anyone whom I had known had travelled here before. None of this was done because I wanted to see Edinburgh from a perspective of open-mindedness. I felt that if I had scheduled tours to castles and museums I would never emerge from the darkest depths of tourism. To be fair I did end up going to Edinburgh Castle. I’ll discuss that in a little bit though.
After a 4 ½ hour train ride up Britain’s eastern coast I arrived at Waverly station around 14:20 (2:20pm Americans). Initially I wasn’t too impressed with Edinburgh. Virtually the entire station was under construction and in contrast to the immaculate King’s Cross station of London, it left a lot to be desired. This however, was the last time I was disappointed with Edinburgh.
Scots seem to be a naturally friendlier people than their southern neighbors. Not that I have had any problems with the English in London, but the Scots just exude a welcoming aura whereas the English seem to foster one which might say “I’ll help you, but try and figure it out for yourself first”.
I was about to begin a chronological summary of where I stayed, what I ate, etc. but I will spare you the anguish. The first night in Edinburgh was one of pub-crawling and getting acquainted with my surroundings. Greg and I relived our undergrad years with Fraser and his friends as we stumbled from bar to bar along Edinburgh’s hilly, cobblestoned streets. As is customary with every good first night in a new land I drank way too much. The hangover wasn’t nearly as bad as I thought it’d be though. I must’ve found the right recipe to mix beer, wine, rum and other drinks.
Saturday I decided to check out the famous Edinburgh Castle. Truth be told I was motivated primarily by the desire to take pictures from within the castle’s walls. The castle sits atop a large hill in Edinburgh and therefore offers those who pay £16 a spectacular view of the city. Typically I’d bemoan the obnoxious tourists and complain about them scurrying around desperately trying to get the best photo possible (seriously though, this may sound culturally insensitive, but why are Japanese tourists all equipped with the best cameras and do nothing but scramble around snapping photo after photo?) but I truly found the castle to be quite extraordinary. There’s something to be said about being in a building that was built well over a thousand years ago. A building that played home and prison simultaneously.
I got a lot of great pictures from the castle. Unfortunately none of them were of the Scottish Crown Jewels (they’re not that impressive anyway) due to a strict ban on photography enforced by a well-armed security guard. I did happen to stumble upon a Scottish wedding though. Plenty of pictures of that.
Saturday also coincided with an important event that is completely unrelated to ancient castles. I’m talking of course about the Scottish Independence Rally. Scotland will vote on a referendum pertaining to the question of whether or not Scotland should secede from the United Kingdom sometime next year. The people I saw yesterday firmly believed that Scotland should once again be independent and leave with Queen Elizabeth II with one less realm to rule over. I don’t really have an opinion on the matter. All I can say is that I did not quite understand the logic the protesters were relying on to justify their proposed secession. But since when has logic ever been important to nationalism?
What I think I found most pleasing about Edinburgh is how stark the contrast is between my ‘home’ city of London and the Scottish Capital. London is in many ways the New York of the United Kingdom. Edinburgh, to me, lacks an American city for me to equate it with. I think perhaps the best way for me to communicate my interpretation of Edinburgh into a more coherent statement is to say that Edinburgh was how I think a lot of Americans imagine Dublin to be. Certainly Scotland is much more compatible to Ireland (though I’ve never been) than it is to England. The people are incredibly nice; there are whiskey bars on virtually every street, the sound of bagpipes echoes against the stone buildings lining the ancient streets. I hope that makes sense to everyone reading this blog post. I know no other way to describe Edinburgh than in this manner.
As should be plainly evident, Edinburgh has earned my endorsement.
Should you have the fortune of making it to Scotland, you’d be foolish to skip over Edinburgh.